Re-action VS Pro-action

Because horses are essentially dry sponges, looking to soak up all of the wonderful experiences life has to offer, it's important to understand that they don't only learn physical cues from us but mental & emotional cues as well. As they're learning to understand & make associations to how things look, feel, smell, sound & taste, they are also experiencing the sensations of how they feel about these things. We can't tell them how to feel, so we must allow them some time to experience these feelings & show them how to use these emotions in a constructive manner by giving them patient guidance & support. If we take the time to fill these sponges with appropriate behaviours, here won't be any absorption room left for unwanted behaviour. 


It's common to see people reacting to situations without consideration or hesitation & they don't realize the deeper consequences to those actions. Using the example of a young horse that has been allowed to freely invade their owners personal space & frisk them for treats, gets slapped on the muzzle & runs away. 


From the persons point of view, it may have been an involuntary reaction or that they thought the horse needed to be taught a lesson in etiquette. Often in this type of situation, the person would then leave because the horse has gone away & the person would soon forget about what just happened, as they become distracted with other things. When they return at a later time, the person either won't realize or wonder why the horse is suddenly avoiding them & may be hard to catch. Some horses will act normally initially & begin to display avoidance behaviour at a later time. The connection won't be made on the part of the person.


If we look at it from the horse's point of view, they were having fun playing with their human, which has been acceptable all along & then they suddenly got smacked for no apparent reason. The only free time that has been allowed for meaningful interaction has been to clean their stall with the horse inside & leading from the barn to the pasture. Just random allowance of the horse to be in the person's general vicinity. All other personal interactions involve forcing the horse to do things that the person feels are appropriate, like lifting their feet & standing still for grooming. This horse wants to interact in a meaningful way with its owner & learn fun new habits. The only mutual interactive habit that has been allowed to develop & repeated was to mouth the owner for attention & mental stimulation. From the horse's point of view, the person has never hurt them before for playing this game. The horse is now experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, fear & mistrust for the person attacking them without warning. 


This one, seemingly simple attack that the person will soon forget about can lead to issues at a later time, like trouble bridling & bitting this horse. I have yet to have someone identify a direct cause of many behaviours including cribbing. Cribbing is created by a number a progressive causes by humans & not a single cause, this is one of the reasons people believe it can't be resolved. It can absolutely be resolved without the use of supplements, gadgets & sedatives but not by the people who are unwilling to change their habits & beliefs. 


It's important to pause & try to understand the underlying causes of behaviour & our roles in creating them, rather than just reacting blindly to situations because we can be doing more harm than good. We can't fix stress, anxiety, fear or excitement with force or coddling because this will always escalate the problems & lasting repercussions. Trying to stop an unwanted behaviour will only lead to the creation of a different unwanted behaviour.


When we try to force horses to do things, it's often because it's what we've seen someone else do & we're at a loss as to what to do. When we use force, we are telling horses that we are not listening to them & are not considerate of their feelings, which will cause them to lose trust & confidence in us. Horses don't understand physical punishment or why they're being forced to do things. They will recall the the negative associations with the people & circumstances & begin to over-react more strongly in those situations.


What we don't realize about these types of situations, is that we are unintentionally creating an instant accumulation of stress, fear & anxiety that can manifest itself in unwanted ways at a later time, that we will be at a loss to identify a cause for. This is where we have to create the time & patience necessary to help our horses & ourselves through these situations & learning curves.


What is the solution? Take the time to create games & puzzles for your horse's developing & inquisitive mind that involve fun personal interaction, not forcing them to do only the things you want to do. Use your horse's choices to expand on their environment. If they suddenly become interested in an object being passed, use your horse's choices to create a game or puzzle with the object of interest. You can incorporate lifting feet & grooming intermittently as you're exploring new ideas in how to use these objects to your advantage to create a connection, listening, confidence & relaxation.


Horses ( & dogs) are like little programmable robots who are eager & willing to learn in the right environment. They only repeat the behaviours that you allow. If you allow a young horse to buck & act up in particular areas without immediate redirection to achieve relaxation & a calm mindset, you are responsible for the behaviours being elicited, not your horse.