Toddlers and horses

They say that kids say the darndest things. Well, let me be the first to tell you, they DO the darndest things, too. Like repeatedly test your patience. I remember hearing something about the terrible twos, but what someone failed to mentioned was that the terrible twos begin far before the age of two and extend much further beyond. Many of Carson’s and my conversations go something like this: “Carson, come here and do xxx.” “No!” “Yes, come here now.” “No!” “Carson, do you want a spanking?” “No!” “Then come here right now!” “No!!” “1, 2…” At which point, he usually comes running, because, by now he realizes that if I have to get to three, things start to get rather unpleasant.

And, though I’ve made the observation before, I realized today just how much toddlers and horses have in common. Johnny’s paddock has a corral gate that I often leave partially open while he eats and I muck out his stall and paddock. Today his paddock was especially filthy, and he finished his breakfast before I finished mucking. He walked out of his stall, noticed the open gate, contemplated continuing on to his hay, then decided against it. He got two feet up out of his paddock, and I growled at him–my universal “don’t you dare even think about it” signal for horses, dogs, and kids. He paused. Both ears flicked back at me, and I caught a glimpse of an eyeball. He was deciding whether he should chance the consequences in exchange for momentary freedom. “Johnny, you’d better back your butt back into this paddock.” He stood there, waiting to see what I would do, but knowing he’d better not take another step. And, like Carson, it took the equivalent of counting to three before he decided a little fun wasn’t worth the punishment that would ensue.

I’ve put my training stamp on many horses over the years. Many people fail to realize how remarkably easy it is to develop good ground manners in horses, but it all comes down to structure and discipline. Decide beforehand what behaviors you want to reward and which behaviors you don’t want your horse to have. Then, stick to your guns! That’s it, plain and simple. The trick is using appropriate punishment fast enough for the horse to associate it with the inappropriate behavior. I use a lot of noises: growls, pssts (like Cesar Milan), unh-uhs, and so on. Punishment doesn’t always have to be physical! Sadly, there are far too many horses, dogs, and toddlers out there who are given far too long of a metaphorical leash, and these are the ones we see who are running over their owner/parent, often literally. It’s a sad story, but there’s an easy solution. And, I guess that’s my soapbox speech for the day. Go eventing!

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