Horsey Therapist

Friday, December 12, 2008

Once a tank, always a tank?

Someone asked a question about a Halfinger after hearing that they are 'tanks' and because of their breeding, do not need to be sensitive.

We personally own a Haflinger, who came with some words from his former owner like "he's just like that, won't change, blah blah." Because RNB liked his "in your face" friendliness, I left him (the horse) alone and did chores around him. He was never scary to me, just a "tank" - a bulky, extremely confident presence.

The timing coincided when RNB got very busy with other things and stopped doing things with the Halfinger, and when I got more intent on having different boundaries with the herd of six here at home.

The Haflinger is very capable of responding softly, quickly, athletically. Nobody had probably ever asked him before to do more than pull in harness or carry under saddle.

That said, I do believe that -- to quote Harry Whitney -- so they are started, so they go. Which to me is the same for people as horses -- our first lessons about how things are become our foundation. Yes, we can alter things later, but under stress, we tend to resort to our foundations.

With a few horses I have met who had reputations of dragging people around in halter and lead, I try to address what I want from two places. One is to help the horse understand that I know we can do everything together without my taking the slack out of the lead or reins. That seems to establish a new pathway for understanding between us, and eliminates the push-into-pressure response.

When that is pretty reliable, I start to reintroduce pressure in order to help the horse learn new ways to reduce the pressure, instead of pushing into it, or in some cases, yanking the tools of pressure out of the human hands (picture that pony who knows exactly when and at what angle to bolt in order to get free from the lead line contact). Basically, helping the horse know how to rearrange his body so the pressure is gone.

Because it's very, very, very likely someone is someday going to carelessly apply pressure instead of connecting and guiding the horse, I hope that my efforts result in a horse who can think of a few more options beyond pulling away or pushing through.

There are so many parallels in helping a horse like this and helping a human who has learned to push and pull his/her way through life. What a delight to discover that within that "tank" lives a bright, sensitive, alert being who indeed will respond to different expectations.


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