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#10: Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Enthusiasm?


Develop a calm and relaxed problem solver and improve your relationship in the process.

 
Hi all, Jessie here. I have to tell you something. Until now, I haven't had what I consider to be the best relationship with my horse, Santino, even though he grew up with positive reinforcement training. 
 
Okay… hear me out. Santino is a lovely Warmblood gelding born here on our farm. His sire is Sandro Hit and his dam sire is Balou du Rouet (click their names to see them). Both of these bloodlines are extremely prepotent to throw their athletic genes. They're also hard triers who are known to be sensitive. Many people don't get along with their offspring because they can be hard to manage.
 
Prepotency is the ability of the sire and dam to show great effectiveness in transmitting favorable hereditary characteristics to offspring and this is what makes certain sires so famous…they can pass their desirable traits along reliably to the next generation.
 
So a horse who is careful over fences (or coordinated with their feet like a dressage horse for example) often tends to approach life with that same extra carefulness and sensitivity. Santino is a talented guy, but he can be emotional. Shawna and I consider him to be a super pleaser. He tries so hard that often, he will go beyond his comfort level to do what is asked of him. Do you know horses like this?
 
Doesn't sound like a bad thing, but actually this has been somewhat detrimental to his training and our relationship. Why? I think I was so intent on teaching him the things we needed to improve that I didn't recognize that to a small degree, I was unknowingly poisoning certain aspects of his training and definitely…our relationship. 
 
By frequently working on things that were difficult for him like trailer loading, standing still in crossties, wearing a bridle, etc., it became more worrisome than fun for him. Don't get me wrong, we work on behaviors he likes as well but if I'm honest with myself, they've all been overshadowed by my desire for him to improve those challenging areas. In other words, I viewed the things Santino likes as just stepping stones to get to the things I wanted most for him.
 
I wasn't listening to him. I could have been using his favorite things as priority to make his difficult areas to become stronger. Instead I put emphasis on the hard things only to make him dislike them more and this caused him to look at most everything (even simple things) with skepticism. Obviously, this has not helped our relationship whatsoever. Horses KNOW our intentions, so I'm now realizing the necessity to get down and dirty with being honest with myself about it.
 
What can I do instead? I definitely want to create resilience in him and don't want him to turn into a cry baby 😄. As Shawna has always taught, short sessions are powerful and a jackpot goes a long way to helping him create good associations to the things we're working on. That way his adrenaline can come back down and he can essentially put his worry to rest, digest the session, and let latent learning take effect. My inclination was to push him just past his comfort level during every session because I thought this was how I could best make progress. I thought I was helping! He made it difficult to spot his worry since he acted so excited to play the game. 
 
Since now I know, Santino and I have been working on a new kind of session. One where I'm listening closely to what he has to say. Sessions where we quit while we're ahead, and make giant leaps just by considering his emotional state the priority. As a byproduct, our relationship is vastly improving.
 
One little thing to consider…your horse might not be quite like Santino in this way, so be sure to pay close attention to any of those things that might cause tension, worry, concern, or frustration by assessing facial expressions and body language. As you start to recognize your horse's emotional state, you can help him to become a settled and confident problem solver.
 
Ask yourself these questions while working on developing a strong relationship with your horse during training:
  1. Have you done your best to see the nuances of what your horse is telling you? Can you identify the smallest shifts in his discomfort, frustration or worry?
  2. Strip it down… what are your ACTUAL intentions when training your horse? Is it about the horse and your relationship first?
  3. When I walk away from a session, do you feel good about where you left things with your horse.
R+ WILL BE A HUGE GAME CHANGER to your relationships with your horse, but if you miss those things he's trying to tell you, there is a risk of then becoming bigger things down the road.

 

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