I’ve come to believe that the very first step in a training program with the horse is to instill a curiousity. Since horses are naturally curious animals this should be an easy prospect however, not so fast. Here are some common horse types who have a curiousity problem:
“Well-trained” horses. These horses are pretty much bored with human interaction. From being intensely trained with methods that don’t provide them any input they have shut down. These are the horses that pretty much do anything you want, but there is no joy in that doing.
You might find them hard to catch in pasture, dull to the aids, and “tuned out” when teaching something new. Other signs is the horse who goes along with what you are doing but then one day explodes!
Horses who have learned that humans should, at the least be something to be wary of, and in the worst scenario – feared. Whether this is from abuse or too harsh training methods, these horses simply don’t want to be with humans. For whatever, reason they do not trust people – and depending on the horses’ overall temperment it might be present itself as a small shy all the way to a full out war.
It includes horses who run away when humans approach to catch them, who turn their hindquarters for defensive posture, or who pin their ears upon a humans’ approach or touching.
Horses who have given up. Abuse, over work, starvation, neglect, etc… can all lead to the horse becoming apathetic to humans and even to his environment or to other horses. Depending on how long the horse has been in the situation, the severity and the horses nature (some horses have a happy go lucky personality that pulls them out for example).
I like to think of a quote (paraphrased) from Xenophon: all good things for the horse must come from the human. Once your horse is shown that his life benefits from human interaction he will begin to show an interest in you and curiousity begins.
What is good stuff?
Food – as Carolyn Resnick writes: is your horse viewing food as a gift from you – or is he taking it from you? So how you provide food is important.
Water – when opportunities present themselves and your horse is in the right mood, lead your horse to the water. This is very helpful if you have multiple horses and one is extremely friendly to you. Leading the herd or walking with the group to food or water, can help give the idea that you belong with the group.
Relief from Flies – whether that is from a fly mask, fly sheet, spray or fly management system. Although your horse may not connect the dots on who is paying for the fly spray, it is a benefit to him from humans.
Grooming – grooming in an open area where the horse can leave at any time, is a method I like to go back too. It reinforces to the horse he has freedom in the interaction and by his behavior I can quickly tell if I’m doing good or hurting when grooming. Whereas if your horse is tied he is being forced to submit.
Obviously, I do tie up to groom, especially prior to saddling but if you can do some “free” grooming to promote grooming as a mutual involved activity I’ve found this beneficial to the horse-human relationship.
Sharing Territory – a Carolyn Resnick method of being with your horse. Personally, I would put this Waterhole Ritual as the top on the list to reforming a horse who has no interest in humans.
Saying Hello – a Carolyn Resnick greeting for your horse that puts no pressure upon him to submit. A great Waterhole Ritual to use for the hard to catch, pasture kept horse. It teaches him that you are not there to just “catch” him and then work his tail off.
Clicker Training – I’ve found to be very beneficial for the extremely, tuned out horses. For those horses who have completely given up on humans this is a method that can re-awaken their interest while providing proof that hanging out with you is a good thing. It is also a good method to try for the horse who was started badly, as it takes out any confusion during the training process.
TTouch work – Linda Tellington-Jones has many TTouches to use, so I’ll just point a few that I think really helps the out of tune horse – the mouth and tail work. If you don’t have time for much, really look into working these areas; it’s where the most emotional tension is held within the horse and when a release is gained, it can also flush out mental pain because horses (like us) hold pain-memory-tightness in their muscles.
Bodywork Partnership in Movement – Klaus Hempfling of course is my favorite to show you how you can move with your horse in tune with each other. His method does not foster the idea of using force or persuasion to get the horse to “do something” but rather being with the horse in a manner that allows the horse to freely express himself. Hempfling does a lot of companionship walking which I really think helps to awaken the horse’s trust and interest in his human partner.
Bach Flower Remedies – Although I haven’t worked with these very much, they do provide another alternative for opening and letting go on the part of the horse.
Personally, in dealing with these type of horses I would completely steer away from using traditional roundpen methods, Clinton Anderson, Monty Roberts, John Lyons etc… Although, these methods might work, and even seem to work well on the surface, when you are dealing with the Apathetic, Tuned Out Horse type who lacks basic curiousity of people, these methods only cement in the horses’ head that people will use force to gain their ends – and those ends show no benefit to him to participate. You’ll be back to Square One.