Today I was working on some consent training with Cato. (Consent enables your horse to tell you to stop or carry on- it essentially enables them to control you).
He is a total pro at this, and you might wonder why I still do it. The simple reason is, we both get better and better, we both understand each other more and continue to learn, and also, it enables him to inform me if anything has changed.
If he suddenly was telling me no to touching him somewhere or picking up a foot where it was fine previously, that tells me something is different and needs investigating.
The things we can use consent training for are also endless. Today I was actually working on all-over body touch consent, I have worked strongly on his back and his legs as these are places that needed a lot of obvious work, but I never did much for other areas as he never had any concerns and my priority was the places he was worried about.
Yet another reason to revisit consent.
I worked over this body, all fine, I danced like an idiot and sang him songs, no bother. I went to touch his face- and he removed consent.
I was a little surprised, but ok, I’m listening… I repeated the movement at a much smaller strength. Fine. I did it again, moving my hand closer- and he removed consent again.
I started at his withers and worked my way up, all fine, but as soon as I drew level with his ears, he removed consent.
Then it hit me.
A few years ago, I taught Cato to target my hand with his ears… the cue was my hand being held out near his head…
And that’s what he was doing. He wasn’t removing consent, he was responding to the cue he thought I was giving him. Thankfully, stupid human here worked it out fairly quickly as Cato is not the most patient when he thinks I’m being an idiot and not doing things right!
Armed with my new insight, I changed my approach a little and managed to get consent to touch his head without getting offered ears or annoying him.
We learn things, then we change what we’ve learned, we learn new and better ways of doing things, there is NO SUCH THING as perfect. The day I don’t have a thousand things I’d like to work on with the horses is that day I sprout wings and a tail!
What we do with our horses- every moment we spend in their company there is a constant stream of communication, interpretation and learning which goes both ways. I don’t think that can ever reach an absolute pinnacle, and I think as good horse guardians, we owe it to them to never stop trying to better inform ourselves and better understand them.
Everything your horse ever does is a communication, we have the bigger brains, and hooves are not good at all for turning pages or googling, so it falls on us to be the ones to create the openings and means for communication. Once we start to recognise what our horses are telling us, we can respond appropriately. When an animal feels it is listened to, it will communicate more and so the level of understanding snowballs!