I grew up on a dairy farm in the 1960’s. We milked about 100 cows which was quite a big herd in those days. When I was eleven years old, one of my jobs after school was to feed the calves.
There were about 20 calves fed by hand from the time they were a few days old. I had to mix powdered milk with warm water and feed each calf from a two gallon bucket. Those calves thought I was the best thing since sliced bread. They’d come running whenever I called them and always wanted to be with me. They’d chase me all round the paddock and suck my fingers, looking for a drink.
When they were two years old, the heifer calves became members of the milking herd. Each cow was milked twice a day and fed dairy meal while she was milked. It was a good experience for the cows. There was never any trouble getting them into the milking bails because they wanted to come in and eat their feed.
Fast forward a few decades and my wife Christine often takes bread out to our horses. We “eat” about three loaves a day! When she’s in the kitchen, the horses watch her through the window. When she goes into the lounge room, they move along the fence to keep her in sight. Our horses often stand at the fence and call to her. They have her well trained – when they call she takes bread to them and rubs them.
Whenever the horses see Chris in the paddock they always come a running because they know they’ll probably get something to eat. Even if they don’t get some feed, they know it’s always a good experience to be with her.
I often read that you shouldn’t “pet” your horses or take them treats. Sounds strange to me. Surely you want to be nice to your horse. Surely you want your horse to come to you. Surely you want your horse to like being with you.
Just because you’re nice to your horse doesn’t mean that he can do whatever he pleases. It doesn’t mean he can push over you or chase you. You must always have rules and you must always be consistent and reinforce your rules at the appropriate time. If you’re consistent, your horse will soon learn the rules and then he’ll be able to relax. Neither you or your horse can ever relax unless you’re consistent.
There’s much more to training horses than being nice to your horse but it’s the first and most important step. Give me a confident and relaxed horse to work with over a nervous and frightened horse any day of the week.
Forget about leadership, horse herds, pecking orders, respect and all the other nonsense you may hear. The most important thing is to have your horse confident and relaxed with you. When your horse wants to be with you and he’s confident and relaxed, whatever you want to teach him will be much easier.
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