Yesterday someone came over - a very experienced and traditional horse woman - and filled my head with all sorts of alarming stories about my horse, my life and both our futures if I don't do the right thing. I showed her how willing Nudge is to be with me and follow me and play at liberty - but she said that any horse can do that. "It's when they're pushed that you find out who they really are. And then you send her to someone who can deal with that. They'll bring her back to you trained." I was so scared and undone last night, I couldn't sleep.
Oh, I know this feeling. I'm sure many others on this forum do too. So many times people have told me things like that, that letting my horses "get away with" things (i.e., communicate with me) is so dangerous and I will end up with uncontrollable menaces (in fact no, they have become easier and easier to live with over the years - for almost 7 years now I have been doing things in this "letting the horses have a say" way, apart from a small unfortunate detour to NH which I now regret, and for about 4 years my training has been positive reinforcement based only), or sometimes I could even scare myself by just reading training articles, many sleepless nights... especially as I have a stallion, and of course stallions are dangerous and unpredictable killers, right? (
If you have a look in my diary you can see Billy, my dangerous killer stallion
Do you WANT to be in charge and dominate your horses? I guess that's the question - do you want to resort to force? It will have an impact on that great relationship you presently have. I have no use whatsoever for the theory of "leadership" between human-horse -- I don't believe in it.
Over our years of living together, I've fractured a bone in my face and recently had a concussion while I was learning to ride and Nudge was learning to be ridden.
When I have been injured by my horses, I ask myself why, why when we do have such a great relationship, have they felt the need to do something so drastic that it resulted in my being hurt badly? (Only twice in these years I've been working this way - only one damaging bite and only one kick that actually connected - and I have had some very dangerous and aggressive horses.) Always it is the case that there is something wrong, for example they are in pain or feel too worried/pressured by whatever I was doing, or I have been extremely rude - this is not them dominating me - it's them taking care of themselves. Even when my horses say no to something because "they just don't want to" well, that's okay... they are living beings with minds of their own, sometimes I really don't want to do things either. We've had a few situations lately where they really HAD to listen to me, because I knew best in that situation no matter what they thought of it, or what they thought of what I was asking (major flood, had to move everyone to safety, geldings had been moved by float - one of these used to be impossible to load - to agistment a few weeks before, the mares I moved to yards in the middle of the night in pouring rain and wind, then to a flood mound where they did not want to go or be, and stallion and mare in the carport next to the house where he had to behave for a couple of days and not take advantage of the fact that he had her effectively trapped there in a small space with him) and they DID all listen and do as I said and were wonderful. That was most definitely 'pushing' them, as I don't usually say "yes, sorry, you really DO have to go here or do this" but, they did. And that's with all the letting them have a say in almost all our training, letting them say no and walk away, etc. etc. It's had a positive effect rather tahn a negative one, because some of these horses are ones who used to just say "no" to everything no matter how much pressure and force was used to try and make them.
For riding, which, sorry for going off-track, is what you are talking about, I do clicker training (I do it for all training, not just riding) - don't know if you know about that or would be willing to use it, but it's worked so well for me. If I'm riding off the property, on the road, I do also use some "pressure", of a web halter or bitless bridle (but responses to this are also taught with clicker training), so I CAN be "in charge" (as much as one can ever be really in charge of such a large animal... look how many people are killed riding traditionally) when riding out, if I need to be - but that doesn't mean I'm not still taking notice of their opinions and feelings.
I guess my biggest challenge right now is that I would like for her to be rideable but I want her to learn in a way that feels fair.
This was my challenge too, and while I *don't* ride much at the moment, I found that positive reinforcement (clicker training) was just what I needed here. I have "restarted" one of my horses who just hated to be ridden (obviously ruling out pain etc is important first) in this way, and when I got on Willow for the very first time, she just thought it was a great game! Just another chance to earn a C/T. I just had a flat, soft webbing halter on her, and we went up the road on our third ride ever, she was wonderful. I've also been on Bonnie and am starting Billy, I do this by first teaching them to line up at the mounting block, then leaning over them, then leaning with weight, then putting my leg over, the usual gradual thing, but with lots of rewards along the way for each small step. Same with riding, I make a request (turn, stop, go etc), C/T when they do it. I think that even if I did not use treats much usually, I would for riding, at least for the initial training, because being ridden is so much something that is unnatural for the horse and that many just don't really like... so rewards are a way of making it much nicer for them, as well as training them to do as I ask without any force or much pressure at all (if any). Also for scary things like loading onto transport. Don't know if this is at all helpful for you, again, they're your horses and it boils down to what you want to do and whether you want to change your relationship by adding force and pressure to it, but thought I would write what I do as something for you to think about.
Anyway, I'll stop there, I have a habit of writing very long posts, sorry about that
Oh, you've just posted again while I was writing - now I'm having doubts about posting this. Oh well, as I've written it out I will anyway, and you can take or leave it.