WILD AT HEART, by Al Dunning
There is something remarkable about the fact that a thousand-pound horse has the capability of easily overpowering you, but he doesn’t. Horses are wild at heart but basically gentle creatures, and they allow people to mold them and train them. Most men have something in them that compels them to conquer, especially something as strong and powerful as a horse. But if you try to fight a horse, you’ll be in trouble. You won’t win. It you’re able to understand him, however, he will come to you and will allow you to ask him to do things he wouldn’t do on his own. If you think about that, it’s truly amazing we can have that relationship with the horse.
Much of what we ask horses to so in training they do naturally. Anyone who has seen a horse running in the pasture can see how Fast he is and how quickly he can stop and turn. Many horses today have special skills passed down from horses in their lineage. A horse descended from two great lines of cutting horses, for instance, has cow sense in his blood. No one has to convince him that it’s fun to separate a calf from the herd. Strip away modern equipment and various training ideologies, and what you’re left with is a human trying to communicate in a way that inspires a horse to accentuate his God-given talents. Don’t get the wrong idea, though; although a horse may like to do some of the things it was bred to do, if it had it’s druthers, it would rather be in the pasture running and playing or simply eating grass. Perhaps it’s bred to be a champion, almost predestined to be a winner, but most horses would like to say, “I don’t want to be pressured into doing the best I can.” Isn’t it the same way with people? There are great natural athletes who never win anything because they don’t have the built-in desire to push themselves to the limit.
With horses, it’s your job to get the most out of them, but you must ask for their best without going too far. Knowing where that line is requires knowing the particular horse-it’s mannerisms, expressions, and it’s natural inclinations. Some people like to keep horses as pets, and I can understand that. I like my dog, and I don’t make him work. I just like having him around. But it is a different situation with a thousand-pound animal that possesses massive physical strength. In this situation, I must create respect. To me, horses are more like children than pets. You guide them through various stages of training, and as they grow up, you can feel them mature in strength and intelligence.
Although you can lose a horse’s respect by making it too much of a pet, putting too much pressures on it too early can cause difficulties. The relationship you build with a horse should enable it to accomplish its full potential, but it should never lose its individuality and life force. I’m concerned that some of the handling I see today subdues some exceptional horses to the point that it takes that special spark out of them.
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This article previously published in Performance Horse Digest
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