Horses learn through repetition, and people learn through repetition, and yet so often people fail to be consistent with their horses.
example: the fidgeting horse
There is a horse at our barn who fidgets when tied. This habit drives the horse’s owner crazy. Every day, she ties her horse up, and the scene that follows goes something like this:
- Horse fidgets. Owner says ‘no.’ Horse stops fidgeting. Horse stands still for one minute.
- Horse fidgets. Owner says ‘no.’ Horse continues to fidget. Owner says ‘no’ again. Horse goes back to standing still.
- Horse fidgets. Owner smacks horse on shoulder and says ‘no’ really loud. Horse continues to fidget./li>
- Horse fidgets. Owner pretends horse is not fidgeting.
To understand the above scenario, it’s important to think of it from the horse’s perspective as well as the owner’s.
The owner just wants her horse to stand still so she can get tacked up and get to her ride. She is frustrated and embarrassed by her horse’s behavior. She just wants to enjoy her horse, not deal with this persistent behavior. Sometimes, when she yells at her horse or smacks her horse, that causes him to hold still for a minute. But not always. So every day when she ties her horse she tries yelling a few times. Then she gives up and just moves out of her horse’s way every time he swivels into her space.
The horse has no idea he’s not supposed to move while tied. From his perspective, it’s more comfortable and more interesting to stand at different angles during tacking and grooming. He doesn’t know why his owner sometimes yells at him and smacks him. He’s learned to put up with all sorts of strange things his owner does (like strapping things onto his head and back). As far as he’s concerned, yells and smacks just happen sometimes.
why is the horse fidgeting?
All horses fidget. It’s not natural for them to stand in one place while there is interesting activity going on all around them. They don’t particularly like having their heads tied in one place. Who would?
And yet, people seem to think their horse is doing something unnatural when they move while tied – that standing stock still for half an hour while everything around them moves is something a horse should innately understand as ‘good’ behavior.
a horse needs to be taught to stand still
Since the horse doesn’t know how to stand still, he needs to be taught. The way you teach him is simple. Every time he moves, you put him back where he was.
You do it the same way, every time. You do it without anger or frustration, every time. If he moves one foot, you put the one foot back where it was. If he moves multiple feet, your put all those feet back where they were. You never, under any circumstances, let him move without a correction.
You correct him over and over and over and over and over.
If you do this, every day, every time you see him move, without fail, one day, he will stand still. When that happens it will mean he has learned it is more pleasant to stand in one place than be corrected constantly.
This is training.
you can teach a horse anything if you show him the right way enough times
Do it. Do it again and again. You might get tired of doing it after the fifth time, or the tenth time, or the hundreth time. But never stop, never vary your response, never get angry.
In six months or so, people will look at your horse and say, “Wow. I wish my horse stood like yours does.”