Connection and Performance Are Not Synonymous
From my observation of people with their horses, connection seems to be the missing component in their relationship and yet connection is something that they strongly desire. My interpretation of this phenomenon, is that people have a tendency to equate performance with connection. Unfortunately, I have seen horses perform at top levels with no connection with their person or rider and I have seen strong connections between people and their horses with no performance. I don’t know what you are looking for, but I want to have a connection so profound that my horse performs anything I ask of him.
Let's use trailer loading as an example. A horse may "submit" to being loaded into the trailer (a "do it or else" approach) or he may load into the trailer because you asked and he is comfortable doing so. The end result is the same but there is a world of difference in how your horse feels about it. A person with a "get it done" mentality may take momentary pride in how quickly he accomplishes the task at hand, such as trailer loading, but expresses no regard for how a horse feels about the situation. I personally enjoy teaching a horse to trailer load. I take how the horse feels into consideration and use my training to enhance our relationship. It has been my experience that horses respond willingly and generously to this type of training.
A trainer that we will call Sharon came to one of my previous clinics. Due to the rainy weather, we had to transport the horses to a covered arena down the road from my farm. I was in my truck ready to go as I watched Sharon struggle with loading her horse. After quite a few unsuccessful attempts, I suggested that we walk our horses to our new destination. Sharon agreed and we all walked peacefully to our new location. Upon the conclusion of this clinic, Sharon asked me for a one hour private lesson to address the topic of trailer loading. Sharon shared that she had previously missed some horse shows because she couldn’t get certain horses to load and she really wanted to overcome this issue. I replied that I didn’t know if I could load her horse within one hour but I could certainly show her the steps needed to do it successfully. Within 35 minutes, I loaded her horse into the trailer with no drama and no resistance.
The first step was to throw time out of the window. The second step was to be mindful to avoid matching the horse's resistance and the third step was to find the “YES” in this horse. I already knew where to find the "NO" so I focused on chipping away at finding a “YES". I concentrated on taking small steps to measure the horse's comfort zone to find what he was "willing" to do to set him up for success rather than failure. Maintaining the relationship and considering his feelings took priority over the end goal of trailer loading.
Horses are amazingly perceptive feelers of energy. When a horse perceives that you value his feelings, he can freely express both his approval and disapproval of what he is being asked to do. His feedback provides a valuable guide in making adjustments to your training methods. Gaining a horse's trust and willingness is truly worth the extra time and effort as you begin to feel a stronger connection with your equine partner.
Are you interested in learning more about connection and performance? My last clinic this year will be September 25-27 at my farm in North Carolina (3 openings available). I hope to see you there!
Have a great rest of the week.