When I talk about Kessy having been such a biter when we first met and I'm asked how I fixed it I always answer, "Celebrate the positive and ignore the negative." Kessy had serious trust and friendship issues when we first met and if I stepped into her bubble I was sure to get snaked, you know the pinned ears, stretched out threatening neck and flashing pearly whites. If that didn't work she'd turn those pearly whites into bites. And by golly she was fast! Yup, she bit me a number of times, only badly twice, but pretty many little bites those first six or ten months.
|Kessy and me enjoying a hug ...|
So how do you ignore all that? Sometimes it is not easy, but unless it is truly dangerous – and two times she did get disciplined with eyeball to eyeball raised voiced, glaring, sneering, yes the end of the world is coming, mean nasty explaining, followed immediately by a hug and reassurance – you must ignore it. Just as with children, and some adults, misbehavior, I believe, is a call for attention. In horses it can be more than that, it could be a sign of misunderstanding, disobedience, dominance, illness, poorly fitting tack, poor cues or a host of other possible triggers. And to discipline might not only might be exactly the wrong approach, it will chip away at any confidence and trust they might have, or be trying to build.
Ignoring it will get you much farther. If you can adopt the standard of ignoring the negative and celebrating the positive most all the negatives simply go away. Discipline then becomes a rare need indeed. If our desire is to build a true partnership, we don't want a worried compliant horse, we want a robust, full spirited and trusting horse for a teammate who understands they can make a mistake, just as we do, and not be disciplined. They'll also know they get love, praise and celebrated for the positive they do.
It follows then, and it really does, that they will stop doing the negative things because there is simply no reward, or gain, and do many more positive things for the rewards of praise, love and connection.
As I have written before it was six months before I could hug Kessy. When we first met she did not even want to be brushed. I've worked with other horses over the years with these and other issues and always, "Celebrating the positive and ignoring the negative" has healed them and strengthened them in marvelous ways – while disciplining could never have done anymore than created a compliant horse.
There is a whole other world of this most wonderful technique, if she is never disciplined for making a mistake, she will be more willing to try new things, and get them correct sooner. She'll have the eagerness and confidence to really try without worry of being corrected for every misstep.
I believe it's a pretty darn good philosophy in life too, "Celebrate the positive and ignore the negative." There is plenty of negative out there, but we don't need to give it credence. If our first instinct becomes to ignore the negative, the positives can find us more easily and isn't that a whole bunch better? I promise if you adopt this standard you'll see your horse in a new and shining light, and a whole lot of other things, too.
Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry