This is about what we might WANT and what our horses NEED and how to find the balance so that progress can be made.
Often we may want many things from our horses, for them to fulfil our dreams in a competitive way is the big one but also many small ones such as we want our horses to be perfect, know how to engage their bodies or even just calm for grooming.
What I have noticed is that if we allow the horse the timeline (ie. They get to say what they can do when and where) and we help them by being non-predatory and kind then we all win. We find what we want by allowing the horse what they need and if we don’t there often ensues a predatory vs prey animal argument.
I wanted to talk about an eye opener for me when I brought our new horse Bella from the field she’d been in with Stormy, the first three months of her being with us, to our winter paddock behind our house. It’s just a mile down a lovely track and our herd have been doing this change for about 10yrs now. She was a bit sceptical about coming out of her ‘home field’ but was interested in her surroundings and willing to follow our big boy Stormy with his confident manner of the route and snatching at fab grass along the way. We allowed them to stop regularly for a good look about and chance to graze, which Stormy did but Bella didn’t apart from snatching at some silver birch branches.
It was interesting to see how much they were mirroring each other, where they looked and where they stopped. About half way home Bella, and then Stormy, deposited a poo each…like a sign post as to where they’d come and how to get back. We got them to their new ‘home paddock’, gave them some hay and allowed them to check out their new ‘digs’. Bella sometimes led the way, sometimes she followed Stormy but they stayed close together.
Over a few days it was also interesting to see how much he settled into things again and how she kept standing looking back to where the other field was…her ‘home’, but it was also very interesting to see how Stormy helped her. He never pushed her, made her go away from her ‘lookout place’ and he never insisted she follow him. What he actually did was pamper her in her lookout place, make sure she was watching and following him when we put out their meals and allowed her to feel safe, confident and calm before venturing away from her. He was making sure she was alright because he knew that once she was alright the herd was alright. He’s a very clever boy.
In the meantime I ‘wanted’ to take her for short walks, do some training and get on with what we’d been doing in the big field but I realised that what she NEEDED was more important that what I WANTED.
She needed to feel safe, to feel confident and happy in her new surroundings, to be able to be relaxed and responsive and not fearful and reactive here. For me to push her out of her comfort zone so early in a strange place would not have been conducive to a happy partnership between us. For me to allow her to settle and feel able to think while I asked her to do stuff I know she already knew was the best way to spend that time…time settling. I needed to think more like Stormy and less like a trainer.
I remember learning that horses have 5 Confidences and these are (THELL)
- Confident in THEMSELVES (Bella and Stormy are pretty confident in themselves)
- Confident in the HERD (Bella is confident in Stormy and also Mark and me too through consistent handling, feeding and play)
- Confident in their ENVIRONMENT (which with Bella had just dramatically changed with the new field)
- Confident in LEARNING (which she is getting better at but changing fields comes with a lot of near learning…where the water is, where the best grazing is, what are all the new noises around our house, being near a track where vehicles go along, seeing walkers and cyclists on that track)
- Confident in their LEADER (Bella is confident in Stormy because he allows her time to be herself, she is also confident in me as I also allow her time to be herself and to listen to the ‘thresholds’ she has with new things and places)
I like to think that being a horse ‘trainer’ (as we all are that have horses) should not be about the ‘goal’ or the ‘competition’ but about the needs of our animal, our Connection, Trust and Friendship and that we help our horses find relaxation when we’re with them whatever we’re doing and with that anything is possible. Our priority should be about how to help them feel calm, safe and happy when they’re with us. We must never break that friendship or trust because it’s easy to lose but hard to gain.
Shelley – HorseSavvy