Naughty Horses, Part 2 - Horses that don't know what to do
Naughty Horses, part 2 - Horses that don’t know what to do
In my last blog we looked at a few reasons that horses might misbehave and in this blog I am going to dig into one of those reasons in a bit more detail.
The first reason is that your horse doesn’t know what to do, the obvious case for this is young horses, but it could also apply to an older horse that just hasn’t been taught what’s expected in a given scenario.
How do you learn yourself? How do you train your horse?
So here’s a question for you, what kind of person are you? Do you like to dive in, give something a go and see if it works? Or, do you like to do lots of preparation, learn about it before you try something? 🧐
Depending on which one you are will be how you approach learning something new. It’s probably also how you train your horse and depending on the character of your horse will be how well that works for you.
Some horses are more than happy to try something for the first time and learn to deal with it relatively easily. Funnily enough I don’t tend to see many of these horses as they tend to take most things in their stride and handle new situations relatively easily as long as they’re not over-faced or have a bad experience.
I tend to see the other type, the one’s that don’t fit into the mould, the one’s that need a bit more help to think something new is a good idea whether that’s building their confidence or convincing them to give it a go in the first place!
There’s a first time for everything
To use a cliche ‘there’s a first time for everything’ however old a horse may be if your horse isn’t doing what you want the first question has to be ‘does he/she actually know what I am asking of him/her?’ If they have done it before, have they practiced it enough times to be confident and consistent?
If your horse hasn’t been taught how to respond to your request then the only information he has to fall back on is what his instincts tell him to do, usually falling into one of 3 options:-
1. Flight - run away!! Or try to, if your horse has a tendency to be scared or nervous then this is likely to be his favoured option
2. Fight - this response is happens either with a more confident horse or a scared horse that feels trapped and that he can’t get away
3. Freeze - tense or nervous horses might just freeze up and refuse to move, this might also be the case with a more confident horse that has learnt not to respond
Whatever the case may be, part of teaching your horse to do the task will be helping him learn that the instinctual response is not what you are looking for and rewarding the correct response or a step towards that.
Take it step-by-step
Problems with teaching a horse something new often happen when we expect too much, breaking the task down into it’s component pieces. When the goal is obvious to the human it’s easy to forget that it might not be so obvious to the horse.
Let’s take jumping as an example, to the human the goal is clear, get from one side to the other, ideally leaving the jump in tact.
Imagine you were walking along a path and you get to a point where a large tree trunk has fallen halfway across the path, what would you naturally do? I’m sure there’s a few of us that would jump or climb over for the fun of it but the majority of us would take the easy route and walk round wouldn’t we?
But we ask our horses to go over a jump in the middle of a arena or field for fun when there’s all this free space around it instead. Can you see where I’m going with this?!
Of course it makes sense with a new horse that we start by going through some jump wings, then put a pole on the ground, then raise that pole on one side then both sides. By repeating this and rewarding our horse at each stage we break down the task into small chunks that make sense to our horse but it’s amazing how many of these simple tasks we expect our horses to do without breaking it down in this way.
So, if you’re not sure if your horse really knows what you’re asking him to do, think about how could I break this task down into smaller pieces so my horse can understand what I want.
Need more idea’s on how to break your task down? Download my FREE ebook ‘3 Steps to help your horse understand what you want’