Does your horse smile? Have you ever thought about a horse smiling? I’ve got to admit I didn’t think about it for a good amount of time that I owned horses. Whoever thinks of a horse smiling anyway? But its true, a horse can have a smile. And sadly, they can also frown.
Trainers talk often about the “willingness” of the horse. We can train willingness into them with positive (and sometimes negative) discipline. I once heard a child psychologist say “In order to raise a child right, you must praise twice as much as you correct”. Children and horses are much the same. Too much discipline and not enough praise, and you create unwillingness in both. Too much praise and not enough discipline and you create a spoiled brat. Plenty of trainers talk about “pressure and release” but there is something you rarely hear about, and that is reaching the heart of the horse.
Pressure and release can create a trained horse. A horse can easily learn that moving into the leg will cause the spur to poke them in the side and so they learn to move away from the pressure. Same response if you use a leg, a training stick, a finger pointed at them. That is simply conditioning. Willingness, however, comes from the heart.
How often do you hear about a trainer teaching how to reach the heart of the horse? There is no spur, stick, or finger pointing that can reach the heart…only another heart can reach that. If your heart is not involved in your horse’s training, then you will not touch the heart of your horse.
Horses have incredibly big egos. Like children, they want to be connected with on an emotional level. Most people call that ‘herd-bound”. So who is your horse’s “herd”? Trainers will tell you how to move your horse’s body, but most won’t tell you how to move their heart. How often do you hear a trainer say to a horse “you are so handsome! Look how pretty you are! Arent you a good horse! You did an excellent job today!”. Most trainers don’t even talk to the horse, and because of that, they fail to reach the heart of that horse they are training.
So the next time you are out with your horse, take a good look at their face. Are they smiling or are they frowning? Spend some time just stroking their face and telling them how good and lovely they are. I don’t care if they are the most rotten horse on the planet, spend time telling them they are wonderful! It will take time…for some horses that may be months! But in the end, you can take the sourest horse and teach them how to smile.
Your horse will thank you for it!
Note: The above-pictured horse is my horse Dotty. I bought her at auction just one year ago. She came underweight, very ignorant, and spoiled like a puppy. She was a very sour horse and is a great example of how being spoiled hurts the heart of the horse just as much as being abused. This photo was taken in early spring and you can clearly see she is still frowning and unhappy. Taking a spoiled horse/dog/child and late in life (Dotty is 7) incorporating discipline into their world is very shocking! Though today Dotty has more boundaries (more manners) she still does not have a smile. However, she no longer has this sour outlook on life either. She is learning her place in the "herd". As time goes by she will learn obedience leads to respect, and respect leads to friendship.
One day she will know what it means to smile.