Horses say No to us in many different ways. If you observe them closely in our interactions with them, they are communicating constantly. Sometimes subtly and sometimes loudly. I have made it my business to watch horses closely for all communication. I find that people don’t want to hear No from their horse and it is often a source of frustration, impatience and worse, bullying of horses. What if a horse saying No to you could be a way to build Trust, Connection and Communication?
When I am first working with a horse, I first want the horse to know that I don’t want anything from him. I need nothing. I am interested in them for them. I want to know who they are and what they are about. What kind of food do they like, What music, What is their preference in weather etc. I can only truly know a horses character when he is in his element without any tack and possibly with other horses. Many horses resign themselves in tack and you can see some of who they are or none of who they are. In order to train a horse optimally with his well-being in mind, I must get to know his character.
Only by sitting and just observing a horse in his environment and just enjoying his company, not needing anything from him and being completely non-judgmental towards him or his behavior, can I get to know a horses character. Then and only then can I start to know what path to take with his training so he will feel like participating wholly and enthusiastically with me.
After I have allowed the horse to get to know me and he has become interested in me of his own choice, then I can start asking him some questions. When I ask these questions of the horse, I will let the horse answer how he wants and I will listen. The questions I ask will be similar to the questions I ask a new person who has come to study with me. I will be looking for what the horse will say yes to and what the horse is saying no to. If I have been told that the horse has a “Big No” that will be left on the back burner until the horse and I have built rapport. I find that with this approach, sometimes the “Big No” goes away all by itself without ever being addressed directly.
I have been working with a young Andalusian mare. I started her under saddle. I was told she said “No” quite strongly to be clipped. I built the connection up with her over time and when I felt we had enough rapport, I asked her if she would be willing to play my “Clip me” training game. I call it “Clip me” because I want the horse to ask to be clipped. When it is their idea, they volunteer. Once she understood the baby steps, because she trusted me, I was able to get her to engage in the “Clip me” game. She realized that clippers were actually not bad at all despite their noisy, vibration.
I want horses to tell me No. I want them to tell me what they like and what they don’t like. I want to be able to accommodate their desires because I am going to request that they accommodate mine. If a horse is traumatized, The No is the best way to build that trust back up in humans.
These are the a few of the questions I ask when I see a “No” in a horse:
- I ask myself, why is that No there?
- Why did you feel like you had to say No?
- Are you uncomfortable?
- Are you afraid?
- Are you Confused?
- Are you unsure?
- Are you used to being over pressured?
It may be none of the above. It could be simpler or more complex.
But the first question is “Why is the no there? And why did they feel like they had to say No?” Ask yourself how you and some person who you are close to got to deeper understanding. Knowing when to ask a question of a horse is tantamount to raising the odds of you getting a Yes. I call this the Window of Softness or Setting Yourself up for Success. If you observe these patterns in your horse, you are likely to get a yes more often then not. Remember when we’re kids and we say “Don’t ask dad now, he’s in a bad mood he’ll say NO” I try always to ask my horse when he is in a good space. Sometimes this is not possible and we have to do things in haste because that’s what needs to happen in that moment. But if the bulk of our relationship foundation is built on this platform, we then have the Connection with the horse that can withstand a more stressful moment. The horse can trust you more in those moments because of the connection. Just like you can trust people in your family to help you through times of stress.
If you would like to learn more about this work, I have several clinics coming up. Click the link http://fdhorsemanship.com/event-registration/ See you there! Share your experience with working with your horses No.