No matter what your horse does or doesn’t do, it’s cruel and pointless to punish him. When a horse shies or doesn’t stop or doesn’t change leads or doesn’t do whatever else the rider thinks he should do, running the horse down a fence, forcing him to run backwards, hitting him after the event or pulling him round and round are nothing but acts of cowardice and cruelty. And anyone who advocates this sort of treatment has no understanding of how horses think and learn.
Horses only operate in the here and now. They associate their immediate behaviour with the immediate result they get. Never punish your horse after the event. It’s too late. There’s absolutely no point hitting or correcting your horse even five seconds after an unwanted behaviour occurs. Your horse won’t understand and it will lead to more problems.
For example: You tap your horse with a stick or touch him lightly with a blunt spur. Immediately he moves forward, you stop tapping or spurring. Your horse relates that his immediate behaviour – moving forward – gets rid of the tapping or spurring.
However, if you keep tapping or spurring when your horse moves forward, he’ll become confused and annoyed and he’ll look for another way to rid himself of the unpleasantness. The first thing he’ll try is kicking up.
When a horse kicks up, the rider immediately stops tapping or spurring because they feel scared and they’re too busy hanging on.
From a horse’s point of view, immediately he kicks up, the rider stops tapping or spurring. The horse soon learns to relieve himself of the unpleasantness of the stick or spurs by kicking up. And so the horse is taught to kick up, even though the rider doesn’t realise it.
Please remember, there’s no point blaming your horse when things go wrong. You must learn to control your emotions whenever you’re with your horse. If you feel angry or frustrated, it’s time to put your horse away and try again tomorrow.
If your horse kicks up or shies or rears, it’s pointless to get off and chase him from the ground. Horses won’t relate being chased around on the ground to their previous behaviour, even ten seconds before.
And one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard is tying a horse to a tree or a post for hours on end to “teach him patience” or “help him settle down”. The truth is, tying a horse up like this will teach him nothing. Horses don’t meditate on why they’re tied up for hours on end. They don’t have the capacity to reason that it’s supposed to have something to do with the way they behaved when they were being ridden.
Next time you feel like punishing your horse, remember that he won’t understand why you’re hitting him or forcing him to back up or gallop off down a fence.
And remember, your horse is never bad or naughty. He only ever does what he sees as being easiest.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]
He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.
Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.