|What you see vs. what your horse sees:
|"Sweat the Small Stuff"
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” it was likely at a time when you were making a mountain out of a mole hill
and you perhaps needed to take a moment to analyze the situation to see that it really wasn’t worth all that effort or embarrassment.
With regard to horses, I’m going to tell you DO “Sweat The Small Stuff!” This manner of thinking is the root of my training formula.
Certain small things that might seem acceptable will snowball into larger, possibly dangerous problems.
Think of your horse/human relationship as a business deal. Your horse is your partner in this arrangement, yes, but NOT your equal
partner, you are the majority shareholder in your business. Therefore, your decisions & wishes supersede all of his. If he is to remain a
useful partner in your business, he must recognize his place and clearly understand what is expected from him. It’s your job as the
boss to lay it all out in black and white for your horse. In order to accomplish this, you must learn to speak his language. He doesn’t
understand plain English but he DOES understand body English!
Simply put, you must learn to think like a horse!
Scroll to the bottom of this page for specific things to look for........
Let's try to illustrate some differences in the way horses perceive something as opposed to how humans perceive the very same thing.
Here are some thought provoking pictures, not to be taken literally, of course! The purpose here is to help you begin to see things from
a horse's point of view. The next time your horse reacts huge to something you view as small, think of these fun examples!
WHAT YOU SEE: WHAT HE SEES:
|These next 5 examples are all
about bullying >>>>
BULLYING, herd instinct,
dominance & power are facts of
life like it or not.
I consistently meet with well meaning horse owners who are struggling to cope with their horse’s diminishing skills. I’m
sure you can relate to buying a horse that was so wonderful that it seemed as though he should’ve been wearing a cape,
and then once you got him home, those amazing skills seemed to erode to the point where you develop a serious case of
buyer’s remorse. This transformation usually occurs within the first 6 months of ownership but it can develop at any
time. This is an opportunistic ‘virus’ which lies in remission just waiting for the right time to make itself known. The
disease is highly contagious but it’s only transmitted via human carriers. Often times, owners respond by blaming the
seller or the trainer, mistakenly thinking that the horse was misrepresented or even drugged. Too many times we look to
clinicians and pros whose general advice is to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. Well, that’s great
advice and it's absolutely true but it’s open to interpretation; it’s a gray area, left handed answer.
Here I will give you some black and white answers including specific things to look for, both good and bad.
Horses are experts at reading body English. In their natural environment, this practice is routine, in fact their very
lives depend on it.
Illustration: Horse ownership can be likened to a fitness program. If you don’t have some amount of knowledge,
opportunity, initiative & self discipline then your fitness program will not produce effective results. You may have limited
success, but to get the most benefit from your efforts, you need the correct ratio of knowledge, opportunity, initiative &
Owners must cultivate desire, determination & commitment to maintain balance in their horse/human business
When you handle or ride any horse, you are either training or un-training him.
Horses were designed, created and programmed to live outside in a herd environment. This is the root cause of stall
vices and many handler problems.
It’s your responsibility to set clear boundaries and then keenly watch for any sign of erosion. By being aware and
proactive in the early, smaller stages of erosion you can avoid a larger disaster.
Keys to success:
- intent (body English)
- use of black and white cues, no gray area cues
- set goals, small & large
- develop a lesson plan
Subtle signs of disrespect include but are not limited to:
- rubbing the head anywhere on you or even toward you
- turning the hind quarters in your direction...for ANY reason
- ear pinning
- head tossing or teeth grinding especially when grooming and saddling
- dancing around when handling, grooming & tacking
- sniffing your pockets in search of a treat
- gnawing on the lead rope or cross ties
- whinnying incessantly
- walking too slow or too fast when being led: pulling
- electing to eat grass while leading or riding
- looking away from you often
- nickering, pawing, kicking, running in circles, etc. at feeding times
- spooking = this is not a misprint, spooking is listed under the heading of subtle signs of disrespect because this is
indicative of the horse’s lack of confidence in you as their competent leader
- tail wringing
- nipping or nibbling
Obvious signs of disrespect:
- baring teeth, snapping
- pulling, not leading well
- moving into your space
Signs of an independent personality:
- hard to catch
- turns tail toward you
- looking away often
- ignoring you
- does not lead well
- does not stand still to be mounted
- won’t stand under saddle
- pawing under saddle
- alpha or agressive horse in pasture
Positive signs to watch for:
- looks at you with both eyes any time you approach
- faces you in the stall, round pen or pasture
- stands quietly for grooming & tacking
- stands quietly while tied...anywhere!
- stands quietly while mounting & under saddle
- does not whinny or look around for other horses
- turns ears back toward rider when rein(s) are pulled
Another analogy: Think of your horse/human relationship as an employer/employee relationship. You as the employer
have hired the horse to provide you with a service. He has hired on to be a safe and reliable mount for yourself or a
member of your family. In return, you provide him with housing, meals, clothing, massages, chiropractor, health and
dental benefits, transportation, pedicures, make-overs, recreation, etc. Would you tolerate an employee who did not fulfill
his job description? Likely not, but you would try to positively readjust and motivate that employee before you fire him.
Ask yourself "If my horse were a person, would I want him/her as an employee?" Then determine why or why not.
Kalamity Cate will help you develop your skills and savvy so you can be an offensive rider. This doesn't mean that she
wants you to offend your fellow riders, it means that you take an offensive position in communicating with your horse. In
this formula, you determine the plays (or cues) and your horse reacts to your actions, not the other way around. You'll
learn to focus on what you want your horse to do, not what you don't want him to do. Defensive riders are at a
Kalamity Cate is a fictional character that I conjured to rescue folks out of sticky situations with their
horses. She teaches them how to think like a horse so as to better approach a variety of scenarios. She is on
the lookout to prevent calamity, always looking for real world, potentially dangerous situations that could
result in injury. She helps to re-direct things to a safer manner to enrich the partnership between owner &
horse. Her goal is to make things safer and more rewarding for everyone through explanation and example!