The Inexplicable Thought Pattern of a Horse

This morning while working Mac I decided to add something new to the groundwork, as it will still be a week or so before I can ride and the routine seems to have plateaued slightly. I decided I would teach him to side-pass from the ground, I figured I would tap on his side as I would when I ride (he already knows the side-pass from the saddle) and play around with that until I got a step in the right direction.

Of course because it was a new maneuver Mac wasn’t sure what the answer was, and at first just looked at me quizzically. Then he did something that made me laugh out loud, he offered the bow!

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Mac and Liseanne in 2012 working on liberty training

To cue for the bow I tap on his cannon bone to make him lift his leg then I ask him to back up to place his knee on the ground. To me the tapping on his side had no resemblance to the bow at all, but Mac had other ideas.

When I thought about it, – once I had stopped laughing – it does make sense, he had three options as to what I wanted, and like most horses do he picked one and gave it a shot. His other options where moving his hips, and moving his shoulders. I found it fascinating that he thought of the bow first, especially because I have not been practicing the bow lately (since last summer) and the fact that the two cues are not that similar.

Mac only did this on his left side however, which actually makes it even more interesting, because I never ask for a bow on his right side. On his right side he only had two options, he tried the hips, then the shoulders and I was able to easily « wiggle » him into a side-pass on the first try. Since he had less options to choose from to find the answer I was looking for, he came to the proper conclusion quicker then on the other side.

When you think of a horse’s thought pattern in this way, you can easily see how if you are not absolutely clear with your cues, and consistent with your releases then even a very finished horse can get confused. The key is to not get upset with them, just be patient and they will develop even better skills in learning complex thoughts!

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