I was reading through the WEG equestrian blogs, just to see what the riders had to say and how they talked about their individual sports. I am always interested when I come across their descriptions of their horses, and especially pleased if they talk about their horses personality, instead of just their training program or accomplishments. But when I came across these behaviors, described as a “personality” it really gave me pause. I’ve left the rider’s and horse’s name out, but you be the judge: how happy is her horse with his international level job?
What kind of character is *****?
I’ve had him for two years and he’s a funny horse and actually extremely sensitive. He can be hard to catch in the stables and to get out of the box, and more times than not my groom will have some carrots or sugar when I’m trying to get on him!
To me this isn’t a personality or sensitivity, but communication. It is a mistake to interpret a behavior as a fixed personality trait. It is far more useful to look at a behavior as communication about how the animal is feeling in that moment and use it as information. Passing information. If you can’t catch your horse “in the stable” he is telling you his job is stressful and he would rather not. And if you need to feed him in order to distract him long enough to get on, even more clear. I’m not against competition or high level work for horses, but I am all for listening to what your animal is telling you and waiting until they tell you “yes.”
Bribing him to get him to stand still for the mount is just as bad as punishing him in my mind. He is not “behaving” because he has not been set-up for success. The horse is using communication to say loud and clear he does not like this interaction. Funny the owner feels that he is so sensitive, yet she doesn’t see her own insensitivity.
“The rat is always right” is what I learned in grad school…meaning if the animal is not performing the way you want, look around in the environment or at your training methods to see what created that behavior. Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is there because it is either a survival response and/or simply because it has been working. This horse’s behavior seems like a time bomb to me. What will he need to do before she can can hear him? I don’t think it will be pretty, nor will she be happy about it, yet so obvious to an on-looker. Just think of the relief this horse would feel if someone would interact with him with clear communication! So tragic.
You are consistently thoughtful & articulate in your observations of animal behavior. The acknowledgment by the owner that the horse is “extremely sensitive” is in juxtaposition to the lack of awareness about what the animal’s behavior is, in reality, communicating to her. Not only do I believe her/his comments reflect a lack of observing & reading her horse but for me this is a also about honoring that animals ‘soul.’ Who they are, what they enjoy. Not what we want the animal to enjoy or what we force them to enjoy. In the end, it all speaks to ‘true, core quality of life’ issues for animals in our lives.
I love cwab’s reply to your post and observation, “Just think of the relief this horse would feel if someone would interact with him using clear communication!”