You know that person approaching in the grocery store who you wish hadn’t seen you? Remember pretending they weren’t there till it was too late? And then remember the awkward conversation that passed? Now think about being on the other end of that conversation; that person who was so eager to talk to a friend probably had no clue that they were being avoided and kept prattling on.
Sadly, this is what most horse owners experience going out to their horses. Most of the time, horses greet their owners with blatant ignorance and even try to evade them. Being avoided is something most of us stand for. We stand for it because why should it matter whether something we’ve bought and paid for is avoiding us?
Well I’m here to tell you that it does matter. No, I’m not going to give you a list of animal activist’s reasons for never asking anything of your horse. I’m going to shed some light on the fact that a two way relationship is much more comfortable when the enthusiasm is shared, and to give you some ideas of why your horse is avoiding you so you can begin to make changes.
1. Your horse is ill. Maybe he simply can’t run to the gate whinnying today because he is hurt or ill. Look twice before feeling unloved. Colic, laminitis, founder, etc. are valid reasons for not being interested in going out with you.
2. He feels put off by your approach. This is a very common thing. Ever turn someone down because you didn’t like the look in their face or the way their beady eyes followed you like a troll? Maybe you need to work on your approach. Soften those eyes. Curve your mouth upwards. Think good things. Your horse will notice!
3. You think he owes it to you. Horses do not appreciate pushy partners. Yes, you’re obviously the initiator in this relationship, but that doesn’t give you the right to push him way past his limits. Don’t pop a blood vessel trying to get that certain maneuver. If you can’t get something done in a month of relaxed work, maybe you’re asking for the wrong things. Intensity, if necessary, should only last for a moment before the problem is resolved.
4. He is scared. Maybe you scare him. Ever think about that? It hurts to admit that you might be the problem, but let’s see if I can convince you by the end of this list.
5. Your horse has had a bad experience. Sometimes wounds are still bleeding from the past. Maybe it was you, maybe it wasn’t. Find a specialist to help. Get a second, trusted, opinion. Research your horse’s past and try to be the most opposite of that as you can.
6. You are boring. Being boring is a crime that is constantly being committed by horse owners! If you don’t have a large repertoire of things to do, at least imagine yourself doing something fun and your attitude might cheer him up! But please, find something fun to do for your horse’s sake!!
7. He is in pain when he’s with you. Your saddle might be hurting him. He might not be physically able to carry your weight comfortably (if you keep your horse in optimum health, why not keep yourself in optimum health as well?) He might have a bad back and you don’t know it. His jaw might be locking due to much needed dental work. Dentist, barefoot farrier, chiropractor, saddle fitting. Regularly = pain free horse
8. You don’t listen to him. It’s important to provide guidance and leadership for your horse to rest in. HOWEVER, good leaders recognize the needs of their partner and respond accordingly.
9. You pet him too much. Believe it or not, horses are insecure when you fondle them constantly. Unless it’s shedding season, the only time other horses will nibble and chew on one another is among the lower status parts of the herd. Lead horses rarely allow such affection in their personal space. So when horses exit your presence when you are petting them they are taking you as an unwelcome subordinate. I’ve witnessed abhorrent amounts of petting and crooning over horses labelled as ‘cute’ and guess what? The horse DOESN’T CARE THAT HE’S CUTE! He doesn’t need your validation. He needs your respect.
10. There’s no good reason to leave his pen. And the last point is perhaps the greatest point of all. If there’s no reason to leave the pen with you – if you don’t make it worth his while – he won’t want to do it again. And this doesn’t have to mean food bribes … see my article on identifying what motivates your horse.
I hope this article was eye opening and educational. It’s not always comfortable to realize yourself as being part of the problem, but the best thing you can do now is to make a change. You can start with #1 and go from there. No change is too small.