Nature really is the Best Teacher
Almost a year ago, I decided to look for a two-year old that had been introduced to the halter and nothing more. Upon meeting a woman wanting to sell her young gelding so that she could move on to other things, the blank slate I was searching for had found me.
Several things stood out about this gelding: he was clearly very sweet but also covered in bite marks; I counted over fifty hairless marks! He was also very indifferent towards people. I spent the first three weeks hanging out in the quarantine paddock waiting for him to introduce himself. This suited me fine because my intention in buying a young horse was to use only positive experiences to shape the training. In those first weeks, I enjoyed my book and he enjoyed the freedom to choose whether or not to approach me for a visit.
As time went on, he blended into our herd with increasing confidence and grew an interest in people. After training him to ground tie and lead in a variety of paces and places, the day arrived when I thought I would familiarize the grooming process. With the first stroke of the first brush, he hinted he wasn’t keen on the idea. He raised his head while fixing a stern eye on me and pinning his ears. In this single moment, he and I departed from the more traditional notions on horse training, which is to say, I failed to show him who’s the boss.
Instead of getting into a conflict, I moved on to other training goals he enjoyed. In place of trying to work out what drove his reaction to being brushed, I decided to wait until his coat was shedding and he was good and itchy. I also bought the softest rubber curry I could find, a goat hair body brush and a simple shedding blade. In the spring, as you have likely guessed, grooming was pleasantly received. In fact, he was very comical, straining this way and that to get me to target each particular itchy spot.
With roughly a two-month period between my first attempt at brushing my horse and the springtime, a few people I know shared their opinions on what I had chosen to do. Some worried I was allowing him to run the show. Others could not understand why I would choose to take so long to get to something so basic. I appreciated the well-meaning advice, but I am really glad I used nature to assist in training my horse. Today, he hangs his head long and low and yawns during every brushing. He is realized my entire purpose in wanting to groom to enjoy it as a great time to relax together.
– Rebecca Babitzke