By: Anna Blake
Part one of two in the series.
- “My horse is really sensitive. He isn’t a just a Quarter Horse, you know. He needs special handling.”
When I hear something like this, I always peer around the barn to see if anyone else looks like their head is about to explode. Is she saying that any idiot can ride an ordinary horse, but a sensitive horse should be afforded special consideration?
I think calling a horse sensitive might be a code word for something else; a bit of an insult with a bow on top. Is being sensitive an excuse for bad behavior? Does the label imply mental fragility?
Conversely, are some horses just so dull and dis-interested that they need to be talked down to- perhaps ridden with spurs and a whip just to get the point across? Or so inanely good tempered as to be disabled from needing any real training?
On one hand, this is just a silly word game, but there is a reason it matters. We form perceptions about training according to how we perceive our horse’s personality. Lots of times a slight shift of perception can resolve all sorts of training issues.
Yes, all horses are sensitive, intuitive individuals. They have acute physical awareness and long memories. And are frequently more aware and in the moment than their riders.
And having an innate temperament that is inconvenient, or out of balance with a particular rider- is not a horse’s choice or fault.
As the superior (theoretically) animal, it is up to the rider to bring conflict to a resolution.
What if we re-name sensitive horses? Instead of thinking of them as reactive or unstable, let’s call them honest. I think that is the real truth- some horses are just more forthcoming. They see the world as one big support group for their issue. Sure, this kind of emotional honesty is embarrassing in public, but that’s why we have humility. A smart rider will embrace that horse’s initial willingness to communicate as a starting place to build confidence and trust with their horse.
Some horses give the impression that they are almost sleep-walkers, preferring to keep their thoughts, insecurities, and even pain, to themselves. They are stoic- not less sensitive, just less emotionally demonstrative. A horse like this might appear to have more confidence on the surface, but a reluctant mentality is a lonely place for a herd animal. Rewarding a more introverted horse for being responsive is a really positive choice for these horses.
In either situation, by transcending a surface judgment that is limiting and dismissive, and respecting the unique individuality of each horse, we are immediately in a better position to evolve helpful, productive communication.
Respect is the ability to accept a horse at face value, and start at square one- with all things equal. Sometimes we get complacent about respect; it isn’t always the primary consideration in the human world, like it is in the herd.
One more time, we humans could take a lesson.
Next Article: My Horse is Too Sensitive – Part II