Something I’ve been pondering of late is ‘Do horses really enjoy being around me? Or do they just want to eat?’ On my quest to figure out this horse and human connection I have been trying to ask myself better questions in a hope that I will get some more concise answers. Asking these questions has forced me to reflect on all the horses that I have had the opportunity to work with over the years, and if I’m honest a lot of the horses I have worked with over the years more than likely didn’t love being around me. I have probably been more of the dictator type (you know the ‘agenda’ horse trainer type, always trying to get something done!) Writing that feels kind of confronting, but true. As I have delved deeper into working on my own personal development as a horseman and a human, it’s become blatantly obvious to me that the one major factor limiting a deeper connection with horses, was yours truly… It was me! Who was I kidding, it’s never the horses fault. They have always reflected me.
So, ask yourself ‘does your horse really enjoy being around you? or does it just love the food you bring it’? Honestly, do you think the interactions you are having with your horse on a regular basis provides them with some mental and physical stimulation. Do they appear to enjoy interacting with you? Are they easy to catch? Do they run up to you whenever you walk in to the yard (without feed!) Are they willing and enthusiastic in their work? Or are you having to push them constantly and ask, ask, then tell! It’s ok, don’t be ashamed about your answers to these questions, we are all in the same boat here. I’m the first to put my hand up when things are going south on the connection front with a horse. I’ve grown to the point where I challenge myself to ‘re-present’ the exercise to the horse in another way to see if we can work through the issue together. Don’t worry, I haven’t always had this ZEN like response to training issues, its been a tumultuous journey over the years of self discovery and being completely honest with myself, trying to leave my EGO at the arena gate and start to grow as a horseman.
Another cracker of a question that is worth asking on a regular basis is, ‘does my horse just want to eat?’ You have probably all met or perhaps currently own that overly food obsessed horse, you know the one that barely even notices you if you don’t have a feed bucket. I’ve got one myself, ‘Belle’ is her name she is incredibly food obsessed. My wife has quite rightly pointed out ‘Belle’s’ love of food over the years. Here I was thinking my mare just loved greeting me…”No Justin, your mare just loves to eat, and if all you do is feed your horse, they will only love you for that!”
Where I’m going with all of this is that if we want to have a stimulating horse and human connection, I believe we need to have a balance of being the provider (the feed giver!) and the motivator (trainer) for our horses. In my own experience if I am just the provider, where I only ever visit my horses at feed time and deliver them the goods, we never seem to establish the connection in their work. However, on the other hand if I provide my horses the balance of being the provider and motivator we seem to take it to another level. Just as a side note – I do understand that finding time to work with your horses is tough in this busy life! I’ve found through working with my mentoring students that helping them set tasks for each week and schedule in sessions has provided them another reason to show up.
I would like to encourage you all to ask the tough questions more often when you are with your horses. I’ve been asking these tougher questions on a more regular basis with my horsemanship and its given me a whole new perspective on connecting with horses and who ‘I’ need to be in order to communicate with horses (And its not who I thought I needed to be!). I’ve been testing this with the young horses I am starting under saddle of late, if my horses won’t follow me around at liberty before, during and after our sessions I know we are not there yet and something needs to change. It’s like a litmus test for me at every stage of my horse training journey, I am essentially asking my horses ‘do you still want to be around me?’ You may not like the answer your horse provides to this question, perhaps they will just stand there with a blank look on their face, saying something along the lines of “lets wrap this up, go get my feed bucket, we’re done here.” If you feel you are in this space – fear not, its easy to fix. Think more about providing variety and stimulation for your horse every time you interact with them. Change things up on a regular basis, change locations, ride outside the arena, ride with new horses and friends, keep it fresh, keep your horses mind on the job.
I’m writing this at Dubai airport en route to London Heathrow to begin my UK tour in Wales this weekend. I hope this helps in some way and you get to figure out if your horse actually enjoys being around you..
I’d love to hear from you, if this resonated with you!
Enjoy the Adventure.