Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Excuses, Excuses!

     I hear people make excuses for their horses all the time, trying to find a reason for the horse's errant behavior.  An assessment is all good and fine but horses don't reason and they don't talk so while examination of an issue may be necessary, be careful you don't go down the slippery slope of making excuses.
     To explain what I mean, I'll tell you about a little dog we adopted a while back.....  This little guy had alot of baggage, including a biting problem that stemmed from fear.  He was very unsure of himself and very afraid of children.  He'd been roughly handled by his previous owners and hurt by children. He was on "death row" at the pound until we gave him time and attention and security and we were thrilled to see him improve consistently. 
     He was well on the road to success except in one area.  He still snapped at children.  He would even run at them and snap at them even if they weren't really near him, for instance, five feet away.  Bad - very bad!  We had tried reintroducing him slowly to children who treated him gently as we held him.  We worked to give him security and control.  We worked carefully to teach him the difference.  So, there were no excuses but instead, it was time to try another tactic.
     The time had come for some discipline, which we quickly applied. It took only a few sessions and now this little dog is completely trustworthy with children and everyone else.  It pleases me so much to see the kids at the barn playing with him and watch him make many friends.
     So, here's the thing, this is no different than bad behavior with horses.  It doesn't matter what started it, you must deal with the misbehavior in a decisive manner that the horse understands.  If one approach (applied thoughtfully and consistently) doesn't work, don't make excuses, make a change. 
     Horses live in the moment and often what starts out as a reaction to something just becomes a habit the horse has learned to do and there's no longer even a connection between what originally caused the problem and their current acting out.  Horses can quickly become like spoiled children, but they are 1,000 lb spoiled children so that's a real problem!
     Getting the horse's attention and disciplining them for bad behavior (eg. pawing, jumping up and down in the trailer or cross ties, refusing to stand still, and oh so much more!) will ensure the horse learns manners and doesn't become more and more difficult, to the point of being dangerous.
     Horses have to live with people and must be safe to be around - just like that little dog.  Horses that succeed and learn good manners usually lead very good lives but those that don't learn these lessons often end up in very bad situations.  Help your horse succeed by thinking twice next time you're tempted to make an excuse for his bad behavior.  Talk to you next week, JD.

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