A good friend and "horse mentor" once told me that "horses will always take the path of least resistance." Until now, I didn't have a good way to expand on this concept. Then my husband showed me this article. I would call this a must read for anyone who owns or rides. After reading this myself, I think "path of least resistance" can also be characterized as a horse's innate desire to take care of itself.
Many of us grew up with a romanticized and humanized version of the horse. I remember reading and re-reading Black Beauty, thinking how terrible he must have felt living that life, and then feeling relieved when he finally rediscovered peace. How many other stories can you remember where horse and human shared a struggle, and the pair triumphed because of the perseverance and love of that horse? You'll remember scenes where the horse openly displayed gratitude to its human, intentionally interrupted potential human tragedy, or showed bravery that surpassed even the toughest soldier. So many of us that now own horses are seeking that bond, that behavior....
Now rewind to the days of open ranges, the Wild West, cowboys and their horses. It's a much different horse we see in those scenes. Sure there were the few famous horses like Trigger and Silver. There was even Mister Ed. But the movies were primarily filled with a more utilitarian version of the horse. The emotional bond between man and beast was less explored. However, it was clear that every man knew and understood horses. Riding, training, caring for their animals was an essential part of western life. It wasn't a "nice to know", it was a "need to know".
Which brings me back to the article... The take home message is we need to think like a "science-based horseman"; and maybe that's more like the cowboy in the western, than the 10-year-old re-reading Black Beauty. Acknowledging a horse is a horse, and will take the path of least resistance, may open us to consider that we have a great deal of influence on their behavior, both good and bad. A horse can't be wrong because it is always doing what's right for itself! But we can be wrong in communicating what we want. And we can sometimes forget they are horses!
My other "horse mentor" is my husband. He LOVES his animals. Yet he doesn't lose sight of their horse-nature. When his horse performs well, you will hear him say, "she was a rockstar!". When the performance doesn't go well, he will say "I wasn't making it happen." The horse is never wrong. You may have heard his take on training: "you have to make the bad things hard and the good things easy." So, you need to lay out a path to your goal, that is also their path of least resistance. I'm still so new to this journey, but slowly it's starting to make sense!
Read Is It My Horse, or Is It Me?, inspiration for my blog post. And if you like this topic and have time for some more thoughts around horses and emotions, read the post Horse Emotions from David Ramey, DVM.
Michelle Thompson is a self-proclaimed, self-taught mom of a horse lover. Now a Barn Owner that provides boarding and lesson services, she uses this blog to "pay forward" the good advice she has received over years learning the hard way!