Too many horse owners issue ultimatums to their horses without knowing it. They demand, insist, and retaliate when their horse doesn’t do what they want. The price is usually paid by horses with no voice in the negotiation.
There isn’t always a right answer
Jumping courses are often referred to as a series of questions. The horse and rider answer the questions. The right answer gets them over one jump and sets them up for the next. I consider every interaction with a horse a question. Some have right answers and others have no purpose except getting an answer.
“What’s your favorite breed of horse?”
Questions to Gather Information
This is an information-gathering question. You ask because you want to know the answer; there’s no right or wrong answer because you asked for an opinion. What would you think if someone asked you to name your favorite breed then slapped you when you responded?
You wouldn’t be happy and may even smack ‘em back.
Too many owners expect a specific answer to what the horse interprets as an information-gathering exercise. If the horse can’t read their mind, they think the horse was disrespectful.
“What happens if I ask you to jump a two-foot rail?”
Whatever happens is the answer. Be happy.
Demands Disquised as Questions
“Jump the rail!” isn’t a question, but a demand. The only issue is whether your horse does it or not. And if not, are you mad, informed, or trying to figure out why your backside ended up in the sand?
Imagine your husband saying, “Honey, you know I love meatloaf. What would happen if I bring home all the ingredients this afternoon?” He’ll be one happy camper if anything close to a meatloaf ends up on the table tonight. If it doesn’t, he has to figure out a better way to ask for what he wants or offer more help to make it happen.
What if he innocently wanted meatloaf for dinner but said it this way, “Meatloaf. Tonight. On the table!” What are the chances he’d get it? Not only is meatloaf not happening, but the sparkle in your relationship takes a hit. I know that sounds silly, but I regularly witness the same communication chaos between riders and horses.
Questions as Invitations
Some questions are invitations. While your little palomino mare nibbles sweet spring grass fifty feet from the fence, her brilliant white tail moving gently with the breeze, ears relaxed and happy, you stop in for a second and ask, “Wanna scratch?”
There’s no right or wrong answer. She’ll come over if she wants a scratch or won’t come if she’s happy where she is. Either is fine, yet some owners interpret a “no” as rejection or disrespect. Some owners would be wrong.
The Right Questions to Ask Your Horse
The questions you’ll use with your horse ninety-five percent of the time:
- Have no right answer.
- Don’t create pressure, and
- Never produce angst or emotion.
When things don’t go according to plan with your horse, always check yourself first.
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