Learning doesn’t have to end for your old friend.
At birth, a horse is like a clean slate. Every interaction and experience that they have is like placing a mark on a chalk board. In horses’ minds, there really is no right and wrong, just things that provide them with a release of pressure. These releases, seen by them as rewards, add up over time. These contribute to who your older horse is today. Their once-clean slate simply has more marks on it than when they were born. Some of the marks are good and some of the marks are bad...Some horses learn to give to pressure while others learn to pull back and break things. Some horses have learned to jump eagerly into a trailer while others have learned to put up a fight. Some have learned to lope lovely balanced circles while others have learned to grab the bit and head to the nearest gate.All of these big and little experiences create who your horse is today.So the question is, “Can an old horse learn new tricks?” To better answer this question, you to need to know a few things: “What has the horse’s life been like before you decided to put him back into training?” “How much time are you willing to put into the horse?” “How much time are you willing to put into your education?” “Are you willing to look to the future or are you just going to dwell on the past?”These answers will help determine the answer to, “Can my old horse learn new tricks?” I have never seen a horse that could not be trained. However, I have met a lot of people who didn’t have the time and experience, with certain horses, to accomplish what they set out to do. And I have seen many older horses become very good partners for their human companions. Bringing out the “try” in your older horse.There are older horses who have developed a very rigid outer shell - both mentally and physically. They have things they struggle with, from their pasts, that can be difficult to work through. So just how do we get them working with us instead of against us? First you must find a way to get through that tough outer shell, then you must find a way to bring out their curiosity and give them a purpose.Most older horses have seen many things in their lives, so in order to help keep their minds and curiosity fresh it is very important to continue to challenge them with new situations. You have to give them a reason “why” - a reason to keep trying. Don’t be afraid to take them to new places and try new activities with them. Struggling a little isn’t always a bad thing. It might mean that you are trying something new and this will help bring up their curiosity and “try.” As long as you don’t over challenge them, things will work out for the best. Physical health is a key consideration. Fat doesn’t necessarily mean happy. Most older horses that I see have been fed a few extra snacks over the years. When it comes time to work with them, this weight can be a burden. Keeping your older horse fit will really help both of you as it is very difficult to motivate a couch potato. Giving older horses options (as with any age horse) will usually work out much better than giving ultimatums, especially with horses that appear to be set in their ways. Having an option will set them up for success, whereas an ultimatum might just bring out a stubborn streak. You just have to hang in there (no matter how long it takes) until they make the right choice.The Equation.The equation is simple: find a way through the tough outer shell, develop their curiosity, give them a purpose, challenge them with new things, keep them physically fit and always give them choices.Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with many great horses, both young and old. As much as I love to work with the young ones, there is nothing that can beat the feel of working with an old friend that has been with you for years. They just seem to always be there when you need them. It is nice to know that, when they have the option, they still choose to help out an old friend. NWHS
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