It's Okay To Tell Your Horse No
I’ve been mulling over this a lot in the last 24hrs after a few questions from followers. Generally, their questions came down to this: “I’ve been trying to be more positive with my horse, but he’s exhibiting dangerous behaviors that make me feel unsafe. What do I do?” The simple answer is you tell your horse no.
I think a lot of times in liberty or positive or bonding or whatever-you-want-to-call it training, people get SO caught up in trying to encourage their horse that they forget BOTH parties have to be comfortable. Both you and your dance partner need to feel confident and okay with everything that’s happening. If it is okay for your horse to walk off or pin his ears when something displeases him, why is it not okay for you to remove yourself, or flap an arm, when you feel uncomfortable?
Part of this dilemma is helping people to understand what dangerous behaviors actually look like. Horses are big animals, and it’s easy as squishy humans to feel overwhelmed or threatened merely by their presence and play. We have to step back and analyze whether those behaviors are actually dangerous to us, or if our instinct is just telling us to panic.
So let’s say we analyze it and they are dangerous (I.e. lifting a hind leg towards a human), what do we do then? Well first, we try to eliminate what caused the behavior. However, this can take time - and here’s where the “no” comes in. As much as I value protected contact, I also think if you simply hide behind a fence every time, your horse never truly learns to be aware of YOUR boundaries, just the edge of the arena. “No” doesn’t have to be violent. Remember horse-on-horse violence is rare in an established herd. But it does need to be firm, clear, and swift, with little after effects. For example: Horse A raises his hind leg at me. I quickly flap my elbows (make myself big) and back him out of my space using my send cue. Once he’s at a safe distance, I take a deep breath, and reestablish calm before proceeding to solve the issue. Done properly, it should place a “delay” on the behavior, so that you can weed out the real cause.
To be clear: I’m not advocating you exclusively use P+, or even often. If you’re working properly with your horse, it should be rare to get to this point, but sometimes it happens when we or the horse make a mistake. I hate more than anything seeing people get hurt, or be afraid to be around their horse, all because they believe telling their horse “no” will ruin everything. It won’t, but only if it’s in balance with positivity and clarity. Thoughts? Opinions? Comment below!