It’s often been said that horses have the intelligence of a three year old child. Ray Hunt also said that when a person talks badly about a horse, it usually meant the horse outfoxed them.
Whether we realize it or not, whether we’re a horse owner or not, every time we come into contact with a horse we’re teaching them something – good or bad. The reason that’s true is because horses learn by repetition.
Horses watch everything we do. They watch our body language, the tone of our voice, whether or not we let them into our space. They determine pretty quickly if we’re a leader or a follower.
Naturally, when they watch us that closely, they notice the second time we do something. By the third time, they’re already one step ahead and expecting us to do the same thing again.
The problem is that as humans, we don’t watch them as closely as they watch us. We get distracted by other things and we don’t watch the subtle changes in a horse’s body language, whether or not they’re getting out of our space. By the time we usually realize it, we’ve already taught them something because it’s already by repeated several times.
A horse will just about always think about something before it actually does something. Those thoughts can be seen in their body. The way they hold their ears, the changes in their muscles and how they carry themselves. When you pay attention to these kinds of things, you can use repetition to your advantage and teach a horse something good.
Let’s say every time you ride a horse, it takes you out of a gate and heads back to the barn. If you had been paying attention, that horse told you through it’s body language before it ever approached the gate that it was thinking about going back to the barn, but you missed the sign until it was too late and the horse made it through the gate. The first time it happened set a precedent. If you were distracted and didn’t see the subtle signs of thinking about going back to the barn, then it happened a second and third time and now it’s a habit.
If you pay close attention and see the changes in the horse’s body as they’re thinking about going back to the barn, you can interrupt that thought and get them thinking about something else. Because you’re interrupting that repetition that’s occurred before, you’re changing that habit.
If you want to teach a horse something good, use repetition to help them learn good behaviors. Pay as much attention to them as they do to you, and you’ll be set up for success.