I decided to take a day off today, for both Timber and myself. I spent some of the day catching up on chores and also doing more reading and watching videos of others working with wild Mustangs. Timber spent the day hanging out and likely not thinking about me or training. He was probably more thinking and wishing he could get out and be with those other horses.
Training breaks can be helpful for both trainer and horse. In my last post, I was beginning to think we might be getting stuck. So, I wanted to spend more time thinking about that and considering what to do next.
The only thing I did with Timber is the usual chores of scooping poop and feeding him. For the feeding times, however, I went in and sat with him (right on top of his hay) and did some reading. My “rules” were that he was allowed to investigate and sniff me, if he so desired, but I would not reach out to him in any way (he did sniff me a few times). Laurie also spent some time doing this as well as my niece Celeste. The only purpose was to give Timber a day of human interaction where the humans did not ask or expect anything from him.
Following are some of the things I pondered during this day.
Balancing the Scales
I have this theory that horses (as well as humans and other animals) have a memory bank and there is a “rating” factor assigned to these memories. Experiences are rated good or bad or somewhere in between. As we accumulate memories the good and bad ones land on either side of a scale. Timber’s memories with humans have essentially all been bad ones. The scale is heavily tipped to the “bad” side. Part of the training process includes creating good memories for Timber that can start balancing out the bad ones. This takes time and includes interactions during training times as well as non-training interactions (e.g. doing chores around him, sitting in the pen and reading a book, etc.).
As I mentioned in my last post, I have been getting concerned about getting stuck in the training. Up until now, I have been doing things that gave Timber choices. I tried to make the right choices easy and the wrong choices uncomfortable. For example, he could choose to run or stand still and let me move closer to work on connecting with him (mentally as well as physically). Much of my horse training approach is based on this philosophy and it works very well. However, with Timber’s past being so negative with humans this has worked up to a point. This point is one which Timber has chosen: a bubble with a distance of about 3-4 feet from humans (just out of physical reach). If I allow this to go on for too long this will become the new “normal” for him and he will have no reason to move forward any further. After all, he can trot around in circles or stand just out of reach longer than I would have the patience to endure. He would choose to trot (for hours if necessary) rather than to let a human touch him.
When we humans get “stuck”, we sometimes need a “nudge”. Someone or something will “push us” to move beyond our comfort zone just enough to make a little more progress. I spent time today looking at ways to “nudge” Timber. I hope it goes without saying that there will never, ever be pain or suffering involved. The nudge might be something that I have never tried before (which pushes me). I’m noting a few ideas that I will write about if and when I feel like I need to try them.
What will happen tomorrow when we do another session? I’m forming a plan and we’ll see how it works out. Stay tuned.