(See last week for part 1)
Leaders Need To Know Who They Are Leading
Different personalities need different styles of leadership. A dominant personality needs a leader who can look the horse in the eye without fear but remain as calm as smooth water on a lake and fair in his discipline. These horses need the discipline that usually is no more than a firm look in their eye and a growl. A life-of-the-party personality needs a leader who can laugh at his antics but keep the course of the ship steady as the horse dances around the deck. Think of the fresh horse on the end of the lead feeling the cool autumn breeze under his tail. A leader NEVER allows the horse to circle around them. A serious task master personality needs to know to check in with the boss (the good leader) for directions before reacting on his own. Think of the trail riding horse going along just fine when a flock of birds suddenly takes flight in front of him. If the leadership is good, the horse will ask you what to do before doing what he thinks is the correct thing. You only have an instant, but a good leader will control the situation without incident because they are prepared and alert, not texting on the back of their horse. Finally, the last personality of horses is the steady-state personality or bomb-proof horse. You don’t need to be a good leader or horseman to get along with these guys. “Sure, I’ll stand here for an hour as you chat with your boyfriend on the phone on my back. I don’t mind. Oh look, a flock of birds. Cool!”
I suspect that most people just need to focus on learning their leadership skills and also learn to determine the personality of the horse they are working with. I suspect from the question that the horse is mostly a serious task master mixed with a life of the party horse who overreacts to everything. This type of horse requires a strong and steady leader. However, in my experience, these horses really respect good leaders. Like troops in a platoon with a good lieutenant, everyone will march into battle when the odds don’t look good because they believe their leader, the equipment (leadership skills), the mission, and the belief that the end goal will be achieved without harm to anyone.
I recommend that every horse owner read as many books on leadership as they can if they want to become great horsemen and improve their relationships with every horse they come into contact with. I have been known to say that horsemanship is dead. I am changing this to reflect what is really happening. We as a society are becoming good followers and leadership in every aspect of our lives is not being taught. In fact, the total focus is on becoming good followers. With this, how can we ever become leaders of horses, or for that matter, our families, our workmates, our colleagues, our professions, or just plain good drivers on the interstate?
The 6 Steps To Connection:
- Step one is to learn leadership.
- Step two is to know who you are leading. This is easy for someone with one horse but becomes more challenging for professionals such as veterinarians and farriers who meet thousands of different horses every year.
- Step three is to learn to listen BEFORE speaking.
- Step four is to speak clearly by knowing your end in mind and what personality is listening.
- Step five is to learn how to control your energy. Like water, energy always seeks the lowest level. A horse that elevates their energy is waiting for you to follow, but will quickly return to your low energy if you keep it low. This is a miracle that once learned, you can use with strangers at the local convenient store, your parents, or with anyone that becomes dramatic in your life.
- Step six is to remember that a horse is a horse and nothing more. Don’t disrespect his pride in who he is by treating him as a pet, a human, a slave, a friend you never had, or anything but a horse. Respect him for who he is. It is what you want from others, isn’t it?
Please remember this expression: Never reward bad behavior. Never reward bad behavior. NEVER.
Anything you say when a horse behaves in a way you don’t want him to is rewarding that behavior. Here are some examples: “It’s OK.” “It’s alright.” “Don’t worry Baby, Mommy’s not going to hurt you.” What is really happening here is that you are expressing YOUR lack of leadership and self-confidence that the horse is looking for at the moment.
The correct action to take when a horse does something you don’t want them to do, such as with Loretta’s horse not remaining calm, is to be calm yourself and not say anything. Only focus on YOUR energy. Believe me, you will be blown away when the horse stops his bad behavior and turns to you for further guidance.
A corollary to this is a simple equation: Food does NOT equal love. So many people use food as a reward for both good and bad behavior without realizing that all they are doing is developing a “follow-like” relationship. You are not empowering the horse to become better. Instead, they are just doing what they are being told because there is a reward. After all, my wife used this on me when we started dating. She cooked and I fell in love. And we all want that feeling and so many horse owners feed their horse treats to get that same feeling of acceptance. But if you want to build a lasting and meaningful relationship, stop rewarding often, but measure your rewards to only those of really deserving actions.
Pain Is A Distraction To Leadership
This discussion can’t be complete in my mind until one more topic is brought up. In all relationships, nothing can be achieved if one party is distracted and pain is a major distraction. It could be a toothache or a sore foot, but if you can’t focus on the conversation, then communication and leadership can’t occur. In my 43 years with horses (since 1973), I am now discovering that most horses are suffering a lot of behavioral issues from one simple cause. These behavior issues include:
- difficulty grooming or brushing the horse,
- unwillingness to have the girth tightened,
- constantly nipping or biting you,
- difficulty riding including bucking and kicking,
- unable to clip the horse,
- unwilling to lift the hind legs for cleaning or trimming,
- watery squirts that come out with the manure that coats the walls and hind legs with brown manure stains,
- and finally, just not feeling good about anything.
Any and all of these can be related to inflammation of the large intestine or colonic ulcers. With these horses, even with impeccable leadership skills, a life with these chronically inflamed horses with low-grade pain and uneasiness can be difficult or impossible to work with.
If your horse shows any or all of the signs listed above, you need to stop the cause of gut inflammation first before trying to connect through simple leadership skills. These horses have trouble listening to anyone except those with exceptional leadership skills. This is often why seasoned horsemen, trainers, and riders can get more out of these horses than the horse owner with lesser skills.
The most common cause of hindgut inflammation in horses is sensitivity to the sugar and mold toxins in all grain feeds and supplements. A simple test for this in horses is to remove all grain from the horse’s diet. This includes all supplements and anything with sugar such as red mineral salt licks. Do this for 2 weeks (this costs you nothing) and write down your observations. Many if not all of the behavior issues will disappear like magic. I now have people around the world that have completed this free trial and will never place their horses back on grain as they find the true personalities of their horses.
Discussion of grain-induced inflammation is for another article but I mention it here because of the importance it plays in creating a good working relationship with your horses. If you are suspicious that your horse is hyper-reactive to things around him, immediately feed him nothing but grass, hay, mined salt, and water for two weeks. This one decision will help most horse owners become better horsemen and leaders because communication can now be established with the horse. You now have a willing partner.
Remember, eliminating grain will help a lot, but you will still need to develop your leadership skills. You cannot change the horse, but you can change yourself and through this, you can empower your horse to become better than what he thought he could be. Enjoy the team you will become and have fun with horses in a way you have never experienced before.