Updated: Jul 3
Often we see horses that are innately calm and gentle, but they may not be very responsive to the point of actually being dull. Despite popular belief these horses are no safer than unconfident, over-reactive horses. If they don’t respond to your requests to follow a feel or move out of your space when all is well in their world it is easy to get into trouble when you are in a serious situation that needs a quick response - stop, go or move out of the way. We need to concentrate on getting these horses more responsive.
The opposite is true of horses that are overly stimulated and over-reactive. Our main goal with them is to work towards getting them calmer. As we get them calmer we usually go through a time when they get less responsive. It is a process of swinging the pendulum until it settles in the middle which is a calm and responsive horse. It is here that you have a horse that is connected with you. It is attentive and ready to respond, but is calmly waiting for guidance from you.
We usually start by helping a horse to become more calm and confident. An unconfident horse is going to be problematic to themselves and to us in our domestic environment. They are going to struggle to cope with the things that we ask of them. However, there are some horses that are so innately confident that you may need to start with establishing some personal space and understanding of who yields from whom in your relationship.
We will never live long enough to expose our horse to everything in the world so we have to approach it in categories and develop the horse rather than just introduce them to “things”.
There are three main categories of stimulus that we will get horses confident with:
Sensation (the touch and feel of something)
We know that horses are very sensitive to those things, and some more so than others!
We need to be able to handle the horse all over, and they need to be confident with the tools that we will use
Noises are a trigger for many horses. They hear something behind them and they are gone. Initially this was a survival strategy; those that didn’t react didn’t contribute to the gene pool. Obviously through thousands of years of selective breeding we have bred them to be quieter, but they are still what they are - a wild horse. They are still programmed to go into flight and that is something very easy to bring out in them. So we need to help them to control themselves around a variety of sounds.
Horses, as we know, are very sensitive to motion. Their acute eyesight picks up movement at great distances.
So we are going to work with those three categories of stimulus and use something called “advance and retreat”. Too much advance, or things advancing towards them can make horses skeptical. Things that retreat cause them to become confident and when a horse is confident it becomes curious and curiosity is the opposite of fear. So that is exactly what we are trying to bring out in a horse - curiosity. It is the retreat that builds their confidence and the approach that allows us to make progress. It takes them a little bit further out of their comfort zone than these horses would naturally choose to go, but they learn that the retreat back into their comfort zone is coming and so they get more confident in the approach.
Find out how our "Connected Horse Course" could help you get started.