Training by Patience or Resignation

Posted on April 8, 2013 by Jerrilee.
Categories: handicap, health, history, therapy, training.

photo: Twyla Francois

excerpts from:
According to the blurb on a well known western trainer’s website, hobbles can teach a horse “respect and patience” and also “correct bad habits such as stall kicking”.
We forget how many decades ago respectable trainers stopped using fixation and punishment to alleviate “bad habits such as stall kicking”. But let’s focus on the respect and patience part. Can someone please inform us how tying an animal’s legs together can actually teach that animal to be patient. Or better yet, let’s start by looking at what the word means in the first place: Patience.

A quick consultation with Merriam Webster reveals that ”Patience” can mean a few things.
1. bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint
Very important in a horse. Despite our best efforts, it is inevitable that our horses will – from time to time – find us extremely trying and even painful to be around. When we slip up and cause them grief, we need them to not take it personally. We need them to not see our mistake as an attack. That requires trust – a relationship built on a mutual understanding that most of the things we do to each other are neutral or even pleasant.
2. manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain
Again, our horses could in most cases squish us in a second. Many of them are aware of this fact. We need them to have enough emotional control that they don’t mug us for food, don’t kick us when we inadvertently tickle them, don’t bite us when we annoy them and don’t wipe us off on the nearest tree when they get tired and want to end the ride. Quite a tall order when you think about it.
3. not hasty or impetuous
Sometimes we need horses to just wait. Wait for the aid. Wait for the release. Wait for the treat. Wait for the break. If you think ”waiting” is the same as doing nothing, think again. Waiting is an act of anticipation of a chance to improve one’s situation. When someone is waiting, they know what is going to happen next or at least what is likely to happen.
4. steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity
Here we have an aspect of patience which is most often underestimated by horse owners. It’s basically another way of saying stubborn. You might want your horse to patiently stand and wait for you to haul your behind into the saddle without walking off despite the many little kicks and nudges you inadvertently give him on your way to the top. But you might not appreciate it when he patiently waits for you to give up trying to load him on the trailer. Patience is patience, dude. You want a patient horse? It’s your responsibility to mold that patience to suit your needs. You don’t get to expect your horse to be patient and blame him for being patient at the same time. Patience is a character trait. Like people, some horses are born with it. It can also be learned. But depending on whether the horse’s agenda aligns with yours, patience is not always going to equal good manners.

Now let’s look at Resigned.
1. relegate, consign; especially : to give (oneself) over without resistance resigned herself to her fate
2. to give up deliberately; especially : to renounce (as a right or position) by a formal act
Lots of people want that in a horse. We want him to give up what is rightfully his – like running free with his mates and doing what he wants – and we want him to give up his preferences – like going around the jump as opposed to over it or to have that carrot now, not later. But this does not necessarily have anything to do with patience.
For those of you who haven’t picked up on the definite patterns, patience is about actively waiting or choosing to go without (for now), whereas resignation is about passively doing nothing to hold on to that which is rightfully yours but which you have learned you are going to lose no matter what you do. To be patient is to endure what you know or at least hope is going to end in time. To be resigned is to have ceased to struggle against what you assume will go on forever.
Imagine a man in a cowboy hat telling you to tie your dog’s legs together, since that’s so handy for promoting resignation and training him not to chase cars. Would you hire that man? Would you buy his definition of ”training”?
The inconvenient truth is that even persuading a healthy animal as large as a horse to willingly carry you on its back is quite a training challenge. A resigned animal will just let you do whatever you want. But is that the relationship you want with your horse? Probably not. Most of us would like to think we have some sort of relationship with our horses. That requires engagement on both sides. Resignation is the enemy – the death – of engagement.
If you are that horse owner. The one who has perhaps bitten off a bit more than they can chew. The one whose horse is not doing what it says on the tin. The one who has trainers and well meaning amateur experts whispering in their ear all the time that the horse is taking over, plotting world domination. The one who senses that the methods of these experts are too harsh. The one who is forever being talked into doing things to their horse which they don’t actually feel okay about. If you are that horse owner, think about stepping out and calling enough enough. Don’t pay others to do to your horse what you would not do yourself because deep down you know it’s cruel. Don’t be persuaded that there is such a thing as too much kindness. If you feel in your gut that wrong is being done to your horse, stop it now. You are the only one who can. It’s your job to protect him. You do NOT have to be cruel to be kind.