You have to train the person too.
Mark Rashid (pictured above) is one of my favourite authors. If you have had an opportunity to see a professional horse handler like him in action, like me, you may be amazed at how a horse that is unmanageable for its owner can instantly become calm and responsive in the hands of an expert handler. It is natural to stand in awe of these people and conclude that they must be gifted to connect so effortlessly with the horse. This may be true in part, but I think the real reason for their proficiency is that they are experts. They became experts by working hard to improve their own ability to understand and communicate with horses.
Many horse owners, myself included, have worked with what they believe was a problem horse. In the beginning, I believed that my mare, Violet, was emotionally unstable. To my uneducated eye she would go from calm to crazy for no discernible reason. She behaved pretty well for my more experienced friend and I remember asking her what I was doing wrong. Hoping to spare my feelings, she said, “Its not you, Violet is just a difficult horse”. I seriously considered selling her because “we were not a good match”, but for some reason I refrained and four years later I am really thankful that Violet is still with me.
Because as it turns out, it was me. At that time I did not have the horse handling competence necessary to manage that mare. This was a bit of a hard pill to swallow because I honestly believed I was pretty good with horses by that point. I have seen a lot of people with many years of horse experience under their belt who our just to stuck in their ways to consider for a second that they may be the one who is causing the horse to misbehave.
In my case I learned that connecting to a sensitive and nervous horse like Violet is a bit of a chore. The first thing I had to accept is that it was unlikely that I was going to change her nature. What had to change was my approach. I needed to refine my skills to the point where I could communicate effectively with this very nuanced horse.
So I read a lot, watched a lot of videos and practiced a lot on horses who were a little more tolerant of my inability to “speak horse”. Eventually through a lot of practice, patience, and persistence I learned how to show Violet that I understood what she was telling me, and I was able to respectfully tell her what what I was asking of her. We have a great relationship now and I really enjoy riding and working with her because although a sensitive horse can be difficult to connect to, once you do that connection is profound.
As I look back on it now Violet knew how to do what I was asking all along. I just needed to learn how to ask properly. I was the one who needed the training and Violet was a demanding teacher. Those are the kind of teachers that we learn the most from.