Horse Psychology Tutorial: Part 7 Common Causes Of Distrust

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Horse Psychology Tutorial - Part 7 Common Causes Of Distrust

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Common Causes Of Distrust
Part 7 of an 8-part series on horse psychology by trainer Gina Gaye Muzinich of the Morgan Horse Ranch

It’s better to prevent negative behaviors than trying to cure them. Here are some common destructive mistakes that cause horses distrust and discomfort:

(a) Often times people want the horse’s body to do something before his mind understands it. Sometimes we think he understands because he may do what we want, but don’t be misled. If the horse doesn’t respond correctly to a cue at least 99 percent of the time, he really hasn’t learned the cue. Instead, he probably developed muscle memory and conditioned response. A horse can only concentrate on one thing at a time. However, he can eventually do more than one thing at a time. When we play a musical instrument by ear, it does not mean we know the names of the notes or chords we are playing. Also, we can learn to sing a song in another language by mimicking the sound of the words and the melody. We may be able to perform it beautifully but not know what the words mean. Similarly, many of us must sing a few lines of the alphabet to see if R comes after T or if T comes after R. Too often we are in a hurry and expect our horses to go from first grade to fourth grade, but we don’t expect our children to write their names the first day of school. First they must hold the pencil correctly, scribble, form letters, and then put them together to spell their names. Why do most of us fail to give the horse that same kind of grace? Why are we at times so neglectful? It is because of our lack of knowledge, constructive experience, time, and perhaps our lack of will.

(b) Most people will put the bit into the horse’s mouth before he allows us to rub his muzzle, massage his gums, or insert our finger into the side of his mouth. Until the horse shows acceptance of these things, it is best not to bit him up. How can we tell when he is accepting? He will seem relaxed and confident by standing calmly and not raising his head nor sticking his nose out in resistance. The moving of his mouth during these exercises is welcomed. What makes him resist in the first place? Maybe he’s never had his mouth handled before, or if he did, it wasn’t done effectively. Perhaps the person didn’t remove her hand soon enough during the first few lessons so the horse thought he might have to live with that hand in his mouth, so the horse did something to remove it. Perhaps the bit was too cold or he has been hurt during the bitting process.

(c) Many times riders continue cuing the horse to do something even though he is already doing it. Because the person did not cease or lighten up on the cue even when the horse did the right thing the horse may try to do various things to get you to stop cuing him. The horse becomes confused. In time the horse may become nervous, irritated, resentful, or numb to the command, depending on the temperament of the horse.

(d) Some riders accidentally activate the reins because their body rhythm is not yet in synch with the horse. The horse may slow down upon feeling this accidental rein action, but she soon finds herself being kicked in the sides because the rider really didn’t want her to slow down. The horse becomes confused or frustrated because she is actually being asked to stop and go simultaneously. The horse usually seeks a way out to survive this stress. She may resort to desensitizing herself and eventually not responding to the rider’s signals. She is then labeled stubborn. The bewildered rider usually ends up inflicting more discomfort on the horse in effort to get a response.

(e) Some people get angry and punish their horse by whipping or spurring him in order to move him forward into or past something that he is afraid of. The horse may then relate the object with the inflicted pain and become even more frightened of the object. I’m not totally discouraging the use of whips or spurs, just as long as they are used properly. Our temperament, timing, and level of infliction are of utmost importance.

(f) Sometimes we ask too much from our horse and do not allow her enough thought time. Someone once said, “my horse was working pretty good yesterday. I had her turning around great, but now she won’t.” Well, they’ve probably over done it. The horse was trying to figure things out and do the right thing. The rider only wanted more and better without rewarding the horse by praising and/or ending the session. We are tempted to ask just one more thing from the horse. We don’t seem to quit while we are ahead, so then the horse quits.

(g) We often ask a horse to do something, and then we give up. For example, some riders just cue the horse once, asking him to speed up to a trot. Then they just sit there and wait to see if the horse obeys. But, through the act of waiting more than a few seconds, the horse ends up thinking that his rider really didn’t mean what was asked. This kind of thing causes the horse to hesitate for longer amounts of time before he responds. Instead, you must keep cuing him to trot, but start off gentle and wait two seconds for a response. If none, kick the horse harder. Pretty soon the horse will respond to the initial, gentle cue right away. Make the wrong thing difficult. Then as soon as the horse obeys make the right thing easy by ceasing the cue and praising him when he trots. Even if he drops back down to a walk, don’t worry about it. Take advantage of the opportunity to cue him again. This allows the horse to learn through his mistakes. In fact, I ask the horse to drop his speed before he does it on his own. He learns that I am not going to trot him forever, and he more willingly goes back into the trot next time he’s asked to.

(h) Sometimes people ride Western on a horse that was trained English, and ride English on a horse that was trained Western. It is not so much the tack that is of concern, although the Western tie strings that hang down from the saddle or a rear cinch could frighten an English horse that has regretfully never been taught otherwise or has never worn a Western saddle before. In this case, I’d work the horse from the ground before mounting up. (I usually do ground work before mounting up on any horse.) The biggest concern is how one rides. Western and English cues are slightly different. An English rider seems to maintain more leg contact and a Western rider rides with less bit contact. Some Western horses may object to more leg or bit contact either temporarily or for quite a while. I believe any constant leg or bit contact is detrimental, especially if it is done for the sole purpose of the rider’s “security”.

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