By Brogan Higgins Graduate in Equine Intelligence
At last, the humans have finally left the office and I have managed to sneak in and type this article. Believe me it wasn’t easy, I have had to use my tongue on this disgusting keyboard (what on earth has this human had her hands on?) and this mouse thingy now has teeth marks on it. However, now I can share my extensive knowledge with my fellow equines on how to train a human.
As most of us already know humans are pretty thick. They don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them, they are always chattering away to the strange rectangle thing they keep in their pockets. They seem to delight in trying to get us to waste energy on pointless exercises in an arena whilst they bounce about on our backs. I have been a master in human training from a very early age and I learned a whole host of techniques from other equines I have been fortunate to meet over the years.
Depending on the type your human is will dictate on the best approach to use. We all know the fluffy types, they want to shower us with hugs and kisses (never mind how many times we try to tell them horses don’t kiss). They call us baby boy/girl, at every opportunity, seem obsessed with keeping us clean and brushing our coats (maybe I do enjoy the odd groom, but all that smelly stuff ruins my street cred) and are perhaps the easiest to manipulate. All you need to do if you sense the approach of a saddle is to yawn repeatedly, look as sleepy as possible and the “piece de resistance” is to bury your head in their chest and pretend to go to sleep. They will feel so guilty about working you when you are just so tired that they will usually put you straight back into the field where you can gallop off with a condescending buck in their general direction and refuse to be caught till the next day. Now, if your human is a little bit tougher then you might just need to lie down as soon as they put you in the stable and look exhausted. They love it if you bury your nose in the bedding and allow your lips to be wrinkled up in the cutest way, believe me it is worth a mouthful of shavings to see them filled with smiles and watery eyes as they admire your absolute sweetness and feel privileged that you want to lie down in front of them because you trust them so much (if only they really knew). They usually wander off for an hour or so and leave you in peace because they just couldn’t bear to disturb you.
Now, some of us don’t have such gullible owners and we might not evade the actual tack going on (despite our best efforts at keeping our mouths well and truly clamped shut as they try to put the bridle on). If you have not escaped the dreaded work session there are some ways to keep the human under control. For those of us with relatively high energy we could try the “I’m terrified of everything” act. If you snort and prance enough with your eyes out on stalks, spin in circles around them and act like the world is out to eat you, then there is just a chance that the human will give up and decide to just lead you around the school a couple of times to let you “see the scary objects” (that live there every day of the week). This works extremely well, especially in windy weather and if you play your cards right you can train your owner not to work you if there is so much as a light breeze. For those of us with tougher owners or who just can’t be bothered to use up energy, there is another approach. The tried and tested distraction technique. First of all you need to allow them to get you into the arena, then you need to lift your head up as high as possible and stare at a point in the distance, it also helps if you snort occasionally. The human will spend ages trying to figure out what you are looking at and if they are really stupid they might wander over the fields in case you are warning them of a problem (like we are Lassie or something!). If this doesn’t work then drastic measures must be called upon. There is a special dance I call the mounting block shuffle and you can have hours of fun with this if you get your timing right. Initially try to avoid actually approaching the mounting block. If you stare and snort at it they will spend a while showing you the object so you aren’t scared. This only lasts for a short while so best not to play on it too much. Wait until they put the block down and get on it then innocently spin on you forehand to stare directly at them with the sweetest “I love you mummy” expression. You will be amazed how often they will get off the block, move it, off the block, move it etc I remember someone talking about a thing called step aerobics and perhaps this is it. Even the most stupid of humans gets fed up eventually so when you sense them losing the plot you can stand beside the mounting block. Then you can do the “I’m just adjusting my balance” shuffle. A tiny step forwards or backwards just as they are putting their foot in the stirrup is all it takes. Believe me, I have seen real masters of this make it last for a full training session before the human gets wise and pins them in the corner.
Those of us with slightly smarter humans might not get away with any of the above and will be forced to work despite our best efforts. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being worked then you could try the “I don’t understand” routine. This can be made to last for years and those equines really good at this technique have managed to keep their humans struggling to advance more than just a walk or short trot. It is absolutely vital that you at least pretend to be trying to work it out or your human will get wise to this game. You only need to do enough to keep them thinking you are being taught something and they will be so pleased with themselves they will give you a day off for just trying. Remember though, the next time you go into the school feign amnesia and make the human start the whole process again. Done properly you will never need to work in an outline, work into a corner, canter in the school, do lateral work or any other weird stuff humans like. I know a couple of real experts who have actually trained their humans to believe that they can’t do any school work and so they just hack out occasionally (at their own pace and only when they feel like it).
Over the years I have tried most of the above but despite my best efforts my human has been trained to recognise my tricks. I have been “trained” to a high level (or so the human thinks) but I have discovered something amazing. I really tried to avoid work and will every so often pull the exhausted card which can sometimes work, but, I have found that if you can’t avoid being ridden then sometimes it is better to do as much as the human wants as quickly as possible. I know this may sound odd but if your human gets a lovely walk, trot, canter, lateral work, outline etc within 20 mins or so then they seem to get bored and finish because you have done so well. In this way you can shorten your work sessions and train your human to take you on hacks most of the time because you have already proven you know everything. Now, unfortunately the human may on occasion take you to a thing called a show. They scrub you to within an inch of your life (removing all that fabulous dirt and grease you have spent so long accumulating), take you on a journey in the noisy horsebox and then make you do stupid things in front of strange horses that you want to impress. Now, at these show things I have seen many expert equines doing fabulous things to avoid being worked and to put their humans in their place. However, my advice is to try your best because nothing will earn you a holiday quicker than wining one of those ribbon things called rosettes (red seems to be the best colour but most humans are happy with any colour). If you do then you can guarantee yourself a few days in the field “resting”.
I have to go because I’ve just heard the car pull up outside the house and I can’t let myself be caught being super intelligent, heaven knows where that would end!!! Remember equines, keep up the good work and you will eventually train your human properly.