“You never close a sale. You only begin a long-term relationship where both parties win.” – Denis Waitley

This quote grabbed me – not only due to my logging more than twenty years as head of a marketing firm that encouraged clients to embrace an inverse pyramid approach to selling, but also because of the wonderful application this idea has in working with horses.

Horses know, trust is key

Waitley goes on to say:

“Can you think of a successful relationship without mutual trust? Break that trust and you break the relationship. Subvert it and it’s almost impossible to put together again.”

Well, maybe horses are more forgiving than humans, but they remember. Plus, anyone who thinks they’re “teaching their horse respect” with what they do to the equine vs. how they relate to him is living in a dream world. Sure, you can gain his fear, her obedience, his compliance and her cooperation, but you’ll never win a horse’s trust with an end-game in mind that doesn’t include the equine in the conversation.

Horse communications go both ways

In the same article (and I’m probably really pushing the Fair Use Doctrine here, so hopefully Mr. Waitley will forgive me if I encourage you to sign up for his wonderful, brief, weekly newsletter at deniswaitley.com – check out some of his products too – he’s an artful speaker and an amazing treasure trove of knowledge), he goes on to say:

“The central secret of good communication is bringing the other person over to your side by satisfying one of every person’s most fundamental emotional needs: Make him or her feel valued. With rare exceptions, people who feel valued—who are allowed to feel important in the sense that they are recognized—answer with openness, cooperation and reciprocated respect. If you want respect, be respectable. If you want to be loved, be loveable. If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy. If you want a lifelong relationship, listen openly to the other person’s needs.”

While it’s not fair to try to put the human ego into play when characterizing horse emotions, horses that are valued, understood and encouraged to be partners in a job they can embrace (and accomplish) tend to be a lot happier than those that are conditioned to be robots, schooled into submission or left to languish with no horse/human work activities. Appreciated and included horses will do amazing things to tackle the challenges you face together. Respect is a two-way street, whether you’re talking person-to-person or human-to-horse. Lose sight of this and your relationship with your equine partner is more likely to be built on fear or pain than trust. If a partnership with your horse is your aim (some would rather have minions), where both contribute to solutions as you face challenges together, you need to be able to hear and acknowledge what your horse is trying to tell you. You might not always agree with it – and it’s OK to say no – but if you’re looking for a lifelong bond that’s reciprocal, it’s important to let your horse know that you’re listening to his input. Trust and respect are built through what you do with the horse – not what you do to him.

Horse sense requires trusting your gut

Too often, people dismiss their intuition when it comes to building relationships with  horses in deference to one who presents themselves as a guru that promises fool-proof results if you buy (or buy into) their system. If something doesn’t seem right to you, or for your horse, don’t do it just because a media darling says it’s so. Every horse has his own character and individual reactions to what you throw at him. No one can honestly assure a standard response to a given approach.

Seek out a variety of perspectives and solutions as you strive to learn how to more effectively reach your horse, but trust your gut. If your horse is screaming ‘stop that’ or has lost the spark in his eye as you force him through a series of lessons devoid of his input and focused on making him a compliant servant, consider rethinking your strategy. The relationship building process can be a wondrous discovery process where your horse teaches you as much (some would argue more) as you train him – provided you are willing to include him in the conversation. Come at him with assurance, patience and understanding to give him the confidence and kind direction he needs to please, and you’ll be amazed at how much more he’ll want to do for you.

“Your attitude is either the lock on or key to your door of success.” – Dennis Waitley

8 Responses

  1. Great post! Reminds me of a wonderful older horse I had many years ago. He would totally take care of his rider–if they were honest with him about their fears and skills (or lack thereof). For the visiting children, he had a tiny trot and would go no faster. For the paraplegic woman he worked from voice and rein (despite being mostly schooled to work from leg and weight). The one time a novice rider tried to bully him, though, he took great delight in making a fool of her. She kicked and pulled rudely, and he planted one hind foot and spun like a top, depositing her atop the muck pile adjacent to the arena. It’s a good thing she wasn’t hurt, since we were all (horse included) laughing too hard to help.

  2. It’s amazing how intuitive horses can be, isn’t it, Helen? Used to have a mare here who would take care of the tiniest and least experienced beginner (wouldn’t go past a walk unless I nodded to her) and perform with elegance for a more experienced rider, but when my husband’s friends (seen it on TV – know it all) would get on her, she’d plant her head in the grass and refuse to respond to their pulls on the reins. I’d snicker. They know.

  3. I was just speaking to a group today about trusting their intuition when it comes to their animals. We also talked about the Temple Grandin movie and how we have a connection with animals that can be hard to describe. I commend you on doing such a great job putting it to words. Well said!

    1. Thanks for checking out the blog, Patti. It’s funny, I have a relatively new farm employee that’s green but an eager and easy learner. Showing vs. telling her as proven to be the most effective approach. One of the client horses we have in here for training is immediate and dramatic about his response to body language. He’s probably the most reactive case I’ve ever seen. She really struggled with him initially in the ground work (and I did have to step in to render some fixes), but now she’s so enjoying communicating with him effectively (or learning when she missteps). Have a farm owned mare she’s been hopping on for lessons who’s the same way under saddle. She’s quickly learning to be aware of everything she does and how that may send an unintended message to a horse. Fortunately, she’s a sponge and is quickly learning to use her head for creative solutions instead of trying to apply rote approaches. It’s wonderful to find such pupils as we strive to bringing future horse influencers along.

  4. Hmm, very thought provoking comments too. How about this; Why, why would they be so willing to give back? I often think about this and haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer. Let’s say we are talking about Buttercup the 20 y/o mare. She’s had 5 or 6 harsh unforgiving owners. Just because owner #7 will be soft, open and listen, what is it about Buttercup that makes her want to open up to #7? Why do they do this? I worked with an ex-barrel racer once who’s mouth was a mess of scars on the inside from harsh bits, yet he would still look me directly in the eye, ears forward, curious and willing. It wasn’t a willing so you won’t hurt me, it was a conversational willing and the look was conversational really.

    Why do they keep giving us (as a species) chance after chance?

    1. Good question, Stacey. Frankly, I’ve had a few come into Halcyon Acres over the years that have just been too far gone to bring them back to a place where they’re willing to completely trust a human (at least in the times frames I had to work with them). It’s sad to see what some (usually unwittingly) do to horses in the training process. There are equine behaviorists that could certainly provide a much more thorough and researched answer than I could, but I’ve found horses to be social creatures and extremely forgiving. Most seem to be wired to seek a job that includes humans in the mix. And they’re curious. All this seems to keep most open to new experiences with people. It is remarkable that so many are so willing to continue to give new owners a chance at building rapport.

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