I was walking Storm yesterday and thought to myself (as he dived down for some green blades of grass) how upset and angry most people get when their horse displays unwanted behaviour like this; behaviour that seems to be going against your will. It’s important, when things like this happen, to see clearly what is motivating your horse. Realizing this often helps us know what our horses need, and how we can help dysfunctional behaviour. Knowing your horse starts (like everything) with knowing yourself. If you can get to know what motivates you, you will be able to see clearly what motivates your horse.
I can usually divide horses into three types (there are many subtypes and middle-types, but you can take it from here):
1. The needs oriented horse.
The needs oriented horse can often be the most trouble for unaware handlers. The needs motivated horse cares about the food ration, exactly how many squirts of bug spray you dispensed on his legs, and if his boots are put on just right. He must feel like his needs are being met before he can settle down into a relationship with you. This comes out in various ways. He might be an obsessive compulsive eater on the trail. Believe it or not, the horse that does this, does not know when or where he’ll be able to eat ever again. He does not know that you have everything under control, and this makes the need driven horse anxious. Needs driven horses also have a hard time in new environments. They like to feel safe. I’ve found that needs oriented horses are one of two extremes. Eithe
r they seem bull-headedly stubborn and constantly concerned with eating, or they are paranoid wrecks if taken out of their environment.
2. The experience driven horse.
These horses are fun! My deceased horse, Epic, was very experience driven. He didn’t care how many bugs were biting him, how little food he’d been allowed to eat on the trail, or how far away he was from home. These horses enjoy doing things and having new adventures. This horse is a bit rare, but I know they exist. I think they are rare because usually (usually) they aren’t very hard workers and they’ll be little terrors to beginners and cautious horse people. Exploration is the name of the game. These horses get bored easily and can be pretty annoying to other horses and to humans when they aren’t stimulated enough.
3. The acceptance motivated horse.
We have a couple of these horses in our pen. Our pretty little Arabian mare, SI, is the most content when she can just stand to be brushed. These horses are often really quiet and content with very little action. They need to feel accepted in the herd and by humans otherwise they get depressed and hurt. Safety and contentedness is really important. These horses like to work in team. They need to feel intimately part of what you’re doing. Extroverted horses can be acceptance motivated as well, but then they are usually motivated by one or more on this list.
So what is the best thing to do for each horse? Have you been misjudging your horse based on your own motivations? What can you do to live harmoniously with these horses without losing your own individuality?
1. Take care of his needs!
The needs oriented horse needs you! He just doesn’t know it yet. Strong leadership is required with this horse so that he can feel like he’s resting in something. Rest is really important for this horse because he doesn’t get a lot of it. Often this is the big macho leader in the pen who is really just wildly trying to meet his own needs. Often setting aside set grazing time works for this horse – where a clear boundary is set and then followed through with. Not catering to his every paranoia is also something you could try. ‘Bug spray goes on when we ride, and that’s it!’ kind of thinking. He needs decisiveness.
2. Do anything!
An experience oriented horse just needs action. He’s really the easiest horse to satisfy and work with because he’s so willing to go places, as long as there’s something in it for him. This horse will become unwilling if you always have a different idea. The key is to anticipate his ideas and initiate them instead of him. This will cause such joy and loyalty to radiate from this horse that you won’t know what to with all the willingness. Again, decisiveness is key, but there’s no rush. Don’t argue, just fly.
3. Keep them involved.
These horses are easily sad and self-deprecating. They need someone to nourish their souls. Involvement and acceptance is huge for this horse, because she’ll feel she has a place in your herd. Lots of the time this horse doesn’t get along well with other horses. This is merely because she’s not confident in herself. Stay persistent and get her believing in herself. Obstacles, purpose, and lots of positive thinking will take you far. Rushing and pressure is the last thing this horse needs.
As with everything, there is middle ground and unique cases, and totally different categories than we all thought. Keep an open mind and see if you can’t get more specific with what you notice motivating your horse. Is it recognition your horse seeks? Is it understanding? You may even find similarities between your horse and yourself! You just have to look for them …