Recently we took two ex racehorses to a local Festival as part of our outreach program. As you can imagine, there is a lot going on. We had the opportunity to walk Wiley and Stevie through the section that housed the carnival. For most horses, this would be total overload. The festival itself, muchness the carnival. We walked in past the games w rides eventually ending up at the Tilt-0-Whirl. It was large, spinning, blinking and making a whole lot of noise. A friend asked me, how do you do that? How do you take your horse to an event like that?
The short answer is, trust like that comes from some serious work. Imagine the canine that works with his handler, either law enforcement, or service dog, they get professional training w a handler and experience so much outside the realm of normal pet ownership, because they are working. I think Thoroughbreds, in particular, because they have been exposed to so much, and have a wonderful work ethic, combined with their innate curiosity and play drive, make them excellent candidates for this sort of activity.
When the horses arrive here, right from the very beginning they learn what behavior is appropriate. That doesn’t mean that they are perfect or that I am perfect, simply that they know where they stand with me.
You hear a lot about herd behavior, the dominant mare, or the alpha male and how that translates into the need to be the boss of your horse. That you need ‘respect” You also hear that none of that is true and that is not in fact how horses react to each other. What I look at is how the horses at our farm interact with each other. And in fact, there is one horse, that has the ability to push everyone off the hay, off the water, directs when it is time to nap, and time to play . None of the other horses mess with him. And when that horse defers to me, or minds me about things, it seems to somehow resonate with the other horses.
At our training facility, its the opposite, I have to work with each horse and establish our relationship individually. Much more work! And its not so much about being the boss, though sometimes you are, but for me, its about being grounded in myself. Strong and confident resonates w the horses we have here. I am not looking for a fight, I am looking for a partner who trusts me. If training is lacking, then that is how you start. Most of the racehorses that come here have really great manners. They are used to being handled by professionals. Its the neglect cases that we have that usually take the most work. They have “baggage” , unfortunately.
Having appropriate boundaries is really important especially in the case where you take horses off property into situations that might be unfamiliar to them or where they could be injured or injure others. Many times I visit a location alone and do a cursory inspection. What challenges will be encounter, safety hazards, where are potential places to go if there are any problems. One of the events we attended had helicopters flying in and they set off C-4 very close to where we were set up. Having a plan and a contingency plan can’t be stressed enough. What keeps you safe is ultimately your relationship and training.