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#2: Does the Emotional State Matter and How Does it Apply to Building Boldness?
Did you ever think that if you could get a young horse who didn’t have emotional baggage, then it would be smooth sailing? Does a horse who is a clean slate, uber bold, confident, smart, expressive and creative sound like a dream? It can be a fabulous situation because you are not needing to undo the unintentional side effects of out dated training methods. We love seeing our horses feeling safe enough to express their feelings and to follow their curiosity and to enjoy their play drive. However, this boldness creates a whole new set of challenges. Challenges that are relatively new in the horse world. Have no fear, there are lots of fabulous techniques to guide our ambitious little characters!
In the world of training, we are, as an industry, beginning to recognize the value of our horse’s emotional well-being. This is a gigantic shift in the right direction. Instead of being solely focused on our wishes, we are considering how our horses FEEL about these things. However, there has also been a swing in the direction of being too hands-off or overly permissive and without structure or boundaries.
This trend is a disservice to our horses, to ourselves and especially to our relationships. Every healthy relationship has healthy boundaries. This doesn’t mean we utilize force to enact our will upon another. It means we agree to terms that will work for both of us, to help us to thrive as individuals. We agree to listen to each others needs and learn how to cooperate and neither individual is lost in the process. The result is a mutual trust that is profound.
Henley, is all boldness, confidence and personality. I adore these things about her! I also want to help her thrive in this humancentric world that she lives in…it’s a world that she did not choose but that was chosen for her. My job is to help her feel safe, not to tell her that she must change or that she is constantly wrong. The onus is also on me to help her to develop the skills to be able to cooperate with all sorts of humans, yet not lose who she is or to shut down her curiosity and happy engagement with the world around her. This may seem like a huge ask when we think of horses. The real key is creating a balance and this is where the art meets the science. When we take a good look at the science that is behind behavior, we begin to realize that we have probably utilized the same tools in other areas of our lives, our relationships, our kids, our dogs, our dolphins. These are proven principles that work. We always need to take a good look at the individual, their physical needs, diet, genetics, previous experiences and the lifestyle we’ve chosen for them. Are we meeting their ethological needs? Next, we need to be partners who thoughtfully help them to develop into emotionally healthy horses.
This is our goal with Henley, Santino and all of our horses, young and old. Happy, emotionally balanced, settled horses who enjoy learning. The bold, confident horse still requires a set of skills to help create this balance. However, the result is an amazing partnership where both parties look forward to their time together.