CFN – Today’s column is a compilation of thoughts inspired by various writings, talks and presentations of Horse Masters Pat and Linda Parelli as well as personal experiences with horses.
For all those people who give horses loving homes, and for all those kids who are wishing for that special partner, may all your dreams come true also.
Whether you are just a horse lover, have dreams of owning a horse someday, or already have one, I hope these columns will give you some insight into the true nature of these magnificent creatures. I hope you will find them both informative and inspirational.
Be part of your horse’s dreams, not his nightmares.
Your Affection Quotient
How do you express your affection for your horse?
– hugging his neck or head
– kissing his nose or neck
– burying your face in his neck
– giving him treats
– saying “Good Boy”
– stroking him
– spending undemanding time with him
– playing with him, doing the things he likes
How does your horse express his affection for you?
– rubs on you
– feels drawn to you, wants to be next to you
– follows you around
– leaves the other horses to come to you
– nibbles on you (grooming you as he does another horse)
– is calm around you
– calls to you
– focuses on you, even when other things are going on
How does your horse express his affection for other horses?
– mutual grooming
– is drawn to them
– plays with them has fun
– hangs out, swishing flies
– protects them from others (like a mare does her foal)
How did you rate? Do you and your horse have a good mutual admiration society going?
It’s a great feeling when you earn the friendship and trust of the planet’s most discerning prey animal. Keep in mind that the amount and quality of the mental, emotional and physical connection you have with your horse is determined by the amount and quality of heart connection you have with your horse.
True rapport is not easy to get with a horse. His natural sceptical nature makes him cautious about giving you his full trust. To get true rapport you have to understand him both as a species and as an individual. In this column we will explore some of the ideas that I have learned from various trainers of how to win and keep your horse’ friendship and trust.
What is Friendship for Horses?
If we think of horses in the wild they basically do two things together. They do nothing and they do something. The something may involve hanging out together, grazing, mutual grooming, giving birth, fighting, moving and migrating. They spend a lot of time together. That time together strengthens the bonds of trust between them.
By comparison, humans spend relatively little time with their horses and often the things we do with our horse is more ‘demanding’ time , because we want to do something with them. Even eating is more by our schedule than theirs. These things interfere with their natural social-behavioural patterns which can be more unsettling than complimentary to our relationship with them.
We often forget to just do ‘nothing’ with them sometimes. Spending non-demanding time with horses is very important for them, but can be boring for us as we tend to get impatient to do something. We, humans, are so goal oriented and governed by time that we feel we are not accomplishing something unless we are actively engaged in doing something.
This is where many of our relationship problems begin because we don’t do with them what they like to do. We have to work very hard to overcome this strong desire for the friendship and safety of his herd.
Horses bond fairly quickly:
Dr. Robert M. Miller is a famous American veterinarian, who has done research with foal imprinting especially with humans. This is quite a phenomenal thing when you think of it as a prey animal imprinting on a predator. It is unheard of in the animal kingdom. Foals who imprint on humans early on in life become much less fearful and more easily trained.
People who have the opportunity to form this amazing bond with a horse that will last throughout his whole life are fortunate indeed. With imprinting most of the prey-predator barrier disappears. Even if he has imprinted on another human, they are usually become much less fearful of humans in general.
But just because a horse has not imprinted on a human at birth doesn’t mean that your horse is incapable of bonding with you. It’s just a lot more difficult and it takes a lot more understanding of what makes horses tick.
In general, horses are the most forgiving creatures you can find, but past abuses in their lives can create deep reservations which may make it difficult for them to forgive those past sins. Trust is hard to get and easy to lose.
The most important secret is to know that horses pair-bond within a herd. There will be stronger relationships between two horses no matter how many others are around. Think of it as the ‘best friend’ idea we humans cling to. Bonding is part of their instincts for safety and survival.
The idea for us then is to develop this pair-bond relationship, even if we can’t be with him as much as we would like.
Some horses appear to be more aloof in their herd. They don’t bond with another horse or sometimes because there is an odd number of horses in the herd, they don’t get the opportunity. In these cases you have a much better chance of being their best friend.
Relationships with horses include more than just building a friendship or pair bonding. Dominance play is also an important part of relationships between horses and if we are to succeed with them we too have to learn how to play dominance games with them the way horses do.
The problem is that horses can get very rough in their dominance play, which they do for two reasons – breeding and for feeding rights. We humans cannot play in the same rough fashion because we would not survive the experience. However, when horses are deprived of the opportunity to play dominance games they can become adversely affected emotionally and psychologically.
The need to play dominance games is very strong. About the only time that it isn’t is when the horse is sick or in pain. When they are not playing dominance games, it is often a good indicator to horse owners that something is wrong.
People often cannot stand to see horses playing dominance games, because they see it as a battle and they are worried that their horse might get hurt. This is a natural concern.
So the most natural way to play with horses is to try to mimic these dominance games. For horses it is all about who gets who to move first. The horse that gets the other horse to move first becomes the more dominant. For us it should not mean being forceful or heavy-handed but it does require an understanding of how to get your horse to yield or move away when you ask. If a horse gets into the habit of making you move whenever he wants he will come to believe that he is dominant. He will not seek your friendship because he has no respect for you. Horses are more likely to be friendly with the dominant horse than the other way around so we have to learn how to be dominant. Once a dominant horse gets a taste of being dominant he will become more engaged in maintaining his dominance.
Ways to Develop strength of bond with your horse:
– gain true knowledge about the nature of horses
– make use of non-demanding time with your horse. Just hang out with him.
– imprint train your foals
– understand the different personality types in horse and how to use the appropriate responses for his type of personality.
– play dominance games with your horse
– make a game of it. Develop a sense of humour, act like you are the dominant horse and don’t worry about it. Horse are very good at sensing emotion in humans but they can’t tell the difference between negative emotions and positive emotions like humans can. They just feel the energy and it can be disturbing to them. A worried leader is never going to win the rapport or respect of his horse.
– make use of the confidence game by playing the “when you are calm, I will be calm game.” Use rhythmic motions and teach him not to be afraid all your strange toys.
– put your heart in you hand and touch your horse with your heart. They can tell a lot about you just by the way you touch them. (the way they liked to be touched)
David and Goliath
In the attached photos today you will see a small pony named Poncho (David) taking on a much larger horse named Atlas (Goliath) in a round of dominance play. It may look fierce and to them it is serious business, a business or game they played for a good 15 minutes before going back to eating grass. Let me know who do you think won this dominance game session? I give you the answer in our next column on rapport, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
This Column of “Spirits in Unity” is being published by CFN for the community of Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry.
May all your dreams come true,
Garry “Horsetalker” Meek