No matter how proficient we become with horses, all horse owners share one thing in common: problems.
Working out a relationship between a prey animal (horse) and a predator (human) is inherently challenging. Even when things are going reasonably well, dealing with a prey animal that outweighs us 10-1 means challenges are a given! We always seem to get “that horse” that shows up in our lives right after we begin to think that we know a thing or two. As soon as we learn, the next horse that comes into our lives begins to show us how much more we still need to learn about horses. This challenge of working with horses and always finding “new problems” to solve never ends. It is true when we are new to horses and still true after decades of working with horses. Eventually we just get used to the fact that we are always learning and embrace it.
Problems may be so severe that basic safety with the horse is the main goal. Problems may be less severe, with safety issues surfacing only in certain situations. Problems may be very mild, meaning that we always feel safe with the horse, but are frustrated with progress. When any kind of problem surfaces with a horse, it is a signal that something on a fundamental level, something regarding the horse’s basic needs of safety or comfort, are not being met. So, how do we solve problems? How do we build a successful relationship with our horse, one of harmony and partnership? How do we realize our dreams? The secret to success is serving the horse’s needs first in order to get what we want in return.
In body and mind, the horse NEEDS to feel safe and comfortable in order to do what we ask. This is the premise behind Training for Optimal Balance and how we work with the nature of a horse. When a horse’s needs are met, we get in return trust, loyalty and a generous work ethic. Problems simply melt away when a horse feels safe and comfortable during work. When a horse’s needs are ignored or placed lower on the agenda than human desires, horses simply cannot work with us cooperatively because self-preservation or discomfort stands in the way.
Problem solving is not about using a certain strategy to overcome a certain problem. Problem solving takes creativity, working with the individuality of each horse. An end goal of the horse feeling safe internally can be met using all kinds of creative strategies and adaptations. Understanding the end goal of mechanically sound coordination of the body helps us use various techniques in constructive ways. Finding ways to help a horse feel safe internally and move with comfort and ease in the body is how we adapt to the individual while meeting universal, basic needs for the horse. When a horse feels safe and comfortable on the inside, problems are easily resolved. When a horse is pushed into fear or physical struggle, problems mount.
Strategies and techniques can be used to provide the horse with a sense of safety or improve comfort in any given situation, or they can be used to create fear and discomfort. Techniques are actually neutral. It is our intention and observations while using any technique that makes the difference.
Quite often there is a tendency to get rid of horses with problems, as evidenced by horse rescues. Before trying to unload problems on someone else, we could ask ourselves; How can I help this horse become a better horse? After all, we picked the horse. The horse did not pick us. Even if we think we have made a mistake and chosen the wrong horse (as we do), how can we make the horse’s life better before passing it on to someone else?
With true horsemanship, a sense of responsibility exists towards the horse. Horsemanship always involves problem solving in order to help horses have a better life in the human world. If we have horses, then we also have problems. On the path of resolving problems by helping horses feel safe and comfortable, we will find ourselves not only becoming more proficient with horses but also becoming better people in the process.