Horse Training… Serious 911
In this issue of the HORSE TRAINING INSIDER, I’m going to present a very bad (and very common) horse problem emailed to me by a distressed owner.
The author of the email is a very nice lady who actually likes me (shocking, I know) and complimented the work I do with horses.
In her email, she asked me to comment on the situation she’s in with her horse. After reading about her problem, my heart just sank and I got that dreadful, queasy feeling in my stomach.
Because after she reads my response to her email, this well-meaning, good-hearted lady is going to HATE MY GUTS.
Not only that… just about EVERY PERSON who reads it and shares her point of view is going to hate my guts too.
Man, I dread the thought of that.
And yes, I considered NOT responding.
I mean, sending out horse training advice that’s going to generate a ton of hate mail, can’t be good for business.
However, I know I’ll do it anyway.
For some weird and sick reason, I’m compelled to tell people the truth about their horses… no matter what.
I don’t know… maybe its time to see a shrink. Anyway… below is the email she sent me and my response to it.
I’ve changed her name and deleted a few paragraphs to shorten it up plus hide her true identity.
Read it… Then… let the hate mail begin. Post your comment (good or bad) at the bottom of this page.
Here’s the lady’s email:
I have a 9 year old gelding named "Champ" I bought over a year ago.
I lost a lot of riding confidence after a "horse wreck" a year before I bought him, and thought I had bought a real steady horse to get back my confidence.
He was quiet and slow to ride and handle but I came to realize he was sort of shut down I guess as he changed a lot after a few weeks.
He is fine being ridden most of the time but shows genuine fear of things when we are out sometimes so I often get off and walk. Sadly, it turned out he has a few issues with people and won’t pick up his feet easily and hates being brushed etc.
He has to be sedated for shoeing too.
He is genuinely frightened that you are going to beat him or be very rough with him.
I have now formed a nice relationship with him by following the natural horsemanship methods.
I often joke that he is a "one woman horse" as he follows me like a dog and seems to have formed a good bond as long as I don’t do anything he doesn’t like.
I take things slowly and at his pace and he respects my space and is very sensitive. It hasn’t been easy for me or for Champ and we don’t seem to make much progress.
He will threaten to kick me if I don’t respect his fear and I try to stay safe so I often give up and move on to something else.
I do wonder if he is too far gone to ever be able to allow me to do the things I would like to do, like picking out his feet and grooming and washing – he is so frightened of hoses and water I dare not do it.
I end up just brushing with a very soft brush and wiping him down with a damp cloth – this takes me a long time too and I have to show him the cloth and he backs away to start with.
I have found clicker training sort of works for picking up feet – although he only gives them to me for a moment. I don’t want to give the treat from the hand so I put it on the ground for him.
I must admit I am working a lot and don’t have as much time as I would like to spend with him – we do about three training sessions a week.
I just wondered if you had any advice or comment?
Here’s my response to Sue:
I truly appreciate your situation. Your problem is a common one and shared by many, many horse owners.
You and many horse owners like yourself, are drawn to “Natural Horsemanship” and “Clicker Training” because it appeals to your personality and PERCEPTION of HORSE BEHAVIOR.
And because of your PERCEPTION, like you described in your letter, the results can be less than ideal. Not because there is anything wrong with those training techniques but because of your INTERPRETATION of them.
It’s not my intention to offend you or hurt your feelings because you sound like a really nice lady.
However, I feel obligated tell you the truth about your situation so you can perhaps come to a solution. Plus… my conscious would bother me if I didn’t at least try to help keep you from getting injured again.
I want to point out, the accuracy of my advice is based entirely on the accuracy of your description of the problem.
If I have misinterpreted your email or mis-read your situation… I wish to apologize to you in advance. I have given you the best advice I could based on the information you provided.
My response here is blunt and terribly harsh. Perhaps more harsh than you deserve.
I thought about re-writing to soften it so it doesn’t sound so darn bad. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. I’m leaving it the way it is in hopes you will read it and have your eyes opened by it.
You explained in your letter, you and your horse Champ, have formed a good bond (as long as you don’t do anything he doesn’t like).
And from your description, it appears he doesn’t like ANYTHING except following you around like a dog expecting to be fed treats.
You also pointed out, Champ routinely threatens to kick you.
I must confess, I actually had to read those lines over a few times because I thought I must have missed something. I’m still not sure how you can equate your horse threatening to kick you as any kind of a good bond.
Anyway, for your safety (and other peoples safety too), I hope you take my advice to heart.
Like you explained in your letter, you are a “timid” horse owner who lacks confidence.
You are afraid of your horse and the things he does (with good reason as you’ve already been injured).
Because of your fear, Champ totally has your "number" and is simply taking advantage of the situation. Like you said in your letter, he was a good, steady horse when you first purchased him and then after a few weeks, he started to change into a problem horse.
What really happened is you actually DID buy a GOOD horse but it only took a few weeks for Champ to realize he had been purchased by a person who was willing to let him do whatever he pleased.
Champ, being a normal horse, said to himself… this is so GREAT.
My new owner is a total PUSH-OVER!
I wonder if I can train her? I wonder if I can train her so well, she’ll do anything I want?
If I really put some effort into it, I bet I can train her to jump off my back and lead me around instead of ride me.
I bet if I throw a big enough fit every time she reaches for a hose, I’ll never have to take another stupid bath.
OMG… do I dare dream… I could even train her to feed me TREATS!
That would be awesome! THE ABSOLUTE ULTIMATE!
If I could do that, I’d be the envy of every horse in the county. Whenever she leads me around the neighborhood, all the other horses will say… "now there goes a real stud!"
Sue, I realize what I wrote above will probably make you upset with me but let me assure you… If Champ had a "PEOPLE TRAINING" video, every horse in the neighborhood would buy it because he really knows his stuff.
Seriously though, you are totally MIS-READING your horse and the reasons he does what he does.
You are attempting to develop a relationship with Champ based on LOVE, KINDNESS, PATIENCE and TRUST.
All the things that sound so great.
All the things that appeal to you as a caring person. All the right EMOTIONAL trigger-words that enticed you to embrace the natural horsemanship – clicker training MARKETING PROMOTIONS.
There is only ONE problem…
The "meaning" of those words, your horse doesn’t UNDERSTAND.
Those words are not a part of his evolutionary make up. It’s not horse nature.
The bald face truth is there is NOTHING NATURAL about those words when viewed from the HORSE’S point of view.
To prove to yourself this is true, simply observe a herd of horses living together out in the pasture.
At feeding time, you’ll see the weaker (submissive) horses of the herd get driven away from their flake of hay by the more dominant horses. You’ll see them kick, bite and strike to impose their will and achieve pecking-order dominance.
Horses have no problem with dishing out physical discipline in order to get their way. They do it all the time.
Horses have no problem watching a weak member of the herd starve in order for the strongest to eat.
You certainly won’t see any love, kindness or patience there. You will only see characteristics that ensure survival of the fittest.
This is how nature intended it to be. That’s how nature insures survival of the species in a natural environment. We humans are the ones who want a horse to be our buddy, our trustworthy companion, our soul mate.
The horse only wants food, water, comfort and safety. Our horse may genuinely LIKE us if we are the one providing those things. He may enjoy having us pet him and take care of him.
But he darn sure doesn’t LOVE us.
Nor does he have any qualms about INJURING us (as you have already experienced).
I find it amazing, you talk about this great bond you have with your horse and in the very next paragraph talk about how he is constantly trying to kick you.
And on top of that, you come up with this ridiculous justification of why its okay. You claim he must have been beaten and abused by a previous owner… causing him to be the way he is now.
Well, didn’t you say he was a good, steady, well-mannered horse when you FIRST PURCHASED him?
That’s why you bought him, right?
The truth is, YOU are the one who messed him up and turned him into something that is now dangerous. You… nobody else.
You said you lost your confidence after having a bad horse-wreck with your PREVIOUS horse. My guess is, you are the one responsible for that too.
You’ve gone through two horses now and it appears you haven’t learned any of the critical things you need to know.
Don’t you realize if Champ kicks you in the head or the chest, you could be KILLED?
Do I need to paint a picture for you?
VERY WELL, HERE’S THE SCENARIO:
Sue reaches down to pick up and clean Champ’s hoof. Champ doesn’t like that and threatens to kick Sue.
Sue, not understanding how to correct the problem, resorts to BRIBING Champ by giving him a treat.
Champ says to himself, "Let’s see if I’ve got this right. Every time I threaten to kick, this woman gives me a treat.
I wonder what would happen if I actually DID kick her? Would I get TWO treats?"
Sue reaches down to pick up the other hoof and this time Champ kicks her right square in the head.
Sue falls to the ground dead. Her body, limp and motionless with the bag of treats sticking out of her pocket.
Champ calmly reaches over, pulls out the bag and eats all the treats. All the while thinking to himself… "Damned if I wasn’t right".
The scenario above makes me so angry I can’t see straight. I’m not angry at the horse. He’s was TRAINED to do what he did by the human.
No, I’m angry at Sue.
Because a scene like this is so easily avoidable. So easy to fix.
To fix it, all you have to do is understand and accept horses for what they really are. Not some unrealistic, emotional fantasy.
I ask… what’s so wrong with TRUE horse nature that people feel like they need to make crap up?
Why do some people feel compelled to blindly believe horses possess emotional characteristics they actually don’t?
If there’s some emotional VOID in your life, projecting it and expecting it to be fulfilled by an animal, just isn’t realistic (or safe). If you want your pet to possess the emotional characteristics of a dog… for pete’s sake, go GET a dog… don’t get a horse.
Sue, don’t you realize if you get seriously injured or killed, what’s your family to do? How are your kids going to get along without you?
And what about Champ?
Now that you’ve trained him to be dangerous, nobody will want him and he'll end up being shipped to a Mexican slaughter house?
YOU have done this horse a terrible injustice. For his sake, I hope you’ll rectify it.
The statistics gathered by the American Horse Council show that approximately 80,000 people a year visit the hospital emergency room due to horse related injuries.
Sue, for the most part, these are people just like you. People who don’t understand horses.
You asked me if its too late for Champ.
The answer is NO, IT’S NOT TOO LATE.
However, a horse’s behavior is a REFLECTION OF HIS OWNER.
For Champ to change and become a good horse again… YOU HAVE TO CHANGE.
Read the words written below.
RULES, BOUNDARIES, AFFECTION, and when necessary… DISCIPLINE.
These are the keywords of a successful and rewarding relationship with your horse. The keys to a well-mannered and enjoyable horse. Boil those words down and they equal… RESPECT.
Getting your horse to RESPECT you is the essential first key to a good relationship.
Nothing is more important and I’ve written an entire Training Tips Insider about it.
Sue… if you’ll read it, I think it’ll help clear up your misconceptions.
I realize it’s not easy to admit ignorance. Its not easy to change. It’s difficult for most folks in your situation to abandon their erroneous beliefs.
However, a few more painful injuries will usually do the trick. A broken arm or cracked ribs work wonders for changing a person’s mind.
I just hope you (or Champ) don’t end up having to pay the ultimate price.
Good luck and be careful.
Remember to keep your cell phone close by.
The digits to dial are 911.
Sue, there are two online video training courses I suggest you get. Both will show how to solve your problems with Champ.