I am currently in my probation year as a primary school teacher right now and I have been startled at how similar teaching children and training horses is. It’s sounds weird, I know, but honestly, the same principles apply!
Reward the good, ignore the bad
When you are training horses in a positive way, I find the best way to reduce undesirable behaviour is to simple ignore it. For example, say you have a horse banging on his stable door. He is looking for attention and so if you go over to him, shout at him or do anything which reacts to the behaviour, you are inherently rewarding that behaviour and it’s only going to continue.
The same goes for the child who is having a tantrum because he doesn’t want to do something. Obviously, I can explain my reasoning to him, unlike with a horse. So I can say something like “I know you don’t want to do this right now, but this is your task, you are very capable and it is important for your learning and so I expect it to be completed”. Then, he decides to stomp his feet and groan at me, to which I ignore and walk away. I have made my expectation clear and more often than not, he will do what has been asked and the tantrums stop quickly. Again, the more you react to an undesirable behaviour, the more it will continue and even escalate.
All behaviour is communication
People and horses don’t do things for no reason. There is always an underlying issue which is causing it, the trick is to find out what that issue is. It can take time, and you sometimes have to try different approaches to figure out what it is, but it is key to overcoming behavioural issues.
For example, let’s say you have a horse who bucks when you go into canter. This is quite a common issue so you might be able to relate. There is a reason the horse does this and it could range from tack not fitting properly, incorrect feeding, pain somewhere, excitement or it could be a learned behaviour. You should always rule out pain and tack fit first before deciding whether it is learned behaviour.
If you have a child who is constantly making noise in the class or annoying the child next to them, this could stem from many issues. For example, it may be that the child has trouble socialising and making friends, perhaps they don’t get much attention at home, perhaps making themselves stand out gains them recognition which they are craving.
It is your job as a horse trainer- because if you have a horse, that’s what you are- to find out what the core issues are in order to connect and promote understanding. Remember, every single thing you do with your horse is teaching your horse something.
Relationship is the foundation
At the core of any training or teaching is relationship. In the words of Rita Pierson:
Kids don’t learn from someone they don’t like
I would say this is true to both a child and a horse. If you don’t have this understanding and a solid relationship which is based on mutual trust and respect, then the foundations will be rocky. Would you do what someone asked if you really didn’t like them or didn’t respect them? Probably not. But, it works both ways. You need to value each other, each others’ opinions (I am referring to horses here too) and views. You need to be fair and set them up for success.
So, taking the time to build that at the beginning is so important. It’s not the case though, that if you don’t do it in the beginning it is all doom. You can start right now. You can take things back to basics and focus on groundwork, manners and antecedents/behaviours. By focussing on building the connection first, everything else comes along a lot easier.
How do you feel your connection is with your horse? Could you spend a little more time building the foundations or even re-building them? Let me know. You can get me over on instagram at @bbequines.