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Respect is a Two Way Street

18 August 2011 No Comment

Respect is a Two Way Street
By: Mark Rashid

Many of us are confused by the term “respect”. We’ve been told that a wide variety of behaviors by our horses indicated that we are doing something wrong — that we don’t have our horses’ respect. And, our response to this “lack of respect”, it is often suggested, can range from making the horse move his feet by backing him up quickly or by putting him in a tight circle or some other maneuver along those lines.

If we understand that we need to be dependable and reliable in our routine activities and in the way we work with our horses, then let’s talk about what’s next. Many folks get confused and then maybe get into some trouble. We’d like to offer a little different twist on this topic and some suggestions about what to do when certain behaviors pop up — in ourselves or in our horses.

Here are some questions posed to Mark about this :

First, do you feel it is important that we have our horse’s respect?
Yes. But before you can get their respect, you have to have the horse’s trust. Respect is a two way street. You can’t get it without giving it.

How do you believe we should go about getting that respect?
By first trying to gain the horse’ s trust and by not assuming that the horse is being disrespectful all the time. A lot of things that horses do are not always out of disrespect. If you’re seeing something, for instance in the round pen — the horse runs by and kicks at you — is that disrespect? Not necessarily. Often, what appears to be disrespectful behavior is actually confusion or defensive behavior. If they’re kicking at you from 30 feet away, what are the chances of them really connecting? Look at the big picture. Even if a horse is attacking or backing at you from quite a distance, I think it’s usually confusion or a defensive thing that we may have prompted or that is being prompted by the memory of past stressful incidents. By not always assuming disrespect but assuming confusion, we leave ourselves another avenue to pursue.

Is there ever a time when “pressure” on our horses should be escalated?
Certainly, there are times. But again, you have to take each situation as it comes. If our horse is offering certain behaviors that are not acceptable, we can start with minimal responses to let the horse know that the behavior is not okay. We then have somewhere to go if we need to. For example, the succession might be to make a sound, then (if necessary) taking a step in the horse‘s direction, maybe the next thing would be to lift the arms up some. Where I often see folks getting into a jam is that they usually start out bigger than they need to therefore they override the little tries that the horse is giving them and missing the point altogether. Start with least and then work your way up. So yes, there are times when probably more is needed, but take each situation as it comes.

If so, what are three things you’d suggest to help us we evaluate that situation?
Big one is — hold your horse’s attention. Before you can do anything you have to have that. Once you have it, you can usually keep it by doing very subtle things. However, many times we use some technique but don’t really have the horse’s full attention or the attention will wander and then we are forced to up the pressure to regain the attention. If we had kept the attention to begin with or relied more on keeping the attention, we wouldn’t have had to up the pressure in the first place.

#2 If you have the attention but still some of the behaviors, the horse probably didn’t understand what was being asked and that doesn’t always mean they’re not trying. You might have to up the pressure a little bit to get a response but it should only be a little bit. If you up the pressure a lot right off the bat and go past the point where horse could have responded, the horse can become upset. Once the horse is upset, usually the fights start.

#3 If you’ve upped the pressure too much and gone past the comfortable spot for the horse, you can recover … just back up or stop — don’t escalate. If things are going real bad, you can even leave the pen (or whatever enclosure you’re working in) to regroup before trying again.. If you are in the saddle and having a problem, for instance, looking for a lead change and you’re in a fight with horse, just stop and go back to walk. If have to get off , do so. Give the both of you a little time to think about it and start over. You may have to even quit for the day. Use whatever you need to make it right. I always prefer backing off instead of escalating. It’s been my experience that, if you escalate pressure, your horse will be willing to escalate the undesired behavior. By backing off a little, it’s easier to both then get back on same page or at least in the same book and work from there.

What are two techniques you’ve been successful using in those situations — in general? (i.e. backing up w/ taut lead rope, etc.)

Use what you have to is the best way to put it. Use what tools are available at the time and go from there. Most people are so locked into technique that they don’t use their imagination for situations. Overusing technique can be a problem because it doesn’t allow the person to take the next step on their own based upon what’s happening at that moment. People need to know that it’s okay to be creative so they can solve problems or avoid the problem. For example, I once had a mare who needed some encouragement from behind to help her step up into a trailer. The only thing handy was a nearby garden hose. We stretched the hose out about fifteen feet behind the horse and lightly shook the hose on the ground. This gave her the pressure she needed to make a try and soon we were able to stop using the hose. So, instead of being stuck with something that isn’t working, think about the big picture and what can help you both get the desired response.

Let’s take a specific example … let’s say we have checked out all the environmental factors we could that might be the cause of a certain behavior and we ultimately conclude that out horse has stopped trying for us. Walk us through a general process you go through to resolve this.

If a horse that normally loads in a trailer suddenly won’t go in, something in the routine has probably changed. The horse is usually not just going to stop doing something that they’ve always done. I would look for a change of routine or environmental factors or anything else out of the ordinary. A good hard look at the big picture will usually tell you where the refusal is coming from. If you honestly feel comfortable that you have looked at all the external factors (or possible physical factors such as soreness or lameness, etc.), it may be time to get creative. The kind or number of techniques that you might come up with to help your horse are limited only by the constraints of your own imagination.

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