Last two days, something remarkable has happened with Nazir: he suddenly said “yes”.
Let me explain…
When I got Nazir, he wasn’t really motivated to do anything except eating. Didn’t like lunging, groundwork, riding. Mostly, it was really hard to motivate him to do anything at all. His protest was silent and effective: he just didn’t move, was anchored to the ground. Whenever he noticed that we’re going direction riding arena, he grew roots.
It got a bit better once I started clicker training. With that, my entire approach to training changed, too. I used a lot more positive reinforcement. I analysed my training method and had to admit that it had involved a lot of negative reinforcement until that moment. It took some months to change my behavior. Habit is a bitch. As a result Nazir’s willingness to cooperate improved a lot. But still, quite often, he just said “no”. I had a hard time accepting that.
Then, last autumn, I got interested in the Academic Art of Riding as taught by Bent Branderup, mainly because I liked how calmly he teaches his horses, how they listen to him and give their best. His system is very logic, something that appeals to my inner German, and he can explain very well. I tried out some things, mainly groundwork, and found that Nazir responded quite well. He was more focused and seemed more eager to learn. But still, sometimes, he just said “no”.
I think it happened a few weeks ago that I just accepted my horse. I said goodbye to my fairy tale idea of him and saw him as he is: a bit overweight, hard to motivate, afraid of dogs, greedy, has “spooky days”. Of course, I didn’t stop seeing his good sides, but I just didn’t think anymore, “Oh, yeah, you’re afraid of that dog, get over yourself!” Instead, I focused more on helping him when he got frightened and doing something fun instead of training. I spend a lot of time with him on the pasture, rode him without saddle (quite a big thing for me; since my riding accident security was very important to me), worked mostly in walk, both on the hand and under the saddle. I taught him to react on the different positions of the whip in groundwork, taught him how to put more weight on his haunches in halt. All very unspectacular. Most of all, I began to trust him more.
Then, without any reason, or so it seemed, it happened. During our groundwork session yesterday, Nazir’s ‘motor’ finally started. I didn’t have to ask him all the time to walk more energetically, he just did. Round after round. After I stopped him to give him a treat, he was off again, in a good forward pace, listening to my aids and doing everything I wanted. Without discussion. Just like that. Then, today, the neighbour’s dog came running by the outdoor arena. Nazir is really afraid of this dog. His usual reaction would be “A dog! All run!!! Children and horses first!!!”, and I would try to hold on to the lunge line. I had prepared myself for the worst, Nazir went all tense, snorted that dragon snort, I told him “it’s ok, it’s just the dog”, and then: nothing happened! He was afraid like anything, I could see his heart beating in his chest, but he stayed with me. I patted him on the neck, told him he’s a good boy, and we stood there for a moment, observing how the killer dog vanished into the forest. And then, Nazir went back to work. Just like that.
For an observer, these things are hardly even noticeable. Knowing Nazir and his history, and our history, I’m so grateful that he decided to say “yes”, and that two days in a row. Knock on wood 🙂