For a fight to occur it takes two parties. It can never become a war if one part does not have anyone to fight against and the same things goes in training horses. How would that ever be relevant you might wonder? It is not like my pony is approaching me with a sword in the pasture in the attempt to start the next world war? Actually it becomes relevant to be aware of this mechanism more often than one might think. At least that is my experience and one that his proved itself delivering an amazing result during one of the lessons I have given.
I went to visit a young girl (a few years younger than me I believe) who had a 5yo icelandic pony. It had not been ridden for so long and was still a bit of a beginner as a riding pony. She was not extremely experienced either, but they seemed to figure things out alright themselves either way. At least most of the time until the pony suddenly blew away its outside shoulder and ran in the opposite direction on the circle. It was not every time, but yet too often and not very pleasant for the girl onboard. As a natural response she immediately pulled the inside rein to make the pony stay on the circle and the more she pulled the more the pony ran the opposite way. How should we approach this issue?
The first and most obvious issue was that the more the horse ran, the more the girl pulled and then the pony ran even more. That made me wonder if the right solution could be to fight less even when the pony tried to run? This is how I decided to guide the young girl into solving the problem…
“Whenever you lead her across the middle of the arena on the circle, believe in the fact that she will not run. Imagine how you are already riding nice and easy on the other side and relax in your body all the way. If you feel her tensing up the slightest bit you need to take a deep breath and relax even more than you did before.” Next thing I did was to hand her a whip, but not for the reason one might fear. We were not in any way going to punish the pony for her behaviour, but instead it was meant for a replacement for her outside rein. “Whenever you get the idea that she might want to throw away her outside should and run, simply tap kindly on her outside shoulder instead of pulling the inside rein. You still need to support her on the inside, but never pull. That will only make her loose the outside shoulder even more.“
The next time they rode across the arena I was really excited to see how they would both respond. As one might would expect the pony started slowly dropping her shoulder and search in the wrong direction. “Take a deep breath, lay the whip on her outside shoulder, look in the direction you want to go and relax in your body. Do not let your automatic response allow you to pull on the inside rein, but only guide her easily and support her in going in the right direction.” What happened next was so relieving to see. From the moment the pony realised that her rider wouldn’t make a fight out of it she decided to actually follow the guiding of the rein in the right direction and pick up her shoulder again. She was immediately overwhelmed with praise while the girl on her back smiled from ear to ear.
When I went to teach them again 2 weeks later the problem was so minimised I could barely believe it. The first time the little pony tried 9 out of 1o times and she ended up running away more than half of them. When I visited them again it happened only once and it took them only seconds to calm down and make things up again. I can only tell you that I was so excited and happy to see the amazing results from actually doing LESS and avoid the fight that otherwise had occurred all the time and made things worse.
The importance of this little story is that a war takes two parties. You can not fight without an opponent. It also means that if you decide not to fight your horse then there won’t be a fight. That is pretty obvious, isn’t it? You always have the possibility of choosing not to participate in the fight and instead be the better part who pulls out before it becomes a war. As soon as the horse starts a fight in this way and you choose to fight back then he will fight more and so will you. Both of you will only make it worse and worse until the stronger part succeeds. Which in many cases would be the horse! I would say that at least 9 out of 10 times you have the choice to not fight back, but keep calm and solve the problem in a better and more quiet way. What amazed me the most was to see that every time the pony realised that nobody was going to fight her, but simply stay calm and guide her with kindness, then she actually decided to let go of her ‘protest’ and go along with the idea of her rider.