Updated: Jan 16
“A great horse will change your life. The truly special ones define it.” As I have journeyed with horses, I have found this quote to be so true. Horses have taught me so much. Especially the semi-wild horses of Mongolia and my golden mare and mentor Sonja. In this blog I will share lessons learned from horses that has helped me not only partner with them in a better way, but in life in general as well.
Focus on solving the problem rather than winning the battle
If we go into a training session with the mindset of it “being a battle,” we`ll most likely find that the horse will be more against us and behave exactly as we thought he or she would.
For example, if thinking, “This horse is really lazy. I have to make sure he keeps on going forward,” the horse will probably be even more lazy. If, on the other hand, we go in with the attitude of what can we do to motive this horse to go forward? We focus on helping the horse rather than winning battle.
I at least often find the answer lies in rewarding the horse for going forward by stop asking the horse to go forward, when the horse actually goes forward. Being asked to do something he already does is very demotivating for a horse, but we tend to forget that when focusing on winning the battle. Because we become scared of the horse wining and doing the wrong thing which is stopping, we make sure the horse keeps on going and by doing so we nag the horse forward, which is very demotivating for the horse.
In other cases my prejudges has made me to loud, because my mindset has been I have to get that lazy horse going, I forget to ask politely first and use a small er signal to start with. Funny thing is that taking the focus of winning the battle and rather solve the problem, works really well in the human world too.
Horses need a way out
Before riding the Mongol Derby, I used to control horses to make them do what I wanted them to do — that’s what I thought horse riding was all about. But the horses of Mongolia taught me otherwise. If I tried to constrict or control them, they didn’t want me on their backs, because they experienced me as a threat to their survival in the wild. By not giving them a way out they found their own way out, which was to buck me off.
In a sense the semi-wild horses of Mongolia are horses in their purest form, they are very horsey horses. Just because a more domesticated equine tolerates to be constricted, micromanaged and controlled doesn`t make it right. Plus it`s not good for the relationship with the horse. Horses appreciate the trust of being able to do things from self and not be told what to do and what not to do at all times. It`s called self control and just as important for horses to learn as for humans.
Good things take time and creativity
Sometimes you may encounter with a horse that is harder to train than other horses. In my experience, most horses tolerate a whole lot of things. This might make it look like controlling them works. But, every now and then, you get a horse that is special and won’t tolerate it. If you have a horse like this, it’s a gift because you will have to take your time, be creative and learn to understand how horses really are.
My mare Sonja is like that. To use the same training method I have learned and practiced on hundreds of horses with success, didn`t work out very well on her. She was obedient and all, but lacked self-control and trust. By controlling her it was possible to ride her, but she kept her emotions bottled up inside, until her worry cup overflowed. Then she`d buck, bolt, spook or do something else stupid and throw me off. In a situation like this it`s easy to blame the horse`s bad temper. Her worry cup was small indeed, but the training didn`t help emptying it, like it should.
Pointing the finger on me and not her when trying to find a solution boosted my creativity. I decided to do something completely different and started playing ball with her. This gave her confidence and reset our relationship. Most of all it made me less concerned about obedience and more focused on having fun and building a relationship with her.
I think all three lessons in this blog is something I learned from training horses by giving them choices rather than controlling them. It`s like going from being an "old school boss" to becoming a "modern leader" to my horses and the work is not about changing the horse but about changing myself. It really works if you want to build a better partnership with your horse and make your horse easier to ride, with or without tack. Click the pictures below to watch video of the transformation of the Black Mare, from being controlled to gaining self control.