Horses Made Simple, In 4 Easy To Understand Behaviors
Every time I take that first ride in the saddle on a young horse I ask myself, why does this 1000 lb animal allow me on their back? And then, I think about the training process and how simple it really is. I’m not saying that riding/training is easy! A lot of hard work goes into the finished product. However, we can break down horse behavior pretty easily. My students always love talking about 4 fascinating behaviors that make horses our riding partners. I think understanding these 4 behaviors can help us all on our road to a great foundation.
HORSES ARE PREY IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM. This instills the “fight or flight” response that makes horses a bit spooky or alert to possible danger. When we appreciate their survival instincts, we can better prepare ourselves to take the role of leadership when necessary.
HORSES HAVE A SEEKING BEHAVIOR. This is the concept that helps me understand my horses better and separates them from creatures that we cannot ride. When I explain this behavior to my students, I use this example:
I see my horses grazing calmly in their pasture when suddenly a plastic bag blows through. They all scatter wildly, snorting and kicking as they “spook” away from the bag. They pause a moment and look at the bag. The very next thing they do is excitedly turn toward the scary object, snort and kick some more, then go push it around with their muzzles. They’re seeking information.
Hmmm…sometimes my young horses try to buck me off. I am the scary object on their back! After some time, they seek out why I am so darned stubborn and refuse to get off their back. This opens the door to communication. My horses are seeking information.
HORSES MOVE AWAY FROM PRESSURE. Most of us have heard this before. This horse behavior is what makes all training possible; we press and they move. They are also creatures of habit. If we ask them to do something precisely, the same way, over and over again, they get it! But this would not work if they did not have the 4th behavior.
HORSES SEEK THE REWARD OF NO PRESSURE. This is what ties all the previous behaviors together. And, it is what eventually brings them to be comfortable with the tasks we ask them to do. They SEEK the excitement that comes with new material and they SEEK the reward of no pressure when they get it right. I am sure some of you have ridden horses that are so enthusiastic you can really feel their desire to please.
When I grew up with horses in the 60’s, many trainers believed that we could punish a horse into a good performance. I’ve seen horses hit with shovels and 2×4’s and, in my opinion, abused in the name of “training.” Thankfully, I’ve watched our horse community move towards practicing what some people call “natural horsemanship”. To me, natural horsemanship is incorporating these 4 behaviors into training techniques that are successful. I love that horse training today is more often based on a positive approach and we humanely enjoy the journey as we ride along.