We Call it “Attitude”

EarsThis week we’re talking about “attitude.” We received three different questions over the course of last week about different horses with “attitude” issues—we heard about one rearing horse and two pinny-earred mares. After reading about each of the individual situations you might feel that there is no comparison but, in the horse’s world and in my understanding of what’s going on without seeing it in person, leads me to feel there is a little panic or frustration going on with all three horses.

Let’s talk first about the behavior exhibited by the rearing horse who has a habit of rearing in tight spots (check out the full question on our Facebook page if you missed it!). The personality your horse displays when not with a human should be the same personality he displays with the human. If not then we, as humans, are doing something wrong. Here’s an example for you—If my horse stands by the highway and watches hundreds of cars, trucks, buses, fire trucks, bicycles and tractors go by each day, then why would he be bothered just because I’m sitting on him unless I’m sending a panic cue to my horse? Is your body saying, “Are you going to rear? Please don’t rear? Oh gosh you’re going to rear!”?

Horses work very hard trying to give us what we ask for with little understanding of the method we use to ask. For instance, if I’m asking Cheyenne to stand still while in the saddle most riders will either put on the brake and release when the horse stops, OR put on the break and hold the reins to continue to send the message to stand still. Remember, the horse responds from pressure/release to learn and obey. When I apply the rein and get a brief stop, I must release the rein immediately. If the horse moves, I’ll reapply the rein again and maybe ask for a step backward in the process, then release again. Same thing over and over until Cheyenne figures out that standing still has no consequence; on the flip side though, moving gets pressure. Depending on the horse, I may move the hip around with a bit of energy to help drive the point home. It’s important to understand, though, that rein pressure without release causes anxiety. Let’s say that again because I really want ya’ll to remember this point: rein pressure without release causes anxiety. We have to release rein pressure, if even for just a second. If I continue to hold the rein, the horse continues to seek relief so he may go backwards, sideways, jig around, and then UP! Viola! UP got her the release!

We’ve just gotten a new training horse here at The Bar T this past Monday that had a rearing problem when working with her from the ground. Midway through her second training session I was desensitizing her with my back facing her to lessen the pressure. Sure enough, up she went! She most likely got relief in the past from rearing so, at first, she just could not understand why I continued with my exercise until she settled and relaxed.

Within a few moments, all was good so I moved on to lunging. Moving to the left was a breeze, but to the right same thing again—up she went! Now, do you think she was being a knucklehead or do you think she was she just confused and thought the only way to get relief was by rearing? You’re saying, “Too much pressure, Jim,” aren’t you? In her case, I never even had to touch her with the tip of the lead line. Just circling it out to her side as I was asking her to move off to the right with my right hand was just too much for her to handle.

But boy, did she catch on quick! Within a matter of a couple of minutes, she would move off either direction with no panic as she began to understand. Please understand that each time she attempted to move off to the right, the pressure would lessen to help her put the pieces together. Soon she began to understand that when I pointed to the right with my right hand, she should move out!

Now, let’s talk about the pinned ear behavior that we heard about from two other people (again, check out the Facebook page for the full questions). If we see the pinned ears while lunging, we may be pestering the horse with small picks or pokes causing the horse to wonder just what in the world we’re asking. Be sure not to nag your horse when you’re lunging. Give clear cues with immediate release. Sometimes our energy can be too much, but other times not quite enough. It’s kinda like asking something from a friend—One friend we must ask with a strong voice to get results but, conversely, a strong voice with another friend might illicit negative results. Play around with your horse. Start your asks small, but be willing to increase consistently until you get a “yes sir” response.

I’ll finish with a quick piece on the horses’ brain. We call it “attitude.” Well folks, horses can’t have attitudes because attitudes are an emotional state. I know this will cause a lot of eyebrows to rise, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching this. I’m open to discussion on this matter if anyone has evidence otherwise. Horses do not have a frontal lobe in their brain as humans do, which is the part of the brain that holds emotion and reasoning. Now, horses can have personalities just like humans. Positive personalities, negative personalities, can-do personalities, curious personalities, lazy personalities, and the list can go on and on. My personal mare, Reba, has a glass that is never half-full. She’s a wonderfully hard worker with the things she likes to do, but a real sour puss when doing the mundane tasks. She will do it with all the energy I ask but with a pinned ear expression. So, if your horses’ continue to do as you ask, only with pinned ears, accept that as personality. Just be vigilant with your cues—really be critical with yourself in the way you are suggesting, asking, or telling your horse. Let the negative personality not be a result of your actions!

Really great questions coming in so keep it up and

Have a good ride!