I headed down to the barn to work with our horse Red and when I called him he came running to me. He had never done this before, and at that point, I realized that it was because I had given him many treats in our last session. He had become addicted to intermittently earning treats which he saw as a fun game. When this happened I knew that I had lost my leadership with him because he had an agenda other than connecting to me.
I share this story to help people understand how to handle and fix an out-of-control, over-optimistic horse from his desire for treats. Enthusiasm can sometimes go wrong. Red had a clear agenda when he saw me coming, not because he felt the bond, but he was already headed for “Las Vegas” in his mind. And, I was his ride to get there... Jokingly, he had packed his bags and was headed for the casino looking for his reward, just like someone who is addicted to slots. Slot machines sometimes pay off, and that is what makes the game exciting.
You can build enthusiasm in a horse’s performance by giving them a treat periodically. I had overdone it with Red. The problem was that now Red was performing things I was not asking him for. He was no longer looking for my direction.
I was working on him circling around me at Liberty, and he was willing to circle in the direction of where I had treated him the day before, but he would not reverse the direction when I asked him to. Why should he? If he reversed he would be going away from his objective; the treat. This problem opened a door for me to develop his training to be less conditional so I could depend on his behavior in any given situation. I needed to get back to my leadership role with Red enjoying our connection more than the treats. All I had to do was Share Territory with Red and reset his focus on our bond. After he forgot about the “slots” and was all about me, I returned to dancing with him at liberty.
TIP: How to keep a horse’s focus on your leadership when sending away at Liberty.
When you send your horse around you in a large area, always turn him in the direction he was not inclined to go. You ask a horse to turn in the opposite direction of the way he was headed because the horse then perceives that you are directing him. If he leaves in the direction he was headed, you can lose your leadership position. However, if your horse strongly wants to follow your lead you can send him in the direction he wants to go with no worry that you will lose control of the connection you have with him.
When you send your horse away, direct his nose in the direction you are sending him. If you focus on driving the back end, it will usually cause a horse to turn around and face you rather than leave. You see this happen a lot with people trying to lunge a horse by focusing on the rear. It will cause a horse, if he does go out on the circle, to have a tendency to fall in.
TIP: How to handle a horse that does not reverse from your directional aid.
This exercise will work on a horse that knows how to reverse and isn’t wanting to listen. When a horse does not reverse direction when you request it, let him go around and ask him to reverse again at the very same spot where you originally asked. Every time he circles, ask him again at that exact spot. Only ask once each time. The horse will soon figure out that he needs to reverse at the place where you make the request. It is incredible how this simple approach brings a horse around to reversing effortlessly, easily, and naturally. No enforcement is needed.
Always start by Sharing Territory to get the glue going between you and your horse. It was what fixed Red when he came to the lesson with a “Las Vegas” agenda.
May the horse be with you and stay on the lookout for new horse and human sightings.
Warmly, Carolyn Resnick
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