I recently had a disturbing, yet very common, conversation with a horse owner who was left as traumatised as her horse when a visiting professional lost his temper with her horse. The horse is now emotionally damaged and further care will be all the more difficult as a direct result of this one incident. I hope that this article will help you have the confidence to advocate for your horse or dog to disallow harsh treatment at the hands of a professional.
The old ways
It is sadly, very common because the horse industry is still steeped in the use of dominance and forceful techniques to achieve “success”. However, horses (and any animal including us), will be left with fearful memories which will then carry forward in time. This in turn makes future handling issues with that particular situation/stimuli/treatment/care protocol so very much harder and erodes trust in humans in general.
Stop bad stuff happening.
It is ok to advocate for your horse or pet. It is most important to have the conversation before the professional comes to visit or when you take your pet to the vet for instance. It’s a good thing to talk troubles through. They need to understand the emotional history of the individual to be able to perform their treatments successfully and safely.
The calmer the better
When handling horses especially, safety is a big factor to consider. No one wants to get hurt. Vets will ask the owner to muzzle a dog if they fear being bitten but muzzling does not cure the issue. It can make the whole scenario a whole lot worse for future sessions. The dog is fearful which is why it feels the need to bite in self-defence. Wouldn’t it be better to train the dog to have good consequences instead of bad ones? To counter condition treatments/ touches/ needles/ strangers? Seek professional help from a behaviour expert who uses modern, force-free and rewarding training!
Safety for all involved.
The same must said about horses. When they fear something horrid happening to them, they will react with violent energy. That energy will either be directed at the humans with dangerous behaviours like biting, kicking or body slamming. Alternatively, the behaviours may be in ways which will help it escape the situation or environment. Rearing up and pulling away for instance. It may strike out at you in the process to try to give itself distance. If you know that these behaviours are likely then please advocate for your horse pr dog.
Does any of this article resonate with you?
I’m sure that reading this article will resonate with many of you. These situations are upsetting and unnecessary. If we are blessed with being able to influence our animals from birth, then life is so much easier. You have the opportunity to introduce all care aspects over their formative weeks, months or years so that they are calm, happy, cooperative or even helping by participating in their care. Giving them brilliant consequences, all highly rewarded and trained slowly, sets these animals up for success in life- that is providing you have a conversation with every visiting professional. It only takes one impatient farrier or vet to ruin all that wonderful history! Advocate for your horse or dog.
Inheriting a learning history.
However, most of us inherit problems when we buy a horse or take on a rescued dog, horse or parrot etc. They all come with a learning history which we all set out to discover over time. We learn what stimuli or situations may create fear-driven behaviours. Equally, we actively seek to find out what makes our animals feel safe and what pleases them.
Being upfront for your pet.
The funny thing is that when you broach this subject, most professionals look horrified at the thought that they are culpable. Always show respect, explaining that you want to keep them safe too and that if everything can be calm and quiet then all will be well.
It is better to offer to pay them for not completing their task by respecting the emotions of the animal. Going slowly will eventually get everyone there faster. Keeping the animal in a calm, accepting place is everything. Rewarding the animal during the process, going slowly etc will reap huge benefits.
As a “for instance”!
When I introduce clipping to a new or young horse, he/she may look like a patchwork quilt for a while (which is fine!), however gradual exposure to the noise and the feel of the clippers allows them to process it all and accept clipping as whole over time. If you force a whole-body clip, all in one go then you stand the chance of ruining its future success for being calmly clipped. Never put your vanity or impatience in front of systematic desensitisation!
The use of restraints.
I NEVER use harsh restraints apart from in a complete emergency if needed. We realise that there will be a huge emotional fallout to deal with after the event but life or death situations are what they are with any animal when abject pain is being suffered.
SD and CC
Aside from that awful and unavoidable situation, I observe the emotional state of the horse/dog at all times and train accordingly. Systematic desensitisation over time and counter-conditioning with good consequences are worth their weight in gold, I promise. That is the way to form calm acceptance of procedures, increase safety and build trust in you as well as the hands-on professional. www.instinctivehorsetraining.co.uk/horsebehaviour
It’s ok to stop!
Having the confidence to stop a professional or anyone involved with your horse, if you feel that it is going uncomfortably. Stop a lesson and question the trainer if you feel that aversives and punishments are being used. It should not and does not need to be this way. Training should be about harmony and relationships. Mutual trust and willingness to participate from the horse or dog, respect and care from the owner and the trainer.
Infecting future behaviour.
All future behaviour will be based on every interaction, both good and bad. Results are infectious and work backwards, so the more good stuff is being infected the better. The more “bad stuff” will start to influence further back too- eg tacking up can start to be infected with stress or fear. All any owner should want is a willing partnership based on mutual trust, harmony and relaxation.
If the horse fears what may happen to it when the saddle and bridle appear, then you will start to see avoidance behaviours. Unsettled, anxious, moving about, pulling back etc. Trust takes a long time to build into any relationship and can be destroyed in an instant.
For advice or help with training, please feel free to email me at melanie@instinctivehorsetraining. I come out to where the problem is happening and provide in-house training for horses as well as online/video call consultations. www.facebook.com/instinctivehorsetraining