There are plenty of trainers out there — conventional and alternative — who may think they have this whole equine behaviour business all tied up, but sometimes I wonder who is really in charge.
Our Welsh mare Kitty was exceptionally bright, and an astute practitioner of ‘natural humanship’. It took her no time at all to whip us into shape and arrange things just as she wanted them.
If she wanted us to know it was dinner time, she would throw her bucket over her stable door, harder than it sounds as her door had anti-weave bars. To make sure we shut her sliding stable door securely, she demonstrated how she could open it from a gap of just a few millimetres using only her incredibly powerful upper lip. To ensure we kept the yard tidy, she would punish us for leaving rugs over adjoining stable doors by stretching her neck like a giraffe, pulling them into her stable and trampling them into the muck.
Her finest achievement, however, was teaching us how to load. She was very patient with us. She would stand quietly at the bottom of the ramp while we fussed around her, alternately threatening and cajoling. She made it very clear that the use of a pressure halter or lunge line was completely unacceptable. When the penny finally dropped and we fetched a scoop of nuts, we were immediately rewarded with one hoof placed on the ramp. She allowed us to entice her forward, one nut at a time, until she was fully on board, whereupon she buried her nose in the scoop and looked at us as much as to say “there, that wasn’t so difficult was it?”.
To reinforce our good behaviour, each time we loaded her she gradually speeded up the process for us. Until one day she turned the corner of the yard towards the open lorry and set off at such a lick that my feet left the ground altogether. She went up the ramp like a bullet, fully confident there would be a bucket waiting for her at the top, and knowing that her work here was done.
I know — bribery is not always the way forward. But I always prefer the path of least resistance, and to be honest, it felt as though it was completely out of my hands. Like all the best natural humanship trainers, she made compliance with her way of thinking the easy option for us to take.