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What Causes a "Problem Horse"

the simple answer is obvious

My Mum asked me this simple but thought provoking question.

What causes a problem horse?

My Mum loves horses and the race horse industry and she has a small interest in some race horses. She also follows closely what we do at Drifting Sands Horsemanship and the people that come to us with OTT’s (off the track thoroughbreds).

This blog is not about OTT’s but horses in general and how some develop behaviour problems.

They may be treated the exact same way and just like human siblings all raised in the same environment with the same set of rules, but each develop their own characteristics and scale of worth. The same with Horses that could be treated in the same manner but with some developing problems while others will not.

So I guess the question is, is it the person or is it the horse??

The answer to that question is pretty obvious…. horses are the perfect creation in nature. Problems occur due to them having to adapt to our human world - so it is clear that “we” cause the problems in the first place - but the question is why do some horses become “problem horses”.

Horses, like people, cope differently and have different tolerance levels.

Using people as an example. When Soldiers/emergency service workers experience horrific things in the line of duty, some will suffer PTSD while others who had the same experience will not. Now this is probably an extreme example, but I think it can explain why some horses develop problems. Some horses have higher tolerance levels or mentally process situations in a different manner. The key is that some are able to release stress more easily and others are not and hold on to that stress with it quietly building until they start having difficulty in coping with everyday life. These horses need to be helped, just like people going to a psychologist to learn different coping techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Sometimes people will get a new horse and all is well, the horse is near perfect and the person is so happy. Then, all of sudden, little problems start creeping in. The person starts to wonder what has happened to upset their perfect steed. Quite often in the beginning, the horse was a little shut down, being in a new environment with a new owner, not sure of what was going to happen next. The horse was going along with things obediently but gradually building up stresses. Now depending on the horse and what his tolerance levels are will determine how things play out. There will either be a gradual display of lets call it disobedience (which is really a disconnection)in the naturally confident horse, or in the case of a sensitive soul, there will be one almighty explosion.

Holding our horsemanship classes has given me the opportunity to study people and their horses - it is something that really fascinates me and I have learned so much from other people and horses. It is interesting that when we have had people come with more than 1 horse, we can see that many of the behavioural traits are the same with all of their horses and completely attributable to the person. I watch some people with their horse and I think “man, what a good horse to put up with that” if that person had the wrong horse for them, the horse could develop problems and become a “problem horse”.

Energy plays a big part in our interactions with our horses. Being aware of the matching of our energy levels and our horses energy and character is an extremely important skill to learn. There is no hard and fast rule around whether a high energy person should have a high energy horse. Different combinations of energy can work provided we are aware and have the horsemanship skills to know when to bring energy up and when we need to find relaxation. The horse will tell you if you know what to look for. The horse will also know if you are faking it. If you are nervous and trying to be brave - your horse will know and this can make him feel even more insecure. We breed and start quarter horses and when we sell horses we are careful to ensure that we get a good match - it is our reputation on the line when we sell a horse, so we are always mindful of this. We already know the horse, so we try and find out as much as we can about the person.

It is so important to learn how to read a horse - are they tense? Are they shutdown? Are they relaxed? Or are they blocking us out?. We must learn how to read the horses body language, and learn how to become truely present with them. This language is so discreet and can be almost invisible. Looking for signs of a twitch in the muzzle, staring eye, crooked nostrils, level of the head/neck - all these tiny tell tale signs, which also differ per horse.

The more we explore this topic of Connection & Centring ourselves and our horses we can create a wonderful bond and mutual understanding with our magnificent hoofed friends.

So it is 'we' the people who cause the problem horse in the first place.

It makes me so happy that so many people are now on the path of good horsemanship and doing the best they can for their horses. Keep learning, keep growing, be the best you can be.

"We can't solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

Albert Einstein