Sunday Musings

Stretching the Boundaries


Working with horses can often be a balancing act, especially with young and inexperienced horses; horses that are in the process of being retrained or had previously bad experiences; when we want to step up a level and introduce something new or improve the basis that already exists. The list goes on.

To successfully teach, we need to go beyond what the horse already knows. This may initially cause a bit of stress for the horse. The importance here is that we work and stay on this very fine line where learning is supported. And that we do not further increase or let the stress escalate into fear and discomfort where learning and welfare will be impaired.

We achieve this by working along the boundaries of the individual horse’s comfort zone by stretching them just a little today, and maybe a little more tomorrow and even a bit further the next.

Thereby, we gradually shape the horse’s response to the new task and/or situation and support learning in an environment that is safe for the horse. This will not only teach the new task but generally assist the building of our relationship and the horse’s trust in us as a reliable guide. By offering a positive experience in a – possibly challenging – situation, we also help the horse to develop his confidence in navigating his environment and dealing with new and unexpected situations effectively.

However, less is more. If we ask too much, pushing the horse too far, triggering resisting and defensive as well as fear and flight responses we can cause damage and impair learning and trust, confidence, safety, welfare etc.

If we stay within these limits, working by slightly pushing and stretching the comfort zone, and apply it on a daily basis to everything we do with horses from handling to work in hand and under saddle, we can avoid many problems and conflicts and may suddenly be surprised how far we have come.


Picture: (c) Budimir Jevtic – Fotolia