Experimentation and Learning Lessons from ZZ

Buying ZZ was a calculated risk. I was interested in learning from a young, untried horse and this last year has been full of new adventures, some setbacks and many suprises. She continues to blossom and unfold into her own personality, while enlarging my base of knowledge about horses and their world.

What is interesting to me, as a Strong Willed Horse (my phrase for a dominant horse), it’s become apparent that she could go one of two directions: she could become a bully, b*tch of a mare that people would hit, strike and abuse … or she could channel that energy to become a leader, and a do-or-die competitor in the showring.

It’s my job to shape her to the later path…

Her pattern of behavior is naturally dominant  – she is very much about herself, ego-driven, selfish, and pushy. Yet there is something very deep in her to admire. She has Brass. She lives in a world where she is indeed, the Center of the Universe – and can many of us remember what that was like when we were a child?

Although her love might be a Red, Red Rose, it’s best to be aware of the thorns…

My experiment of not reprimanding her for this behavior and instead ignoring it and rewarding the good – simply did not work. That was the first big surprise. I thought I could shape and encourage more good behavior and the bad behavior would die by the wayside (this is called Extinction in Clicker Training).

Perhaps that would have been a functioning plan if it was one simple behavior or something I was trying to untrain – but with a Strong Willed Horse whose personality is a force to be reckoned with, you cannot go with this type of training. It might be this is actually part of her genetic profile/personality and this behavior was more “natural” for her to produce.

Perhaps it might have worked if she didn’t weigh 700 pounds and have the kicking force of a jackhammer!

Boundaries must be set, and continually reinforced.

On one side, I could see that she is not the horse for many people. Her stubborn side would grow under their hands and the fights for who was the strongest, smartest and in charge would grow to momentual proportions.

For example, rushing things, perhaps like using round pen training, would just escaluate her aggression and try to win her to me by me using dominance to control her. Although I am not against using the RP, in this case I think using it now (I’ll use it in the future) would mean drawing that line in the sand – it would put her in a position she would have to choose to give up that independence and bow her head to my yoke.

And that fire of her independence, in an adapted form, I want to keep.

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