Personality and intelligence – a predictor of success?
I have always believed a horse’s personality and intelligence matter when it comes to training and performance. Not to say the most intelligent horse will necessarily be the easiest to train or the best performer, as horses can make decisions for themselves and may not want to perform. Is the horse of average, or even below average, intelligence likely to be a better performer? Less likely to argue and to just comply? I think it depends on the horse/human relationship. Of course it’s just my opinion, but I believe that relationship is what makes the difference. Horses want to be respected as intelligent and unique individuals. I believe that two different people will get different results if they trained the same horse. I believe horses want to be able to trust and respect their humans, and want their humans to trust and respect them. And horses want to feel their human is competent enough to be in charge.
I know a lot of people will disagree that horses “want” anything, or care about who trains them, but I believe it makes a big difference. And I believe without doubt that they think. IF they are allowed to. And that is key. I give my horses a lot of freedom – time loose without halter or fence. I allow them (or my GOAL is to allow them) to become the best horse they can be. Smart, confident, thinking, and happy horses. I want to avoid any lack of trust in me or themselves. Because of that my horses are not nervous or fearful. They observe and think, and choose accordingly.
The horses who I’ve raised from birth (Rainmaker and Oz) or from a very early age (Lucy – 3 1/2 months) were/are thinkers and not nervous. It’s so much easier when they have little to no previous human experience! They have no fear of me. They respect me as dominant (read in charge) but are not afraid of me or the things I do. And they want to be near me. If I am outside, even if it’s just on the porch of my apartment, the horses stay around. To get them to go away, I have to go inside, and then they will leave and go graze, or whatever.
Now to my point, which is that I love Oz’s personality. He is smart, confident, and can be stubborn if he feels like it. Determinedly stubborn, not just stubborn for no reason. For the last couple months I have been tying him to my horse trailer to feed him. This is for two reasons, first, so Bettina can eat her grain without him “sharing” it with her. Second, so he can get used to be tied. Horses really need to learn to be tied. Really tied, not just for a couple minutes. I do use a Blocker tie ring, and recommend everyone use one. It’s such a safe and easy way for a horse to learn what being tied is.
From the very first time I tied him to the trailer, he has accepted it without issue. Not fussing or impatient. My routine is to tie him, and tell him I’ll be back. Then I go feed Bettina, and get Oz’s food ready. It may take me five minutes, it may take longer, as sometimes I’ll give the other horses treats. Last I bring Oz’s food to him and dump it in his bucket. I try to remember to set a timer for the length of time I think it will take Bettina to finish. When I think Bettina is done (about 12 minutes), I go out and free Oz. There has never been a problem. Oz is usually just standing there, assured I’ll come free him.
Today was the exception. I went over to free him (he’s on the side of the horse trailer where I can’t see him) only to find him literally hobbled! He had the lead rope around his left ankle and around his right leg, in a way that had his feet right next to each other. It gave me a shock, but it was clear that though he was irritated (the big horse flies are out and he couldn’t really defend himself) he was not scared or nervous. He was quietly trying to free himself, but calmly and gently, not freaking out at all. I walked up, encouraged him to take a step forward to loosen the rope a little. It fell off of his right leg, and then the loop around his left ankle fell to the ground. I took his halter off and he went over to see if Bettina had finished all her food.
Though I would have preferred he hadn’t gotten tangled, it was a great lesson for him, and a great opportunity for me to see his personality. It was also a great reminder to him that I am someone he can trust.
A horse having his front feet basically tied together is a very frightening situation. Most horses would have reacted more strongly than Oz. Many would have completely freaked out, reared, and perhaps even flipped over. I wish I had video of it, but I don’t carry my phone on me when working with the horses. And really, first things come first. The priority was to free Oz as quickly (and calmly) as possible.
Oz is only two and already confident and a thinker. He can only improve. My job is to not change his personality or to “break” him, but to train him in a way that allows him to not only be himself, but to allow him to develop even more confidence in himself, and trust in me.
I know I do things a lot of people would never do. Allow horses to be free (unfenced) and to roam around exploring. Tie a horse and leave it. Doing odd, unexpected things to see what the horse(s) will do. But how else can horses really learn or develop confidence. We all, horses and humans, have to have experiences to develop. Sadly, few horses are given the freedom to really learn. They are haltered and led around, tied, etc. Basically controlled at every point. Some lucky ones do have turnout, but they don’t live in a herd as Oz does, which is how horses are meant to live. So will a horse who has been allowed to develop as nature intended perform well? Time will tell!
In the meantime, I’m happy with what I see.