If I’m not a fan of “showing my horse who’s the boss”. Because of that I have been asked if I don’t tell my horse what to do? Does that mean they are the boss? That they can do anything they want?
So much of the time when a horse is being disrespectful, rude, bad mannered, all of the anthropomorphism’s we place on them, they are trying to express themselves. They are afraid. They don’t understand what we want of them. They are doing what we have actually trained them to do instead of what we thought we were teaching.
If we choose to work with a horse then we have to accept responsibility. We choose to go catch them a their pasture or stall and ask them to work with us. They would be perfectly happy to hang out with their buddies and never see a person. Because we make that choice everything that happens is our fault.
It may seem a bit harsh, but if we accept responsibility then we are also accepting that we can make changes. Responsibility is not just a burden but a gift. If everything happens to us without any ability to control it we are weak and helpless. To be responsible for the outcome is a power. It means we are capable of change.
In order to be effective in our responsibility to do right with our horses we need to know what they are thinking and feeling. If we never let them express themselves how will we know what effect we are having? If we pay attention horses are amazingly expressive. If we take a step back and ask what the cause is every time our horses are “bad” instead of punishing them it opens up whole new lines of communication. If we listen the first time they say they don’t understand what we are asking, if we hear them when they say it hurts when we do that, if we sympathize when they say they are scared, if we would just hear what they are saying instead of showing them who’s the boss so much of the time it would never escalate into a fight.
There are times when my horses have to do things. They are working horses and jobs need to be done. Sometimes they don’t get to say no even if it’s not fun. I don’t want to go wade through ankle deep mud or brave a blizzard any more than they do, but we both have to. For those times the confidence and communication we have developed during the good times comes into play. I already know what they like or don’t like and how they say no. I can tell them that I understand and what good ponies they are for giving me their all. I can promise big rewards when we get back to the barn. I can know when to stop pushing, when it’s too much and let them take a break.
What does any of that have to do with this video?
When we work at liberty it is the equivalent of giving the horse a megaphone. We can hear their voice loud and clear. It forces us to refine our cues and training because if we don’t do a good job the horse can leave. By allowing the option of leaving, not just of staying and getting treats or leaving and not, but of leaving and going back to his friends and different food, I can be sure that I am taking responsibility for my training and insuring that it is the best I can do. That he is understanding what I ask. That it doesn’t hurt. That nothing is scaring him. When he follows me because he chooses to we have achieved the best possible communication and understanding.
I am taking control by letting go. Giving the freedom to say no is empowering. To the trainer, not just the horse. When we go back to riding or going places where he will have to be on a lead, we have already established our relationship. He can say if he’s worried without going to any extremes and knows I’ll listen. I know that he understands what is being asked of him and will give me exactly what I am asking for.
Here he has had enough of working on crossing the bridge/teeter totter. It’s hard work for him. Not physically but mentally. I am asking for a lot. He needs a break. I realize I have been pushing hard for quite a while and decide to call it quits there. I gave him permission to say no. He came back and said he was ready to try again but it was a good time to quit.
So, am I the boss? Yes. In the end I do get the final say. Am I an authoritarian sort of boss? No. Why would I want to be? Life is more enjoyable when we all get a say in matters. As a reward for not “Showing Him Who’s Boss” I get a horse who only needs to be haltered to insist that we are done working and he really does need to go back out to pasture. I can live with that.