One thing we all learned growing up is to take responsibility. Whether it was taking care of the family pet or remembering to do our daily chores. It was something our parents taught us as children so we would grow up to be responsible adults.
This same teaching can be passed on to your horse. In order for your horse to become mature they need to learn how to be responsible. Now we’re not asking you to teach your horse to clean up after itself but you will need to teach your horse that when you ask them to do something, they will do it and continue to do it until you ask them to differently. For example, when you send your horse out in a circle to lunge them it is their responsibility to stay in the direction and speed you asked until you request something different.
Some people tend to follow the horse around when lunging to make sure they stay in the correct direction or speed. Some even continue to encourage the horse by using the whip even while the horse is doing the right thing! As Pat Parelli would say, this is “micromanaging” your horse. It can also be described as “babysitting”. By micromanaging a horse, the person never lets the horse figure it out. They constantly remind the horse every second what to do therefore the horse never learns to be responsible.
Micromanaging also prevents the horse from finding comfort. Horses search for comfort! When a person is asking a horse to do something the person should motion with their body and tools in a way that the horse can understand until the horse does it. Once the horse does what the person asked the person should stop asking and reward the horse by offering comfort. If a horse is constantly “reminded” or bothered by the human to do something they will never find comfort. This may also cause the horse to start trying different things in order to find comfort. So if a person is tapping the whip while the horse is lunging properly they are not offering comfort and the horse might feel it is doing the incorrect thing. When the horse is going in the direction and gait that was asked the person should offer comfort to the horse by relaxing their body, staying in one place without pivoting their body and let the horse be comfortable.
Here is a video clip of Darren’s horse Sky showing that she has responsibility. (1.3 MB Quicktime) He asks her to walk backwards in the circle, which she continues to do until he asks her to do differently.
People need to trust that their horse is going to do what they ask and offer them comfort by relaxing when they are doing it. They have a habit of micromanaging their horse in many different aspects. For example, when they are riding and want their horse to go in a certain direction some may hold the reins at close contact in that direction until they reach where they wanted to go. This would be considered micromanaging or babysitting. Instead, they could point their horse’s nose in the direction they want to go and trust that the horse is going to maintain that direction. They can then offer the horse comfort by riding with loose reins. If the horse does not go in the right direction you can collect the rein and point your horse back in that direction and then immediately offer comfort again.
As Pat would say "The more you use your reins, the less they use their brains".
There are many other examples of when we micromanage our horses. When you are interacting with your horse next time ask yourself, “Am I babysitting my horse or am I trusting that it will take responsibility and do the right thing?”. Once a horse learns to be responsible they will become confident in themselves and confident that they understand what you are asking because you can use comfort and discomfort to motivate them.