Horses need structure in their lives in order to be most content. In the wild horses live in structured herds. They know who is in charge, who they need to listen to and follow, and who is going to protect them from danger. This structure gives them comfort and security. Horses look for the same kind of structure in their relationships with humans. If they don’t find it, they often become either fearful and distrusting or dominant and aggressive. These both result from the horse having a lack of trust in its handler.
Horses have a very strong fear of the unknown. They like things to be consistent. They like to know that things are going to be the handled the same way every time. This doesn’t mean that you have to do exactly the same thing every time. What it does mean is that you do everything in the same manner every time, using patience and love, so that no matter what you do with your horse, it is done with mutual respect and trust. In other words, so that you have a partnership with your horse!
I recently started working with a young Arabian mare. The horse had very little training and wanted nothing to do with people. She was spooky and nervous. She was difficult to catch. She couldn’t stand still. She refused to pick up her feet. When her owner tried to lunge her, she would run around in a blind panic, and the only way to slow her down was to lunge her until she was tired, and even then she was still very anxious. It was a frustrating and unpleasant experience for both the horse and the human.
I began using a combination of French Classical Dressage and liberty principles, to teach her to work with me instead of against me. I taught her to put her trust in me as her leader and to trust that I would take care of her. Horses like having someone to protect them. I showed her that she could do things, like lunging, calmly instead of with anxiety. I gave her a structured program to depend on, something that she could trust to always be the same. There was marked improvement in just one session, and by the end of two weeks she was a changed horse. She now stands quietly in the cross ties, picks up her feet, walks up to you in the pasture, and can be lunged and ridden without fear. Most importantly she is developing a partnership with her owner, based on mutual trust and respect.
If you’d like to learn more about how to develop structure in your horse’s life or about classical horse training in general, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about French Classical Dressage training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!