There is no doubt you have experienced frustration, fear and even anger when you've worked with horses. In my younger years I thought that whips, chains, chemical sedation and force were the answers. We are taught as children that horses must be dominated and coerced with force and fear. We believe that if we aren't the boss that the horse will be the boss.
Over the years my philosophy has changed significantly from that of traditional tough force to a gradual and thorough development of the horse's mind. You don't know what you don't know, but once you know better, you can do better!
I began studying the work of Buck Brannaman, Pat Parelli, Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, Klaus and Mark Rashid. These men are masters of the horse in every way, yet they have an intense compassion and a sense of fairness. Buck Brannaman continually talks about offering the horse a better deal. Mark Rashid teaches that only through the ultimate softness can we reach the mind of the horse. Pat Parelli stresses the utmost importance of partnership.
It is a fact that a gum line or a lip chain will quickly bring a horse under submission. A swift lash with a dressage whip across the shoulder can command the attention of even the most unruly horse. A twitch on the nose can cause a horse to stop dead in his tracks and a syringe of xylazine in the juglar vein can bring a dangerous horse under control almost immediately. These methods are sometimes required for instant safety of the horse and the handler but if the horse is educated properly from the time he is a foal, these methods are rarely if ever required.
If we know better, we do better. This is the guiding principle of natural horsemanship. If we can learn to communicate with the horse in his own language then we rely less upon force and fear. Anger begins where knowledge ends. We become frustrated and fearful if we believe the horse has the upper hand or if we have no idea how to get results effectively.
In a natural herd setting horses will communicate with one another using primarily body language. Audible sounds (whinnying) are mainly used if a herd member is separated and trying to locate the other horses. Humans by nature use speech as a primary method of communication. This becomes problematic when we think that a horse should automatically whoa when we tell him to whoa! Or if we yell loudly enough to stop it that he will somehow know what we are saying and stop the behavior. Humans become frustrated when yelling at horses only creates more problems.
The concept of pressure is a sound theory that works when applied properly. Humans are very good at applying pressure but not knowing how to stop that pressure at the right moment. Horses have evolved for many generations to understand pressure. The problem comes in when we don't realize that we often are applying 10 times the amount of pressure the horse actually needs. Pressure to a horse is the flick of an ear or the tip of the nose to one direction or another. Horses use pressure on one another that is often imperceptible to humans.
Hands that close slowly but open quickly are essential if we are to be respected by the equine. It is critical that we notice the horses' emotions and every minute movement. Something as simple as the horse looking at us with only one eye or turning the head to use both eyes means all the difference in his attitude and willingness to learn or communicate.
When I arrive at your barn with the intention of trimming your horse, I observe everything from the body language of the horse to the actions of the handler. Within the span of about 10 seconds I can tell if the horse and handler have a good relationship built on trust and respect or if the two parties are not on the same page at all. This is critical because my safety is dependent upon the horse and the handler respecting and trusting one another.
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