In order to be understood, first we must understand.
This is one of the most powerful and influential statements that I have ever heard: In order to be understood, first we must understand.
And believe me I've heard and read a lot of motivational and positive statements. But I know that one of the most important things about being a horse trainer is learning how to live in the horse’s world. I know that if we want the horse to understand us, first it is our obligation to know exactly what makes the horse tick and function. We must live in the horse’s world rather than insisting that they live in ours.
We don't travel to Spain and expect everyone to speak our language. Instead, in order to have a good experience in that country, we learn to understand their language.
First let's start with what we declare to be the basic instinctive patterns and responses of horses as being gregarious herd animals.
All horses have a natural dominant instinct of flight or fight. When a horse recognizes the first hint of trouble, they will instinctively want to run away. However, if the horse is trapped or cornered their instinct of fight prevails.
Through my observations watching and helping many mares in the delivery of their foals, I have taken note of certain resistance and braces that a foal is born with. I have observed many newborn foals. And I have become more and more aware of certain patterns that these foals are born with.
My observation first starts with the foal lying on the ground and then suddenly searching for that first breath of air. From this, we know that they are born with a strong will to live and survive. Next along with their shivering and shaking to raise their body temperature, comes a certain amount of nickering looking for that reassurance that they are protected. Before the foal stands up, it is already illustrating patterns that have a huge effect later on in the horse’s training. The will to live and the need to feel comfort and safety are first and foremost to the horse. The second stage is of great interest. In order for the foal to stand up, they have to establish a strong brace in one of the front feet. Once that brace in the front foot is established, they can learn how to organize the other three legs and body parts to stand up. Of course you'll see them attempt this process several times before they gain the ability to stand on their feet and not fall down. What comes next is an amazing process. In order for them to keep themselves standing, they learn how to brace through what I call their “diagonals”. I have witnessed the same pattern many times. The foal discovers how to sustain itself by bracing from its right hind leg and pushing the energy through the left front shoulder. Then instantaneously they shift their focus to the left hind leg and direct the motion through the right shoulder. By being able to switch from one diagonal to the other, the foal learns how to sustain itself in staying upright. Consequently, if the foal does not establish this routine they will die. Watching a foal learn how to nurse for the first time is so frustrating to me. They stumble around on their feet trying to get up close to their mother and then stick their mouths up next to the mother's chest or into the armpit of the front leg. And that is just the start of the struggle. As I watch, the foal finally positions itself to begin searching in the right area to find the colostrum supply. As the baby is nosing around in the flank area, I then feel the need to step in and help. So in my infinite wisdom I take the palm of my hand, place it over the bridge of the foal’s nose and press down to help guide it. Instantly the foal pushes up against my hand, rather than allowing me to guide it. It becomes quite clear to me that although I am trying to help the nursing process along, the foal is further away from connecting than when it was on its own. Now I realize that I don’t just have braces in this baby’s legs, I also have a huge amount of resistance in the front of its face. Finally, when the foal has had enough time to figure out the technique of nursing I think that it is time to doctor the foal’s navel and dispense an enema. The instant I initiate either job, the foal will resist the procedure by kicking with the hind leg with some accuracy. In some cases the baby will kick with both hind legs. As I step back and evaluate the last hour of consequences, I think, “Well, isn't this nice.”I have a brace in the front leg, resistance in the front of the face, and the hind legs are ready to kick. But I also know that without these devices or braces, this baby will die.
Well, now you may ask,
“That is all fine and dandy, but what does this have to do with training horses?”
I suppose you could say that it has nothing to do with horse training, unless you want to ride your horse forward on its first ride or at some point in time work on any of the basic maneuvers of the performance horse.
Knowing these things about the horse creates more awareness and expands our understanding. It helps our comprehension as we are able to see why it horse reacts to a stimulus in the way he does. We also have come to know that a horse never does anything without a purpose. There is always a reason and a purpose for a horse to do the things that they do. This insight into the horse helps humans so much, because working with a horse becomes a lot more predictable. I can't stress how important this information is. For every action there is a reaction.
It is our responsibility to gain an understanding of the horse and his world. If we wish to be understood -it is our job first to understand.
This leads us to putting tools in our horse training toolbox. Concepts of horse training are so important because they are like tools in our toolbox. Each individual training concept that we learn gives us a tool which we can keep and reach for when we need it. I promise you that all the concepts and principles discussed in these writings are time tested. I don't pass on information that I haven't used personally and found to endure the test of time.
The tools in our toolbox found in this lesson:
In order to be understood, first we must understand
From birth a horse develops braces to help it survive.
Also from birth, a horse uses it's diagonal front and hind legs to stand, to balance, and to move.
Beginning with the End in Mind:
Understanding the design, function and mind of the horse will help us be able to handle and train horses in every kind of interaction. By understanding the horse, we can learn to communicate in ways that the horse will understand.
A story to illustrate how important clear communication can be!