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Tracy Courtney

Building the Template

When it comes to working with our horses, many of us focus on what we don't want, but do we spend much time thinking about what we do want in every situation? We often think we do, but these decisions are frequently narrowly based on goals & end results. We've become accustomed to working with our horses in designated or limited areas which does result in a certain level of awareness of what we want but what happens when we move away from these familiar surroundings & habits we've developed?

This is where we tend to get into trouble because we aren't sure how to affect our horse's behaviour at feeding time, bath time, treatments, during vet & farrier visits, solving bitting problems, passing cows, etc. We think we know how to affect behaviour insofar as sending our horses away from us & in different directions, but this doesn't carry through to the other daily interactions we have with our horses. We simply don't realize how deeply we've been conditioned to look consistently on the negative side of our interactions with our horses & we respond accordingly. Our thoughts, more often than not, center around how to get our horses to stop doing things instead of contemplating about what they should be doing instead. If we want to move forward, it's important that we take ample time to create a detailed template based on what we do want our horses to do in every situation consistently. This will remove the confusion, fear & lack of confidence that will always result from the unknown & in how we choose to approach new situations. 

If we've most often worked in a particular area, of course our horses are going to be worried about leaving that area, if a solid connection hasn't been made & we are not yet perceived as the burning barn. This is the reason so many horses become uncontrollable when asked to leave the indoor arena if that's all they've ever done. Just like us, our horses will have become comfortable with the arena & have built habits of expectations, like when we arrive home from work. The difference in knowing & not knowing what to do in new situations, lies in having established a basic template to fall back on, to help our horse & ourselves navigate new situations with confidence & enthusiasm or hesitation & fear.

How do professional horsemen make it look so easy & can fix any problem in any situation? Because they have created a basic foundational template & added to that template over time to an extensive level of understanding & communication skills. Professional horsemen who are worth their sand always know that no matter how things go sideways, it's never about what the horse is or isn't doing but always about creating connection, communication, confidence & relaxation. It's not about the external noise that so many are so quick to blame as the source of the problems. 

Developing a template begins with knowing beyond a doubt, how our horses should behave in any given situation & helping them to find that balance every time they ask for it. To create an effective template, there must be discussion, not control, force or dictation, or you will never become the burning barn. Familiarity helps to soften the learning curve for both of you, so you can begin to create the ABC's of your new language. This will carry through to every new situation & surrounding. As you continue to listen & discuss, single words will lead to sentences & as you begin to expand on your discussions, they will naturally morph into paragraphs. When this becomes the comfortable new norm, you will be having discussions with your horse just as simply & comprehensively as you do with other humans. This is where you will gain the ability to read horses from across the field, begin to know what's most likely going to happen & start to take preventative measures before even going near the horse.

As an example, we have been or have known couples who can just know what the other is thinking, without saying a word & finish each other's sentences. We are all capable of having this same type of relationship with our horses & other pets as well, but not through the current applications of common methods that focus on the physical attributes of behaviour. Do you think these types of relationships happened over night? Are these types of human relationships as rare as the number of professional horsemen who interact with horses in the same way? This is why we can't understand the ability to become the burning barn is even possible, let alone achievable by every single one of us.