Updated: Dec 19, 2022
“Making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy”
A common saying in the Natural Horsemanship circles and one that in my own opinion is problematic. Why? Because most of the time trainers put more emphasis on the “wrong thing” than the “right thing” and it usually means either physical or emotional stress on the horse and doesn’t allow the horse a choice in the matter.
Let me elaborate.
Take the example of a horse not loading into the trailer. Trainers who follow this mindset will often make the horse run in circles outside or away from the trailer (wrong thing hard) and letting the horse rest in or near the trailer (right thing easy) this is successful in getting the horse “wanting” to go into the trailer, but not because the horse is okay with going into the trailer, but because NOT going in the trailer is highly aversive. It’s a ‘do it or else’ kind of situation. An illusion of a choice.
Some trainers will take this approach to almost everything they teach. From trailer loading, leading, lunging, separation anxiety, mounting, riding etc.
Now some people are ok with this, and will continue taking this approach (to which I say you do you)
But me personally, am not.
Why? Because it is very important to me that my horse feels good about what they learn & do.
I want them to come quick to my side because they genuinely enjoy being there walking besides me, not because they get worked hard if they’re not quick enough.
I want them to go into the trailer because they feel safe & confident in there, not because the alternative is being chased.
I want them to stand still at the mounting block, because they find riding a fun activity, not because there’s aversive consequences if they don’t stand there.
I also want to give my horses choices.
I repeat this constantly, a true choice, means neither of the choices are far better or worse than the other and that none result in a negative consequence for the individual.
So what’s the alternative I hear you ask?
Instead of focusing on what you don’t like about what your horse does, and how to make this choice harder for your horse, and only give relief on the behaviour you want,
focus on what exactly you would like your horse to do instead, break that down into small teachable bits, and make that a really fun, and enjoyable thing to do. Continue to reward the behaviour and your horse will come through for you.
Taking the trailer loading example I used at the beginning of this post. If we make the trailer a genuinely safe and enjoyable place to be instead of just a relief, you don’t have to ever make the outside of the trailer a hard place to be.
So instead of making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy, I say let’s make the ‘right’ thing fun, safe & rewarding.