In +R training reaching, or avoiding a horse reaching, its threshold is often talked about. Threshold is the point where a horse is very emotional, it has reached a point of fear and reaction where it is no longer capable of thinking and learning, only reacting.
I was thinking about this today while we brought cows home. We got to the highway, a little scary by itself. He wasn’t spooking. Rusty was looking, stopping, ears pointed to stare at the vehicals as they passed. I clicked and treated a few times. Coyote wasn’t worried. We made it across no problem.
But that was only the first of the triggers we were stacking all at once there.
Across the highway were two houses. One right on the corner with barking dogs in the yard. There were vehicals of the people who were there to help get the cows across the road. Rusty was still taking it well. We were able to stop and let them hang out for a few minutes while we talked to Cowboy Bill who scratched and loved on them both a little. Treats all around of course.
Then we met the cows. They were coming over the hill in the distance. Not close enough to smell or see clearly. We had about reached threshold. The triggers had been stacked to the point that he was tense and tight, ears up, frozen in place, staring towards this new threat. I got off and held onto him, no treats, he was past that. He settled down as they got closer and he saw what they were.
As we rode home behind the cows I had time to think. How do we prepare a horse ahead of time for those moments in life when reaching threshold is unavoidable? It’s going to happen no matter how much we avoid it in training. Life happens. I thought about training children, or raising as some people call it.
Some people say that raising children with only, mostly, kindness will not prepare them for the real world. Life is unkind, they say, children should get used to it.
On the other hand you have the people who feel that is unnessicary. That children raised with love and support are better equipt to handle the tough knocks of life because of the love and support they’ve recieved.
So what about horses? Do we get them used to reaching threshold by bringing them up to it? Let them get scared while we train and get used to it so it’s not a big deal?
As I rode and thought, I decided that this was like children. The more love and support they have the better equiped they are to deal with the difficulties. They don’t need to face the hard things to be prepared for them. Nothing really prepares us for the difficulties in life. I’m not saying horses wont ever be scared durring training or that the most loved of children wont face difficulties, but by not bringing them above threshold purposely as we train we teach them to trust us, that we are their safe place and will not hurt them. When they know that training, working, with a person will be a positive experience it is easier for them to settle back down and come back below threshold. We can offer reassurance and comfort, instead of getting after them for getting upset and pushing them further yet above. Rusty had certianly come back easy enough.
We didn’t encounter anything else upsetting on the rest of the ride. Rusty did a wonderful job on his first day doing grown up work. He moved the cows, worked alongside zipping 4wheelers, ponied Coyote, and did plenty of those walk trot transitions we’ve been fighting with so much. I think training him well below threshold helped greatly with that.


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