The Controversy Over the Lessons We Give Our Horses

Nov 30, 2020

 "The blog this week is on a subject that I think will interest everyone. 

Nan Zintsmaster is my business partner and a master trainer in The Resnick Method. Recently we discussed the value of shaping a horse's behavior to work in harmony with us. We discovered that this would create an optimistic horse excited for his lesson, much like the excitement a dog feels when learning to play fetch. A lot of people are concerned that any form of shaping behavior is not good for a horse. In the following article, Nan describes the detail of her experience with her horses in the Waterhole Rituals and the value this brings to the horse's well-being. I hope you enjoy it!" Carolyn


Lately, I have noticed that there has been a lot of controversy in social media feeds about whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, to influence or shape a horse's behavior in any way. I avoid getting involved in political type viewpoints on social media forums, but I felt called to write this blog as I wanted to share my experience in shaping my horses' behavior using the Waterhole Rituals and convey how it has affected them.

I recently read that because horses are sentient beings shaping their behavior is not good for them. My personal experience has been quite the opposite. When I rescued my horses, they were domestic horses that had been neglected by their owner. I rescued five horses. Four of them were from one family herd; a Mom, twenty-one years old, and three of her offspring, the youngest being three months old and the oldest being six years old. They were very nervous and detached from humans, and extremely depressed. After nursing them back to health for a year (they were malnourished, as well), I introduced them to The Resnick Method, The Waterhole Rituals, and almost immediately saw amazing changes in every one of them. Their mood was elevated; they had a little spunk in their step and a sparkle in their eye. Before that time, I had not influenced them in any way, and I had hoped that they would become less afraid and begin to connect with me through that allowance. However, when doing "nothing," nothing changed.

When one of Carolyn's instructors came to do a clinic at my ranch in Costa Rica, she could not believe how detached they were. After she left (and after they had been part of the clinic), Apache, the horse that had the most fear, had jumped over the fence to get up to the arena to connect with me! That happened almost every day for quite some time until I changed the set-up at my place so that they could access the arena and be closer to me whenever they chose. They were enthusiastic about their training, and I continued to practice the Waterhole Rituals with them daily ever since. 

Since playing with my horses at Liberty, they now see me as a member of their herd. They run to me when they see me coming in the pasture whether I have a halter in my hand or not. They whinny to me when they see me.

Through the evolution of our bond, which developed through the Waterhole Rituals, my horses will lie down and takes naps near me while I am sitting in a chair Sharing Territory with them. I have no doubt this trust was built from influencing their behavior, as horses do not lie down if they don't feel safe. Spending time with me practicing the Waterhole Rituals has, without question, made a huge difference in their lives and mine as well. They want to follow my lead. They want things to do. They love dancing with me at Liberty. They know that I am protecting them, and they understand that they also have free will during our time together. I feel that it is how we choose to influence the horse that matters. I also allow the horse to influence me, and I then respond to him. I listen to what he wants to share with me.

It has been my experience that horses desire our company and, just like humans, they can become bored. Social, interactive games can bring enrichment to their well being. My horses are a perfect example of this. They now line up at the fence and can't wait for their turn to get into the arena for their lessons! My herd is as bonded to me as much as they are to each other, and their bond is very deep. As I continued working with the Waterhole Rituals, I noticed that any herd-bound behavior is melting away to the point of being non-existent. You can see the evolution of the trust they have with me. The Resnick Method is not about the training, nor is it about performance; it is about the relationship that we share.  It is about deepening the bond and sharing harmonious activities. Working with my horses in this way gives them purpose, and they feel good about themselves for their accomplishments!

I encourage everyone to spend time with their horses and learn to communicate with them in a language they understand. This interaction can only enhance their lives! One thing that I know for sure is that my horses are better off having been shaped by me in the activities that we share!

In harmony with horses,

Nan Zintsmaster


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