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Fear or Fight?
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Fear or Fight?

In a group I am in, I have seen so many "wrecks about to happen" through pictures. I can't begin to count them on both hands and feet. While each and every person has their own training methods, these pictures cause me to pause in thought about how to achieve goals through lessons in a different manner. 

Horses have 2 general responses to something new: fight or flight. They either fear whatever it is, or they want to fight whatever it is because the horse has such a high self preservation instinct. It's up to the trainer to determine which instinct the horse is using and find a way to desensitize the horse in order to teach it that it's not going to be hurt or die in the process. 

Some trainers are really good at bending around training techniques to find what works best, but others continue with what they deem as "tried and true" methods. Methods in which I have found to use power over the horse to get it to do what they want. It's their "go to" training method. 

I have learned to become eclectic in my training. If I try something several times and the horse I'm teaching doesn't get it, I'll try something different. That way, I'm always giving the horse a chance to understand what I'm trying to get it to do. A horse is always honest. They will never lie, they aren't deceitful, and they don't get angry or my favorite "throw tantrums". 

One method I've seen a lot lately is called Biting-up. With this method, you bridle the horse and use bungee type cords attached to the cinch or surcingle with enough give that when the horse puts its head down, it releases the pressure on its face. This not only helps a horse to give to pressure, but it helps them to collect themselves better, usually during transitions. I have used this method a few times, though it's not my "go to" method. If your horse isn't giving to pressure, try a different halter first. 99% of the time, the trainer is trying to achieve this with a flat halter on. Switch to a rope halter and check out your body position. You can push a horse in any direction just by your body language. It's not a miracle or something new. Horses use this method because it's how they communicate with other horses. Don't believe me? Try it some time. Put your horse in a round pen, lower your head and walk towards your horse. Watch your horses reaction. Now if you put your hands up to your head as if your "ears" are flat back and lower your head, you're "snaking" your horse, which tells them to move off away from you.  done this with my own horse and it works because I'm speaking to her in her own language. 

A trainers main job is to teach the horse human language, in much the same manner as you would teach a dog. The difference is, horses have fear and fight responses, so you have to be a lot more alert than you would with your dog. You want your horse to respect you, but you don't want your horse to be afraid of you or to fight you. Fear is an unknown, scary, predator. Fight is position, saving my own life.

I would hope more trainers would come into the 21st century and learn new ways to communicate with horses they have in training. The old cowboy ways do work, but that primarily uses human power and fear to control the horse instead of using horse communication that they understand and will respond to more readily. That is just my opinion and not everyone shares my opinion, which is fine.

I've also noticed that, nowadays, it's a rush to put a horse through training, whether the horse is ready or not, and in comes that power and fear over the horse to control it. No horse, regardless of breed, should be ridden under the age of 3. That's not just my opinion, but also the opinion of many Veterinarians across the country. Just because your colt is 15 hands at 1 1/2 years old, doesn't mean they are structurally ready for a rider. Put more ground work on them and let their bones grow. You can do so much with them on the ground long before anyone puts a foot in a stirrup. Put a halter on them with a lead rope, get them into the round pen, and let them step on that lead rope without you prompting them. They'll learn to lower their head when they step on it, move their feet until their head is free, OR just wait until you help them out. See there? 2 fold lesson: giving to pressure and having patience. Of course, you can't just put the halter and lead on them then leave them all day like that. You have to supervise the activity in case your horse gets into serious trouble and needs your help before it breaks its neck or leg. They aren't your 3 year old kid sitting in front of a television. Supervise the training. 

With anything you try to teach your horse, remember that they are either fighting for position or running away out of fear. Determine which it is, and work accordingly. I believe you'll find a much more willing partner when you find what works best with your horse. It may take some time for those A-Ha moments, but they will come. 

Thank you for checking out my blogs. I appreciate all comments and votes. 

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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  1. Archippus
    Good information! Voted +1
    1. Rene Wright
      Rene Wright
      Thanks Coach :)
      1. Archippus
        Your welcome! Hope to see more articles from you in the future!
  2. arabobsession
    its how i work voted
  3. haggis
    Very intestine got my vote

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