I’ve noticed something lately…if I approach the horse pretending that I’m asking him to do something that he’s never done before, even if he’s done it a thousand times, he does it beautifully and happily. Why? Because I’m asking him to perform each micro-movement which leads up to the final action. An observer (I’m thinking about the performances we do during our Fundraisers) won’t see all the steps, just the lovely relationship the human and horse have as the horse willingly does what’s asked.
However, if I approach the horse and ask him to do something he’s done a thousand times and expect him to perform the task in a timely matter, there’s a really good chance the horse will have a problem. For example: giving the horse a bath. Zelador has always been a bit wary of the hose and all that water shooting out of it. Recently, with the humidex hovering around 40 degrees I took him to the outdoor wash stall. I pretended this was his first time seeing the thing. (He’s been in it twice this summer.) We halted a few feet from the entrance. Took a step and halted again. I chatted with him for a few seconds then asked him to enter. He did this slowly, which is a good thing. No one needs a horse moving quickly in a confined area. We chatted again, then I turned him to face the entrance. More chatting. He loves hearing about how brave he is. How well-behaved…!
I turned on the hose and directed it quite far away from him. He noticed! I turned it off. I repeated the on-off and Zelador relaxed. I started bathing him, feet first with frequent stops where I turned off the water, chatted and chilled out with him.
The bath went smoothly.
This step by step process highlights how important it is to be involved with your horse when it’s learning something. If you’ve seen each step, analyzed what the horse was doing and helped the horse figure out what is wanted, then later when you cue that behaviour you have all the steps in the back of your mind and can use the ones you need if things start falling apart. However, if you send your horse away to be trained or have a trainer come to your horse BUT you’re not with the trainer every second, then you don’t have all the tools, steps, etc. to recreate the behaviour.