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Tracy Courtney

Unwanted Behaviour

After reading this title, what would be your first thoughts? Be honest, most of us will begin to recall the myriad of problems we’ve experienced with horses, right? We are going to look at unwanted behaviour, but it’s not what you’re thinking…

Many of my clients contact me for behavioural problems of all shapes & sizes. In the majority of cases, I can solve the problems within one hour but for much more deeply rooted problems such as cribbing, wind sucking, complete shut-down, true aggression & self-mutilation, more time & consistency are needed. There is a common theme during initial meetings with clients as they are often quite emotional in one capacity or another. They are overflowing with a number of negative & often fearful associations like frustration, anger, pity, blame, stress, worry & in some cases violence as it was felt it was a last resort. This rollercoaster of emotions are legitimate & can in some cases become debilitating, possibly even causing us to question our direction in life. I absolutely do empathize with people & I can understand how we can begin to doubt ourselves & our horses.

In no way do I ever judge or blame people for the circumstances they find themselves in with horses because we all do the best we can with the knowledge we have. In fact, I commend people for having the courage to admit that they don’t have the understanding to deal with their current situation & reach out for help. Unfortunately, the help that is always offered through good intentions sometimes makes our situation worse.

Have we ever stopped to consider why we become so unglued about the behaviour of our horses? Why it triggers such an emotional rollercoaster? Why there is such a common theme to our own behaviour when we have a first meeting with someone who is there to help us with our horse? Why the discussion always revolves around negativity? All the awful things our horse has done & all the ways we tried to counter & make our horse act differently? Where does the root of this common & consistent behaviour in humans stem from? Could there be a correlation between our horse’s behaviour & our own?

What are other common human behaviours seen when people are working with their horse? Everywhere I go, when a horse stops doing something, I see the human immediately stop, turn & face their horse & then do something to make the horse respond to what was dictated. When someone is afraid for their safety because a horse is explosive, I commonly see the human gasp, hold their breath & freeze or become over animated & force the horse to do something quickly. In these & many other possible scenarios, the common behaviour is to become

emotional; angry &/or fearful

mental; think of ways to make the behaviour stop

physical; speed up

to perceive the behaviour as negative; laziness, aggression

to perceive the behaviour as a personal attack; stubborn, defiant

to force/retaliate; make the horse move or do something

drive them away; a disciplinary action in the herd

increase speed/duration; punishment for their crime

carry the negative thoughts/emotions; expect/wait for behaviour to repeat & always poised to counter attack

What if we tried changing our own perceptions of our horse’s behaviour instead of following the crowd & being influenced by what we see everybody else do? What if we began to look at unwanted behaviour as a gift instead of a problem?

What if when our horse does something we don’t want, instead of looking at it through the eyes of negativity, we looked at it as an opportunity to open up a new channel of communication? To ask, “why is my horse doing this?”, instead of how do I make my horse stop doing this? What if we opened our mind to the possibility that our horse is reacting to our mental, emotional & physical outlook & mirroring what they see in us? What if we chose to accept this mirroring of us & chose to use it as a tool to recognize when we’re falling into old habits? What if we looked at our horse’s unwanted behaviour as a guide to help us gage how our progress is going in building a new connection & understanding with our horse? What if this was a simpler way to know when we were doing the right things because the behaviour would get better if we were moving in the right direction? 

What if the behaviour could be used as a guide to help us understand that we need to do something differently if the behaviour got worse? What if this simple shift of changing our own behaviour opened enough mental & emotional space to begin to recognize patterns in how our horse’s behaviour is affected by our behaviour? What if we could remain mentally, emotionally & physically neutral in order to understand how we are escalating & deescalating the behaviour by our own choices & not because someone or something else is causing the behaviour? What if our new perceptions of these gifts could eliminate the need for help from outside sources? What if perceiving behaviour as a gift could eliminate the emotional rollercoaster, force, misunderstandings & gadgets? What if our horse became the only teacher we would ever need? What if…