The #1 Step
Build a foundation of trust and cooperation.
When I start working with horses my first and foremost goal is to build trust and cooperation. If I don’t have that, I don’t have anything.
It really doesn’t matter too much *what* exactly we train first (though my go to is training standing with me calmly), but *how* the horse feels about the training.
If I have to trap, pressure, push, or pull the horse into what I’m wanting. I’m building a foundation of distrust through coercion.Even if it’s done very gently and slowly.
If the horse can not leave, they do not have a choice. They are not cooperating, but rather complying. Compliance does not = trust, compliance = obedience. Cooperation does however = trust, and trust results in cooperation.
(Compliance is not inherently bad. There are times I need my horses to be compliant and I can not give them a choice, such as during an emergency. However I find that if our relationship and training foundation is based on cooperation and trust, compliance in times like these comes easily and safely. I also find there is less fallout. Unlike with horses where the training foundation is based on compliance, and there is no trust or cooperation. Oftentimes these foundations crumble when put under duress and the fallout is great.)
So my goal is to build a foundation of trust and cooperation first and foremost! If I have this, we can do anything and everything together. Riding, medical care, basic handling skills, trailer loading, trick training, whatever.. It all falls into place easily once we have the trust and the cooperation in place. If we don’t we are swimming upstream the whole time!
So how do I achieve this? I focus on reinforcing behaviors that build cooperation and trust.
Approaching me in the pasture? I reinforce that heavily! Standing with me off lead/halter and in an open area? Reinforce! Offers me a behavior? Reinforce! Takes food from my hand? Reinforce! Investigates something new I’m holding? Reinforce! Comes off the grass to engage in training? Reinforce!
The idea is that you’re showing the horse that it’s valuable to be with you and doing things with you, and that they are safe with you. Then build!