When we last discussed the idea of using crops or spurs, the primary point of the article was to help each horse (be it alpha, beta or anywhere else within the herd) understand our often-flawed human attempts at equine communication.
All training tools are just that; tools, aids, and helpers. They are not a means of punishment when used correctly. No matter which implements, if any, one selects to assist with their training efforts, the ultimate (and non-negotiable) outcome is clarity in communication. Whichever discipline we choose, we have to impart information to our horses in a manner they can understand and avoid, at all costs, confusion.
Some horses deal with confusion better than others. Some are naturally quiet minded, relatively simple and generally accepting of human direction, even able to ‘fill in the blanks’ and make their way through the scattered cues of a less-than-adept handler. The horses that fall into this category are generally lower on the pecking order, submissive and not inclined to lead unless absolutely necessary. However; when dealing with the dominant, born-to-lead alpha horse, the clarity in our directives and the ability to impart thorough, accurate and logically sequential directives is essential.
Working with an alpha horse in a manner that instills confusion could very likely be a death sentence for both horse and rider.
Think about this, and think carefully; dominant horses are born to lead. While all horses require reliable human leadership, the importance elevates exponentially when we work with a horse the possesses particularly strong alpha tendencies. Unless you can lead in a fool-proof manner, proving yourself to be trustworthy at all times, you will not be successful with such an alpha horse, be it mare, gelding or stallion.
If you confuse and frustrate a horse with a truly dominant personality, they will quickly take the lead. They will engage in behaviors that will put you in danger. In turn, they are putting themselves in danger as well – not only imminent physical danger (it’s unlikely that you can control them) – but long-term danger of being re-homed to another incompetent scenario or simply being written off as a “difficult” or “unmanageable” animal.
Because alpha horses are generally brave and intelligent, it’s common for handlers to misinterpret their comprehension and over-face them with tasks that they’re not quite ready for. Many times essential steps are left out of entry level training because these horses seem so capable and quick to catch on. Unfortunately, in time the missing links will lead to confusion, translate to a lack of trust, and present themselves in problematic ways for any person who is not equipped to take on a horse of this caliber.
If you find yourself in such a situation, it’s imperative that you seek out a skilled, understanding and competent trainer immediately. Any delay is only going to further deteriorate the horse’s trust and negatively impact his education.
Even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool DIY fanatic, this isn’t the time to stick with your optimistic “I can do this!” personal plan. If you’re having trouble, you have all the proof you need that you can NOT do this. Admit that you need help.
A somewhat-skilled ground person is not the answer. Watching DVDs or reading articles isn’t the answer. Once you’re aware that you have a problem, the only solution is to put your horse in the hands of a trainer who has the proven ability to communicate with an intelligent, dominant horse.
In most cases, you’ll want to step back and allow the trainer to take over to the degree they deem necessary. Maybe you’ll stay out of the saddle for a month or two while the trainer rides and re-educates the horse. When you do go back to riding her, make sure that (for at least a full month) you do so only under supervision of your trainer.
If all goes well and you’re developing a better partnership with the horse, you may be able to move on to unsupervised rides once or twice a week, having the trainer continue to ride regularly for another couple of months or, depending on the needs of your horse, longer.
Working with a process such as this will expand your horsemanship skills and equine understanding, possibly repair the relationship with your horse and, most importantly, give the horse a solid, reliable foundation that will allow him to progress successfully in the hands of a capable handler.
Not everyone is cut out to work with a strong-willed alpha horse. You may still come to find that such a horse is too challenging for you, but putting forth this degree of effort and striving to educate yourself and the horse with efficient professional training will give you time to honestly assess your skills and desires, and it will afford the horse greater opportunity to live out a fulfilling life in the right hands (even if they end up being the hands of someone else).