In the course of perusing articles on the website Medium, I came across a terrific piece written by Jeanne Grunert entitled “Don’t blame the dog (or the horse)” at
https://medium.com/@jeannegrunert/dont-blame-the-dog-or-horse-1747fc9b92d8. The entire time I was reading the article, I was shouting “yes!”, “yes!”, “yes!”.
In the first part of the piece, she tells about a horse that she met while riding in her college equestrian program. It is a powerful story. Jeanne makes the point that many of the unwanted behaviors that our animals display are the result of something they experienced before we even met them or the result of our inadvertently rewarding them for their actions. This lack of understanding probably damages more human-animal relationships than we realize.
The article goes on to talk about dogs, and then further along in the piece, the author tells a second story about a different horse. I actually had a very similar experience to this particular story. My horse, Bear, was a gaiting machine back in the day (he is now retired from riding). Bear’s sire was a one-time World Grand Champion Speed-Racking horse, and Bear inherited a tendency for a smooth, fast, consistent gait. Bear always ran “hot”, but when you could harness his focus and attention, the ride he gave was AMAZING. He is definitely the most light, the most sensitive horse I have ever owned.
At first I wasn’t really used to riding a horse like Bear. This caused us lots of problems during our initial years together. But over time, we attended clinics and lessons. I did a lot of work on myself, my own mental fitness and my own riding skills. Eventually, we developed a really nice relationship and went on to have fun doing a wide variety of activities (that is my opinion-I guess you’d have to ask Bear about his own perspective).
Anywho, I noticed pretty quickly after bringing Bear home that whenever I shortened the reins, he would speed up. Never in my life had I shortened my horse’s reins with the intention that they go faster! I couldn’t figure it out. About five years into our relationship, I was able to track down Bear’s breeder. She mentioned that the speed-racking horse cue to hit a different gear (speed up) is for the rider to shorten the reins. Bear performed EXACTLY as he had been trained; Bear performed EXACTLY the opposite from what I expected. How many horses and riders have experienced this same scenario without realizing?
So, have you ever had a situation like this in your relationship with a horse or a dog?