And Why is It Better for Horses than Natural Horsemanship and Positive Reinforcement Training?
It has been my experience that when we do not address a challenge or problem with our horse holistically, we can exasperate the issue - and this is how horses, like humans, become damaged. To look at a horse holistically, is to not only look at the big picture, but all the pieces that make it whole. To look at negative behavior as a symptom of a much greater underlying issue and to work through that issue as a trusted partner.
When we don’t consider how a horse feels about a situation or what is causing the problem to begin with, how can we possibly expect a permanent solution? If we push our partner through an issue using “pressure and release”, “food rewards” or “desensitizing”, what are we really teaching? Using these traditional and “natural” methods are NOT addressing the underlying cause of the issues that have surfaced. And while they may seem to solve one issue, another is sure to arise just as quickly because we have not addressed the root cause.
A horse who has learned to “submit” to pressure because they are desperate for the release is not a companion you can trust. They can become a ticking time bomb – on the edge of exploding when the pressure just gets too much. To train a horse holistically, is to give the horse a choice – and to guide the horse (through connection to their heart, mind and body) to make the correct decision… This is the foundation needed to create a willing partner who truly wants to be with you. A partner who trusts you as a leader and is therefore open and ready to learn.
A horse that is hard to catch and is run to exhaustion until they submit has not learned anything…they are just trying to survive. A horse that is given treats to be caught is not making a choice based on a long-lasting partnership, they are just looking for that immediate reward. And a horse that is made to walk around with scary objects in their face until they are “bomb proof” are often just displaying learned helplessness… they have given in to the fact that they have no choice in this terrifying situation and have unfortunately checked out completely.
This is not the foundation that a safe, long-lasting partnership is built upon.
This is what happens in many natural horsemanship practices. We keep making the horse do exercises without true connection to their hearts, minds, or bodies. This is because most natural horsemanship is about technique, the mechanics, of how we care for, handle, develop, train, and rehabilitate horses, and not how we approach each horse as an individual learner.
We should be asking questions and thinking about how they feel about the experience. How are they mentally? How are they learning (are they confident, happy, progressing and enjoying the process)?
Can we read them? Do we know what we are looking at physically? Can we identify our horse’s emotional, mental, or physical thresholds – when we’ve pushed too far, or for too long?
These are the questions of holistic horsemanship. The questions that you will be able to answer when you learn how to understand your horse on every level (spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically), connect in ways that are mutually rewarding and speak their language, the language of Equus.
When we do not take into consideration our horses’ basic and emotional needs during any interaction (vet, farrier, handling, training, etc.), we can, with repeated lack of awareness, easily create or support these displaced, or unwanted behaviors over time.
Displaced behaviors are their way of communicating to us, in a non-verbal way, what they don’t like or what is uncomfortable to them.
What if we consciously go into every interaction with our horse thinking about what their experience needs to be for them to enjoy it – therefore adding value to our relationship every time we are with them?
When we focus on creating positive experiences in everything we do with our horse, we make the entire learning process more beneficial and the icing on the cake is we are part of that experience. This means we are the reward.
Our relationship, love, compassion, and interaction become the reason (the biggest motivator) that our horses choose to be with us, work with us and keep us safe. Not food and not release.
For those of you that don’t know me, I’ve studied wild horses for many years. In my experience observing and working with these beautiful wild herds, relationships are the highest motivator and emotional security is their number one need – above all else – even food.
Horses by nature value relationships, emotional connections, and family more than anything and will do anything to protect the ones they love. I think it’s safe to say that many of us have experienced domesticated horses feeling lonely, sad, depressed, and broken hearted over the loss of a loved one whether it be death or other separation.
This is why holistic horsemanship works. It is a mindset, a level of awareness, consciousness and attunement that allows us to feel of and for our horses. It is an approach to how we care for, handle, develop, train, and rehabilitate horses.
Approach means deciding the best way to handle a situation. This course of action requires certain attributes such as attunement, observation, awareness, ability to pause, feel, timing, patience, presence, feeling of another, experience, skill and so on.
I’ve worked holistically with horses my entire life. It is the glue that binds the heart and joins the mind and the body between horse and human. It is the magic we’ve felt when we look in our horse’s eyes and feel their heart. There is no better way to connect, be and work with a horse than when we are engaged holistically. It is what the horse needs from us to give themselves completely.
When we use a holistic approach to training, developing and re-training, we not only meet our horse’s needs, we create a learning environment and experience that provides enrichment, meaning and value to our horse.
From “hot” OTTBs to Wild Mustangs, to abused and dangerous young horses, I’ve rehabilitated them all into willing and trustworthy partners, and developed a proven step-by-step program of holistic horsemanship that can be followed by beginners to professionals.
Why not make your horse’s entire experience with you enriching and rewarding every time you interact so they are motivated to seek you out, be with you and work with you? Trust me, there is no better feeling than achieving that true partnership, that unbreakable bond.
Not sure where to start? Learn more about holistic horse training at the Tao of Horsemanship Academy website - with free resources, online education, research libraries and online communities, you can join the holistic horsemanship journey today!