I do not believe in problem horses. As in human relationships, I believe that problems which occur between horses and humans are generally due to poor communication. My experience with horses has centered largely around working with so-called “problem” horses, only to find that with clear communication and expectations, these horses behave better than their counterparts within a matter of weeks.
Training a horse is a long conversation. Every moment spent with a horse is communicating something to them, and in order for us to catch their ear and get a reply we must realize this and strive to make it count by learning how to tell them what we want them to hear. This communication begins with getting to know each individual horse on the ground and in everyday situations before attempting to “control” them from the saddle. For a human to learn calculus, he must first learn to perform basic operations. When we ask a horse to perform under saddle, with a rider and tack compromising his balance and a set of aids he has never used to communicate before, before building him up on the ground and teaching him about these things, we attempt to teach him calculus while forgetting to show him how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.
I ensure that each horse in my care knows how to communicate
with me calmly and understands what is expected of him in the various everyday
situations where I ask him to perform, from standing still for saddling to
adjusting his stride before a jump. I want a horse to know how to comfortably move
and stretch forward over his back on the longe and to offer it willingly in
each gait before asking him to do so while carrying my weight under saddle.
Before asking him to move his shoulders, hips, and ribcage under saddle, I
teach him to do so on the ground, so that the “buttons have been installed” by
the time I am on his back and want to press them.
Training can progress with unbelievable swiftness and smoothness when the proper order is followed and the horse is able to enjoy his work and feel himself becoming stronger and more confident. My work with timid horses and young horses has shown me that horses certainly do feel what can only be described as a sense of pride and accomplishment as they realize that they have mastered what I am teaching them to do. They show enthusiasm, self-confidence, and a desire to participate in the training.
I believe in firm fairness and finding a way to teach each horse, not punishment and forcing every horse to go through the same program. Just like children, horses are unique individuals with a multitude of personalities and aptitudes. Understanding and using these allows us to nurture them positively and bring them to their full potential.
At the end of the day, patience and fairness will take you farther with a horse than force and failing to hear what they are saying when they are confused, upset, or struggling. A Safe and Sound Horse is one who enjoys his work and who everyone can enjoy working with.