by Michael Gonzalez
When it comes to problem solving, Mary Twelveponies said it best in her book, "There Are No Problem Horses, Only Problem Riders" when she was describing problems horses have with humans...
"It is the hardest pill for us would-be horsemen to swallow, but it is absolutely true - if the horse is not responding properly, WE are doing something wrong.".
"Curing a horse's problems is simply a matter of backing up and retraining him the way it should have been done in the first place - a matter of replacing bad habits with good ones. The trouble is retraining a horse is four or five times harder than doing it right in the first place.".
"Poor communication is one of the main reasons so many horses today develop bad habits..." (refer to my otehr article 'Problems Between Horses and Humans')
It doesn't get any plainer than that! As I stated in one of my previous artivcles, Mary Twelveponies' words mirror the exact same truth. It is completely THE HUMAN'S FAULT ! By not taking the time it takes to do the job right the first time (and taking responsibility for it) and by not communicating clear enough to our horses, WE have brought about things which we now must deal with along with a sober attitude.
Now I grant you that some of us have aquired horses that had existing problems when they came to us. At this point in that particular horse's training you should assume that this horse has never been started correctly and begin the process from A-Z beginning with groundwork. Make no false assumptions, nor take anything for granted. You want to find those "holes" in a horse's training before you mount up and head down the trail. Truthfully enough, some problems will only arise as you venture out on the trail, step into the show ring or go to load in a trailer. Through groundwork, we must begin to establish abrand new relationship, brand new communication and a brand new foundation...thus, hopefully erasing all previous experienced problems this horse has had with his previous owner.
Problem solving is never...let me repeat this....NEVER solved by anything mechanical. This goes anything that is 'natural' about natural horsemanship. A horse's problems cannot be solved by another piece of tack regardless of whether it is a nose band, draw reins, tie down, shank bit, stud chain, twitch, etc.. Wehn we resort to 'fixing' problems by mechanical means, we are only attempting to solve the symptom and not the cause. There is a big difference between the two.
Most riders tend to look at problems as single cases of misbehavior. They look at each problem with blinders on not understanding that these single problems are usually related to other problems and causes. Sometimes that can make 'fixing' the single problem more difficult. Again, it always goes back to what is the root and cause of the misbehavior. Riders need to diagnose the cause and not just treat the symptoms. I can't stress this enough.
Since the crux of the problem solving lies on the human's shoulders, we must then fully prepare ourselves for the task at hand. We must be ready to begin at the beginning and truly take the time it takes. I am not talking about taking the time it takes but having the 'one hour sack, saddle and lope' mentality. When it comes to problem solving always approach the horse with the mindset that there is always tomorrow. We do not look for the goal (fixing the problem) to be reached or accomplished on the first try. Instead, we look at all the baby steps in between which in the long run, will build a strong trusting foundation. By changing our focus, we will strengthen the good things and then the little things will seem smaller and smaller and eventually easier to deal with.
Natural horsemanship trainer, Marty Marten wrote in his book "Problem Solving" , ..." To remove a problem, you have to replace it with desireable bahavior. Nature doesn't like a vacuum. Rather than just focus on the problem, get busy with other things, getting them better. When you come back to the problem, you may find that it is smaller, because you have begun to replace it with more desireable response and respect from your horse.".
Ray Hunt has always stated that the horse is never wrong and that we should look at the horse for exactly what he is...a horse! We should strive for the positive and build on that positive foundation rather than hammer away at the negative things. Mr Hunt always goes on to say that we should believe in our horses and be proud of them. I always tell people who ask for my help that...as cheesey as this sounds..."Believe in your horse, and your horse will make a believer out of you.".