How to fix the horse-human disconnect.
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
I like to think of every interaction that I have with my horse as a conversation. What a lot of people don't realize is that this conversation is a two-way street. We tend to run into problems when our horses notice a lack of consistency in our leadership or when you are not acknowledging your horse's feedback. What we need to remember is that what we consider negative feedback our horses give us is either based on their insecurities as a prey animal or physical discomfort. This post will focus on the former possibility.
The conversation we have during each interaction with our horse goes beyond just us telling our horses what to do. Our horses also give us feedback within that conversation. One of those forms of feedback are questions. Here are some examples of questions your horse might ask you:
Are you consistent?
Am I safe?
Are you safe?
Do you notice when I... (my personal all-time favorite!)
What are you going to do about...
Are you interesting?
Are you fair?
Are you assertive?
Are you present?
How you "answer" these "questions" for your horse is everything to the partnership. Of course, I'm not talking about verbal questions and answers so this means you need to be able to read your horse's body language properly and address any questions as they come up. Your horse is constantly reading and evaluating your body language so it's key that you have some awareness about what you are projecting as well.
1) Recognize where your mind is at
Half of the issues that I run into with students is they have absolutely no awareness of where their mind is at.
Your horse can tell instantly if you are not present and they will begin to test you more often to see if your leadership is still intact. If they find some holes in your attention they will exploit them or lose confidence, depending on their personality. I have observed that people usually don't realize their mind is elsewhere until their horse starts giving them really noticeable trouble. (Which by the way started very small... but they didn't see it.) Then all of the sudden the human is super frustrated that the horse is misbehaving, which is super unfair to the horse, who was just trying to establish whether their human could be trusted or not that day.
2) Go back to simple tasks
If you are able to recognize that your mind has been on other things and now you are ready to see what your horse is presenting more clearly - go back to things that your horse knows well and can be successful with.
Throwing a couple of easy things into the session to re-establish communication can help your horse connect back into the conversation. It will also help your mindset as you and your horse were not on the same page previously and now you are.
3) Didn't work?
Sometimes, once your horse becomes disconnected mentally from you, it can be hard to regain his focus. If this is the case, you will want to stick to what he knows but come up with an unusual variation that forces him to pay attention.