Working things out between your horse and you is not as easy as saying sorry. When you have a fall out with a friend or a loved one, quite often the situation can be sorted out by sitting down and having a good conversation.
Well, it is not that simple when it comes to restore the so fragile balance that exists between horses and humans. It is all about trust and it takes time for an already cautious horse to trust again a human who has let them down. When a horse has given you his trust and you are bestowed the power of The Leader, you are suddenly transported to the top of the hierarchy. But don’t think you can now rest on your throne and enjoy this glorious title. On the contrary: you are now expected to work very hard to keep it!
Once a leader, your horse looks at you as the Supreme Being. You are his savior, protector, guide and provider. Because horses have a high level of survival instinct, they won’t allow you to make one mistake. Once you have made a mistake, the trust is broken, the horse takes over and you tumble down the hierarchy. Ouch! It hurts!
Ok, if your horse is a natural born leader who, for some mysterious reasons was happy to let you lead for a while, he will gladly reclaim his position and you will be left with the only option to follow. It is not a bad situation to be in when your horse is an awesome leader.
However, if your horse is wary by nature and lacks some confidence, he will not be the leader you have dreamt of. He will likely spook, shy, bolt, buck and who knows what else! You will become annoyed, even maybe afraid, lose your confidence and finally either sell him or feel completely estrange from him.
Is it possible to restore this trust between you two? I believe it is. Does it happen overnight? Certainly not. How do I know? Because it happened to me and it took 4 years!
I wished I had understood these dynamics earlier as I’m sure it would have been quicker. When I acquired Lily, I did not listen to her. Actually, I should say that we had both issues in communicating our feelings to each other. She didn’t know how to talk to me and I didn’t know how to listen to her. Within only a few months, we were both looking at each other and had no feelings going between ourselves. I was ready to sell her and she was ice cold. But, there was something in my heart that kept telling me “don’t sell her. There is something else somewhere. You need to find it.”
She had become frighten of everything and everyone, never wanted to mix with humans and was quite happy to stay away from everything. Riding her had become a real problem to me as she shied and spooked all the time when finally she sent me flying. That is a horse who, according to her previous owner, never bucked and was well behaved. Hmmm… I had decided I had to fix this horse, no matter what.
Thankfully, I never sent her away as I knew in my heart it was something I must not do. So I got trainers in. Two in fact. Both totally different, both with different methods but both very good in what they do and both gentle enough to not spook her even more. They definitely helped us. But the problem was that in all that time, it never occurred to me she was not the only one who needed fixing! I was relying so much on others to do things with her and train her as, for some reason still unknown to me, I had delegated my place as a leader to others. I still don’t know why I did not or could not be with her 100% and why I let others lead us. Maybe it was easier to give my responsibilities away?
Eventually, circumstances happened that I could not get any of the trainers anymore. We eventually moved out of the city and to the country 3 months ago. Well, I was well by myself now!!! I had to do it all alone. I had to face my own demons now. Thanks to Lily, she was lame as soon as we arrived due to the ground being too hard for her. At first, I thought it was going to set us back because she could not be ridden and she had her last ride in December 09. As timed passed by, I was getting worried about how she was going to react when ridden again, and who was going to ride her. I don’t know any trainer there! Then one day as Lily and I were having a chat, she told me in her usual subtle way that maybe it was not that dramatic. Maybe it was a great opportunity we had to do something else instead; something different, just her and me! What a revelation! She was giving me the chance to prove myself to her. So what could we do together that would show her I could be a good leader, that would improve her confidence, her trust in me, my trust in her and my own confidence?
I had to think about what sets her off and how I could reproduce an environment where she could see my leadership’s capabilities. This also meant I had to make sure I would be able to stay in control all the time. The first thing I thought was that we were in a new place and it would be a good idea to take her for a walk on a lead. Armed with tidbits in my pocket, off we went around the house. I would like to sya now that I really don’t care some trainers condemn tidbits, it works fantastically for Lily and I intend to keep using them!
Was she afraid? Oh yes! She was snorting at everything and nothing! The white statue was about to eat her alive! And the close line was some sort of monster out of the deep seas. Not to mention all the cars! Our first day out was a real adventure!
The technique I used to get her over her phobia was the following:
I took her around the statue so she could have a good look at it from both sides. As you might know, horses’ vision varies from one side to another and make the horse look at a thing from each side ensures that he has a good grasp of what is in front of him.
She did not want to come close to it. So I went to the statue and tapped it and told her it was entirely safe. She then extended her neck towards me. I gave her a treat and let her sniff my hand. Then I asked her to come closer to me by calling her and tapping on my chest as I do to tell her to come to me. She put a foot forward and slowly came to me. I gave her another tidbit. I asked her to kiss me and she did. I gave a tidbit. She started to relax. I then put my hand on the statue while holding a tidbit. She ate it there. I knew that was it. She trusted me now.
When we got to the clothes line, I only had to tell her it was safe and to give her another tidbit for her to accept my leadership.
With the cars, we had to change this technique a little.
The house has a good fence so we stayed inside behind but close enough to the road. The first vehicle to pass was in fact a tractor and I thought she’ll be ok. But she got really scared and jolted me 2 metres when she jumped away from the fence. Thankfully I was holding tight on her lunge. The second vehicle was a ute (a pick-up) and she started snorting as soon as she saw it coming. I stood beside her and told her it was ok, she was safe. I then gave her a tidbit. She ate it but was still looking at the car approaching. I kept giving her tidbits until the car was gone. She did not move, she stayed next to me, although she was quite unsure, but she did. When the 3rd car passed by, she didn’t blink an eye and I did not have to give her any more tidbits. We did another round around the house and no more snorting. When I touched something, she would sniff my hand and it was enough for her to know it was safe.
So in a nutshell, communication, patience and tidbits!
I knew that I was now getting to the top of the hierarchy!
Next month, I’ll explain our adventure with the stock whip.