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The Power of Just Walking Away

Some horses will pin their ears, push into you, or even more extreme behaviors when they want the human to stop what they are doing. And sometimes they communicate their displeasure with each other using similar behavior. But not all horses and not every time. I have found that many horses will simply just walk away when they don’t prefer something that another horse is doing – and this includes the older horse in the herd or the horses with the higher status. And when given the choice to do so, such as when they are at liberty with you, often horses will also just walk away from the human when they don’t want to be around what’s going on in the moment.

Further, in a herd situation, the “offending” horse may simply take note and then decide not to pursue things for awhile with the horse that just walked away, or this same horse may soon try again with the older horse, and usually change their behavior so that they can be in this horse’s good graces.

I described this in more detail in my previous post with my recently deceased horse, Hummer. He did not want to be touched when he was near me, and when I reached out to pet him or scratch him, he would simply walk away from me. He was a dominant type fellow, and yet there was no ear-pinning, no snatching at me, no tail swishing… just a quiet, but very deliberate leaving. I have to admit that I didn’t catch on right away, but I realized, eventually that he was sending me a message: I want to be near you, but I don’t want to be touched.

This can be a powerful way to show your horse what behaviors you would like for them to change, and it’s super smart for a variety of reasons. One, you are asking your horse to self-manage himself – to THINK about what he or she is about to do, in advance, and then to experiment with trying a new behavior (and they will!). Two, it’s a non-confrontational way to ask your horse to consider his behavior when he’s with you, this helps him to build his trust and confidence in you. Three, your horse is relaxed and thinking, which means that he’s much more likely to remember the lesson for the long-term. Four, you are recognizing that your horse has a mind and can figure things out – horses seem to really appreciate this. Five, it’s just more dignified, don’t you agree? No flailing, no yelling, no threats… it’s intelligent and thoughtful – your horse will be impressed.

Now, there is a caveat to this – your leaving needs to be something your horse doesn’t want to see happen! Ahhhh, and that’s where this very smart idea comes with a condition attached to it. You see, if your horse doesn’t want to be around you, and he pushes into you, and you walk away… well, you know what you have just taught your horse… how to cause you to leave, something he wants! But if your horse feels better with you than he does when he’s not with you, then you sticking around is something he may be willing to change his behavior for. Which is why, this walk way idea, while it’s tempting to apply it right away, truth is, you must have some kind of connection first. At the very least, you must have shown your horse that being with you is better than not being with – whatever that may mean at this time in your relationship.

This very powerful way of asking our horses to THINK about what they are doing with us, and then go about the changing of their own way, is just one of the many very important lessons that my “warrior horse” Hummer taught me. Rest in peace, my friend and know that your lessons live on.

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