Have you ever heard someone tell you “be the boss” or “show him who’s boss” when it comes to working with your horse? There’s a lot of methods and techniques out there that instruct you to be the boss, be the alpha, don’t let him get away with ______, etc. Tag lines like “teach your horse to respect you” and don’t allow your horse to be disrespectful, stuff like that.
Now imagine you have a job, and you probably do… what’s your boss like? Is your boss a “boss” or is he/she a more of a leader? If you’re self employed, how do you feel about you, yourself as a boss? The difference between a job you love and a job you hate, isn’t actually about the job you do… but rather who you do if for. A work environment that is productive, positive and rewarding, will yield more employees who enjoy the work they do regardless of the task they get paid for. On the other hand, you may love the work you do, but hate your job simply because the people you work with are dragging you down. In an unhappy workplace, often the worst part is the mentality that because you are being paid, means you should do your job, with the highest quality regardless of how the environment treats you. In my training business, all it takes is a client who demands the most for their money and they wanted it done yesterday. It takes a passion I love and quickly throws it in the category of I’d rather go work fast food or retail or something.
The deeper I go down my horsemanship path, the more I realize the power in working with the horse and for the horse rather than having the horse work for me. I used to have to get pretty tough on horses to establish that “respect”. Basically when the horse showed resistance to the work, I took it as an insult and therefore the horse needed to be shown that I was calling the shots and he needed to follow suit. I basically focused more on having the horse be obedient over anything else. That pattern caused me to have to work really hard, especially when dealing with the tougher cases. I used to be in pretty good physical shape as a result, I had the arms of a body builder. lol
When dealing with a horse labeled as “disrespectful”, lazy, stubborn, etc. we tend to want to fix the attitude they have. I used to be big on fixing the attitude… I’d get after them for pinning their ears, kicking at me, running away when I wanted to catch them, rearing, bucking, etc. Not to say I don’t anymore, but it’s very few and far between and its usually a light bulb for me to change my approach. When a horse acts disrespectful, pushy, mouthy, etc., we tend to look at that as a problem to fix rather than a symptom leading to valuable information. Often times, a horse is trying their very best to do what you ask as long as its the path of least resistance. When our expectations are high and we micromanage the horse while ignoring their concerns, you start to get the negative behavior. In all honesty, I don’t know how to fix a lot of the problems I get, but I do find the problems take care of themselves when I follow a process. Bad behavior is usually a horse trying to communicate that he’s unhappy, fearful, anxious, frustrated, etc. about the life he’s living.
The fun part about horses is they lack a developed frontal cortex in the brain. The frontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for rationalizing behavior, long term planning, premeditated actions, and “doing the right thing, even when it’s the harder thing to do” along with a other things. So in people we can achieve these things, but horses can’t… they can’t premeditate their behavior and they do NOT have the capacity to do the harder thing even when it’s the right thing to do. Often times the need to “be the boss” comes in when we are asking the horse to perform a task that we see as the right thing, but the horse sees as the harder thing. Often times you hear people say “don’t let him get away with that!” You can make a horse do the harder thing, by making not doing the harder thing a lot harder. This creates a spiral of needing to be a step ahead of the horse to keep him from ducking out of the task. The down side is when you pass the horse to someone else and that person isn’t on top of everything, the horse will start unraveling and behaving badly.
So when it comes to working with my horses, more and more I learn to seek to be a partner rather than a boss. I want to be the partner they can count on and not one that dominates and tells them how life works. Not to say I never say “hey! Pay attention” but when I do, I’ve given them plenty of opportunities to connect. The more mindful I am with recognizing when they see my task as too hard, I figure out how to break that task down in pieces for the horse. Once they learn the pieces, you can glue the whole picture together… and in the horses eyes, it’s the easy thing. A task is easy to a horse, when they know it and can execute it without much, if any discomfort. The trick is to treat your training program like learning the ABC’s. Everyday, you start at A, get A better, more rehearsed and get the horse confident in A and he’ll start performing A willingly without resistance. Follow that pattern with everything you do and you soon get a horse that is happy to perform without needing to cut him off from evading.
The down side… is working on taking our ego out of the picture. The stronger our ego, the more we want to show the horse who’s boss when he becomes resistant. Resistance is greater when the human upholds the ego. Start peeling back your ego, and your horse will begin to try harder and harder for you because now you are acting like a partner and not a dictator. 🙂