Monday, June 13, 2011

The Rehabilitation of Storm..... Some Psychology......

Part 1

It didn't really matter if the horse had broken into a canter or if he was at a trot, if Storm had any kind of attitude he was completely ignoring the word, "Whoa" and even "Whup" for that matter. We had no brakes if he was in a mood. If anything the horse got stronger when I asked him to stop or slow down. It was clear to me the horse did not think he needed to listen because he thought the decision was his to make.

When I worked on fixing this situation Storm got mad. Not really the first time I interfered with his behavior but once I had done it a few times in a row, his attitude got bigger instead of smaller. Clearly the horse was beginning to understand what I was asking and he didn't want to do it so he tried to convince me "he was bigger than me."

There is a psychology behind that thinking, "bigger than me." For me understanding it is important in making the determination how to fix things and to do that I must understand where the horse is at and what got him there if possible as well as the instinct behind it.

For Storm this happened early after his return here and I would equate it to stallion behavior. Stallions particularly don't like to relinquish power they have had and usually will fight to retain it and fight Storm did. It wasn't about fighting me so much as it was about fighting to retain control as instinct dictates he must if he is ever to survive. Storm would have fought anyone who pushed that line AND that line could have shown up anywhere.

Normally it wouldn't take long to take the edge off Storm when we first get back to working again but with me working to get control of the horse when he was excited, the situation changed because the psychology of the situation changed. Instead of me waiting for the horse to give me his time, I was telling him when he needed to give it to me.

That's an important line that some horse owners don't understand. It's one thing for the horse to do for you when they have nothing better to do and another to do for you totally on your terms. It is the difference between being the leader and being the follower. The importance of this difference can mean the difference between life or death because the horse that does for you when it feels like it just may not feel like it when your life or his hangs in the balance. The horse that has learned to do whatever he is asked on your terms will follow when his life or yours hangs in the balance and hopefully you will both survive.

In this situation Storm was willing to take me on to prove he had control of himself and his movements regardless of what I wanted because he is convinced that he needs to be in charge. As far as the horse was concerned there was a clear line drawn in the sand and it was important to him NOT to let me cross it. BUT if I ever want this horse to be totally safe, he has to be willing to give me what I ask on MY TERMS, not his. He has to see that I deserve to be his leader and relinquish control willingly.

Luckily for Storm I understand it is deeply ingrained instinct that dictates such behavior and has nothing to do with what kind of horse Storm is. I also understand how important it is to convince the horse that it is in his best interest to let me decide how and when he moves as well as all of those other things that will convince him that I am worthy of being his leader. I want him to look to me for answers when things get weird NOT decide himself how to deal with them. That way we will both be safe when I am with him and the horse will have the necessary skills to live safely amongst people.

It's important to me to get things like this accomplished in a manner that builds trust in the horse. I could bully him into submission but I want my horses to trust me. I see bullying as a misuse of power and that is something that destroys trust not builds it. I don't want a horse jumping out of his skin to comply, I want a horse that willing looks to me for what to do.

Ever since I can remember I have always understood the role of leadership in handling horses but I have not always understood how to get that willing compliance I seek . Over the years that understanding has grown as I have learned to always look for the horse's instinct as the answer to the question "Why does the horse do that?" Understanding the horse's motivation helps me to find the solution for problems, keeping the horse's instincts in mind, and establishing myself as a worthy leader in their eyes.

I see lots of people put human thoughts and emotions on horses as the answer to issues. The problem with that is horses are not human. Everything they do is dictated by their instinct. When we forget that it only sets us up for failure with the horse because they just don't think like we do. They don't see our responses on our terms, only theirs, and if our responses don't compute within their terms, they cannot learn in the way we want them to learn.

Over the years I have seen many clinicians who have given me a piece here and a piece there of the information it has taken for me to "read" horses in a productive way but it was Harvey Jacobs that really put the final touches on it for me. During the time I spent with Harvey I learned a new perspective that I have used to deal with any confrontation with a horse and that perspective fit perfectly with what I was seeing in Storm.

Harvey described much of a horse's aggressive behavior as a conversation with the horse trying to prove "he was bigger" to get his way. But Harvey also described "bigger" in the terms of the perspective of the horse which is far simpler than we humans see bigger. To Harvey's way of thinking I don't have to be bigger than the horse, I only have to make the horse THINK I am bigger. Bigger to the horse means I am more powerful and by using my brain instead of my muscle it should be easy enough to prove to Storm that I am bigger than he.

Because I understand his motivation behind wanting to be in charge, I know all I need to do is convince the horse it is easier for him to follow my lead than for him to be in charge. Because it is the horse's instinct to always do what they see as easiest, it also means that every horse would really rather have a leader than be one. The trick is convincing the horse that I am worthy of being that leader so he feels safe relinquishing that role.

With Storm it will begin with teaching him I really can control what speed he moves his feet. That might be only one step in teaching this guy that I am worthy of being his leader but it is a very important step. Getting control of those feet would be a big step in getting control of Storm's mind..........and that is what I really want.

To be continued.................................

Putting on Brakes.........

This is the first colt I took to Harvey Jacobs for help.

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  1. Totally in accord with empirically tested learning theory!

    Great article and others here:

    It is beyond frustrating when people who have been with horses for years continue to anthropomorphize and blame everything on the horse rather than their training. The ruin of many a good horse.

  2. Great post MiKael. I agree with you completely. Storm couldn't be in better hands than yours and I'm sure he'll keep those feet moving to your tune.

  3. They may be bigger than we are, but they aren't always smarter. Trying to out muscle them is not the way to go. You will never 'win' that way.

    Horses need to sort out their own inner demons sometimes. Once they figure out resisting gets them nowhere, then they are open to suggestions from you and ready to learn.

    Kat may have gotten away with a lot in our incident, but me sending him on afterwards was a way of showing him- you still have to do the job, now move it! Your little tantrum got you where exactly?