I recently had a conversation that brought up a lot of stuff for me and really helped clarify some ideas. I figured what better topic for a blog?
This conversation centered around coddling in the context of when is it coddling versus respecting boundaries. I think the horse world tends to strongly resist coddling and expects horses to go along with whatever the handler wishes without complaint. If they do complain it is viewed as a training issue.
On one hand I agree with this point of view. I do expect that I can bring my horses out from pasture, leave them standing by themselves, touch them all over, ride them, etc. If I can’t do all of those things I have some homework to do.
I take a slightly different stand on how to fix these issues than most of the horse world. That is where some could say I coddle my horses. My expectations are high but if the horse is tense, anxious, or nervous about any of these activities then I have clearly failed the horse. I have clearly asked the horse for more than they can handle in the moment. That isn’t something punishable or wrong by any means, it is just an opportunity to step back and work though whatever is making the horse worried.
This whole conversation arose because of my mare Lucy and she is a great example of this situation. Lucy typically does not enjoy being brushed or touched. She never has and I suspect never will. On one hand I will continue to require her to tolerate being brushed. Unfortunately that is a part of her life that I am not going to stop doing just because it isn’t her favorite activity. This is where I stand with most of the horse world.
Where I differ is that I don’t punish her for not enjoying being groomed. It isn’t her fault that she doesn’t like it and if she starts to act up about it that is my bad. I will continue to brush her even though she doesn’t like it, but my act of brushing shouldn’t make her nervous. That’s where I draw the line. She can dislike something as much as she likes, but the minute the dislike comes from nervousness I will stop and back up.
If you brush too fast or too hard or even just aren’t paying enough attention to Lucy when you brush her she goes through a little routine. First she starts cribbing. Then she moves away from you. Then she will swish her tail and alternate picking up her hind feet. Then she will start snarling and snapping at you. If you still haven’t gotten the message she will grab your clothing with her teeth or kick out just far enough away for you to feel the air of her kick.