23. THE FOUNDATIONAL
CODE OF COMMUNICATION
BETWEEN HORSE & HUMAN
So many issues between horse and human actually stem from this one issue, it's unbelievable. So before addressing individual issues which are often only symptoms of this real issue, I feel it's really important to address this foundational issue first, which if corrected will eliminate 90% of horse vs human problems.
CODE OF COMMUNICATION
So in all we do with horses we need to communicate what we want to the horse and the horse then needs to be listening in the first place, hear what we are trying to communicate, translate it to figure out what response is required, weigh up whether it's worth listening to and then action it.
We do have a slight advantage that horses are very habitual, and the fact their brains are very one tracked, so they can only think about 1 thing at a time which means if you distract them you've got them pretty much.
But where so many get it wrong from beginners to advanced is the basic communication code they use. Mostly unknowingly.
The first thing to understand is the horse 'IS' not it's behaviour. For example a horse is not an 'obedient horse' or a 'disobedient horse'.
Obedience is a variable behaviour. If you have a foundational belief that a horse 'IS' it's behaviour and it has been misbehaving you will approach that horse with a hard exterior as if the horse has already done something wrong. You must not do this. You must approach every horse in the moment, as if it is going to be an angel, being soft, kind and gentle. If you don't the horse will only see you as unfair and there is no reason for it to change it's behaviour because you are hard with it whether it's good or bad, so will stay bad.
It's so easy to fall into this trap though. When I used to work with so called problem children. There were children in the group that were ousted from the community, had been put in the too hard basket by social workers, police, teachers, psychologists etc... used to roam the streets with long hair lighting fires etc...
If I'd approached these children with the belief they are their behaviour and were just bad kids, I would not have got anywhere with them because they would have no reason to change because I would treat them hard regardless as if they were bad.
I treated them as any person should be treated. With the same respect I treat everyone. Within moments they were little angels. respectful, calm, coming out of their shells, obeying rules. When they decided to do things that were clearly breaking rules they were instantly disciplined, with a consequence clearly explained and they learnt they could come and apologize to have their full status reinstated which they did and didn't misbehave again. But I did not go back after their apology and treat them hard and with a grudge. They were immediately treated kindly again as if it never happened. After all we are all human and all learning till the day we die therefore in my view all equal.
But a consequence associated with a bad behaving moment should be acted out immediately, always enforced without negotiation, but then forgotten and you should be back to your sweet kind gentle self and attitude towards the offender again.
Where people get it wrong, with these children and with horses, is they carry a grudge.
EG: The horse bit you, so now you think he's a biter, you didn't provide him with a consequence at the time, or pull him up on the biting at the time, like you should have, he just got away with it, but now you tie him up tight every day and treat him defensively. BIG MISTAKE.
Treat the behavior instantly. Don't ever let a horse get away with misbehaving. Discipline then move on as if it never happened. No grudge.
The horse will weigh up in it's mind then, bite and receive instant bad consequence, or don't bite and get the nice soft gentle loving pats and cuddles.
If you don't discipline then hold a grudge the horse weighs it up like this: bite the annoying grudgy grumpy mean person, get away with it and continue to hang with the grumpy mean person.
TREAT MISBEHAVIOR ALWAYS IMMEDIATELY WITH A MATCHING CONSEQUENCE TO DETER THE HORSE FROM DOING IT AGAIN THEN BE NICE AND KIND AGAIN. NO GRUDGE AT ALL.
Horses have emotions, distractions, discomfort, social imbalances or issues, etc etc that all play a role in their willingness and ability for obedience also.
That's why it's so important to get to know a new horse and wait until they are securely relaxed in their new environment before demanding things of them which require complete undistracted obedience.
But get your communication code sorted and you are pretty much sussed.
So look at your communicating like a scale. a 45 degree sloping hill.
You must always when communicating with a horse be kind, soft, gentle, fair, allow time for the horse to understand what you mean and to translate and act it out. Be patient. This is where you abide all the time as default, the bottom of the slope or scale.
If the horse clearly misbehaves, add the consequence immediately, then refocus again on doing what you were doing and being kind again and gentle. If the horse ups the anti and escalates in it's naughtiness, you go up the scale and increase your consequence to match and so on and so forth until the horse chooses the consequence outweighs the benefits.
Where people go wrong is they are mid scale sitters, ie, they always start half way up the scale, being always gruff, hard and defensive with their horses. Their horses in turn then are always misbehaving because the reaction they get is the same if they're good or bad and they see the person as unlikeable and unfair so will be bad!
Treat the misbehavior, then return to the bottom of the scale immediately, no grudge, no hardness, forgiving in effect the misbehaving after the consequence has been handed out.
So you, working with a horse with a correct and effective code of communication, should look like this:
EG; You're leading your horse along telling him how much you adore him and patting his neck being all gentle and sweet, then he decides to have a nibble at your sleeve. This is not something you want him to do so you immediately make this clear to him however you like ie, No boy no biting, and push his nose away. Then you refocus immediately on walking along patting him again and he thought the little nibble was a bit fun, so he goes in again and nips this time cheekily. You immediately reprimand him with a shove away, a strong NO and a finger in his face saying NO NO NO biting! and back him up, then make him walk again as you were refocusing on being kind and gentle...he has a think as youre going and as he's getting his pats, he thinks, fair enough, and decides he much prefers the pats from you than the backing up etc and carries on without biting. Never tries it again.
IN CONTRAST: Working on your horse with a bad and ineffective code of communication often looks like this:
EG; You're leading a horse along who a friend told you is a biter. So you have the lead short and defensively strong, push him away from you every time he tries to come near and walk slower than normal, pulling on his head.
The horse looks at you and thinks, this ones a bit of a nasty person, don't much like her, not kind or fair to me at all, I've done nothing to make her do this to me, pretty unfair leading me along jerking my head all the time. Might just have a nibble of this one. The person overreacts and makes a big deal about it with more tight jerking of the lead and more attitude and more hardness for the rest of the walk. The horse thinks, this person is really a jerk, I might throw in a really big bite this time, damned if I do and damned if I don't anyway. The person stops, smacks him hard then carries on walking jerking the lead and roughly jerking the horse around for the rest of the trip talking cruelly and in a defensive hard way to the horse the whole way.
The horse is worse the next time they go for a walk, biting more often and harder. It is also in a constant state of nervousness and crankiness.
You must always treat misbehavior as actual momentary behaviour and not hold a grudge.
Even if you know the horse is going to misbehave, act like he's not by starting kind and gentle. Treat the moment, if in the moment the horse is behaving, you are your sweet gentle kind self. If in the moment the horse is misbehaving, you are the up-scaled self, disciplining, then back to the sweet self again.
You must not treat the horse according to previous moments.
The Code is the scale. You stay at the base of the scale which is your normal kind, gentle self always. Standard. But if a horse misbehaves you gradually increase your discipline until it is enough to deter the misbehaving at that moment. Then return immediately to the nice kind gentle bottom of the scale.
If this is your foundation, in all you do you won't go very much wrong with horses.