Horses that spook, refuse, or don’t progress in training often have trust issues. The number one reason your horse doesn’t trust you is because you aren’t believable. He either learned not to trust all people or you in particular.
Frustration is a common result when your horse has little or no trust in you. Prey animals are hard-wired to doubt, to run before thinking, and to fight when trapped.
Which makes positive transformation impossible until you prove trustworthy.
6 Ways You Sabotage Trust
- Failure to Test
- Failure to Focus on Detail
- Broken Promises
- Moving too Fast
This topic is too big for one article, so I broke it into three parts. Part 1 concentrates on the primary reason horses don’t trust; inconsistency.
Part 2 covers #2 and #3 on the list above and Part 3 discusses #4, #5, and #6.
Atlas, a belligerent 16.3 hand 1500-pound aged paint gelding, came to my barn as a proven all-around performance horse unfit to return to the show pen after too much time off and two ownership changes.
Atlas assumed control of his world when folks let him call the shots without consequence. The big guy was king of the kingdom and people were the subjects.
I had to establish relationship with him before addressing the performance issues because he was unwilling, used to getting his own way, a sneaky cheat, and challenged me by refusing to do as I asked.
What do you do when a mountain of hairy attitude refuses to move? You move it. Atlas expected me to cave, but I know more ways to get a horse to move than horses know how to resist.
Motivation is an Art
The only way to change unwillingness, turning a NO into a YES, is with motivation. Motivation is an art.
Until I earned his trust, Atlas had no reason to try or care what I asked. I told him I would never hurt him, that he could trust me with his life, and that he could believe everything I promised.
I made a 100% commitment.
No matter what he pulled, the result was the same; I was fair, made obedience the easiest response, and insisted that he make some response, regardless of whether it was the right one. Without movement, there’s nothing to improve upon and you’re dead in the water.
First you have to get a response, then you work to refine it.
Most people are inconsistent around horses because they love them and don’t set specific goals. They just want to enjoy their horses with no one getting hurt.
Without specific goals with a defined destination point, it’s impossible to develop a series of small, easy steps to get there. Your actions get squishy, because they lack purpose. That’s why you get squishy results.
Accidents happen when horses don’t know what to expect and react by falling back on instinctual behaviors, fight or flight.
Guaranteed to Backfire:
- Working really hard one day then taking a week off.
- Swapping out cues for one response. Each cue should mean something and mean it every time it’s used.
- Constantly changing skill sets.
- Changes in your smell, wardrobe, and demeanor.
I teach almost everything at liberty. It’s the foundation of my relationship with a horse. When I do a two-hour clinic with a problem horse I’ve never met, guess where I begin?
If a horse won’t give me his attention, yield to the pressure of my fingertips, stand or move as asked, then we need to build the basics before jumping into maneuvers.
Why Horses Act Out
I offered Atlas respect and helped him rediscover a place of strength, security, and relationship that packed his weaknesses off to the junk pile.
Horses, like people, act out from weakness, not strength and security. I removed his fear by replacing it with faith in me and in himself. God created horses to live in a herd environment. Relationship is a necessity for content and mentally healthy equines.
One day, Atlas matched my commitment to him. He said yes to every request, becoming a delightful partner, secure, and a joy to be around. The big guy was soft and willing, and my clients were thrilled.
In my experience, that’s the way it happens. One minute a horse isn’t on board and the next I have his complete attention. Atlas offered his best every time and tried to do everything I asked. In that moment, trust won the battle.
Trust changes a horse’s nature from reactive to responsive. Trust must be stronger than fear. Skepticism comes from inconsistent behavior–yours.
Trust is a gift you earn every day. Never take it for granted.
The Relationship Between Consistency and Commitment
What counts against you in your most precious relationships are the things you didn’t do that you knew you should, and the things you did that you knew you shouldn’t. Faith rests on standards, trust, consistency, and commitment. Fail in any of them and fear wiggles into the opening.
The first time you lead your horse through a problem and he finds the correct solution, he’ll work with you a second time. Once your horse has a history of one hundred successful lessons, he will expect to master the next and the one after that.
No matter how small the win, make each lesson a victory for your horse. He will learn to trust your leadership and believe that you will always lead him to victory. When your horse doesn’t win, neither do you.
Let Your Horse Succeed
Your goal as a trainer is to tell your horse, “Well done!” and mean it. When that doesn’t happen, change something about you before the next lesson.
It takes longer to regain trust than it does to build it. If you discover that a dear friend lied to you, will you trust them the next time? Horses are amazing odds-makers. They calculate probabilities of disaster in the flick of a neuron. When trust fails, everyone loses.
Horses will always commit just a little less than you do unless they give you their heart and soul. The possibilities of relationship with a horse are unlimited.
Faithfully maintain the reputation you work so hard to deserve with your horse.
The Speed of Trust
The currency of leadership is trust; faith in your constancy and commitment.
Training methods emphasizing relationship and horse sense over dominance strive to establish communication. Your intent is to earn your horse’s trust, obedience and participation in a hybrid of leader-follower and partnership relationship.
Horses without significant trust issues progress as consistently as your plan, making small changes as you build relationship and prove yourself worthy. Horses with history often respond as Atlas did, switching from NO to YES in a moment.
Keep every promise and one day, magic happens.
How Does This Apply to Me?
If your horse isn’t 100% consistent, make of list of where you see room for improvement. While you’re at it, make a list of where you’re inconsistent.
Do you see any correlation?
If consistency the main reason that your horse doesn’t trust you, dig deeper in the next two parts of this series.
If you have a question, send it to me using this link: Lynn’s email.
Parts 2 and 3 will be published in May 2020. When they’re up, this message will be replaced with clickable links.