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Irritated or fearful?

Don Jessop

Best you know whether or not your horse is acting fearful or  irritated. There is a significant difference.

An irritated horse and a fearful horse often look the same because they are both reactions. You get bucking, what looks like spooking, rushing, bolting, etc. And it doesn't always mean fear. And... the strategy you use must be different to solve fear vs irritation.

In short... fear strategies require taking time. Anti-irritation strategies require "shaping" time.

Dealing with irritation means literally changing the quality of the expression and experience in the moment for the horse. It means, being a leader. It's not easy for most people to understand or address irritation. They often confuse it for fear and don't stand as a strong leader in the moment to interrupt the patterns. Instead, they try to sooth the fear with calm, repetitive motions. 

But irritation doesn't go away with repetition. It can actually get worse! Imagine begin irritated by a friend and they constantly try to sooth you. It's worse, not better. What you really want is to be left alone.

But with horses you can't just leave them alone when they are irritated. They'll learn the wrong thing. And you can't sooth them. What you have to do instead is take a huge leap of faith. You have to trust that by addressing their irritation with clear boundaries, it will actually solve the problem.

Here's a memorable scene to paint the picture.

Imagine, I'm underneath my horse, trimming his feet, and he fights to get me to stop. At first, I assume it's discomfort or fear that's driving his behavior. After all, maybe, he's in pain. But soon, it becomes apparent that he's just irritated.  He'd rather not be here in the moment, present with me.  One option is to force it. Trap the foot and don't let it go. That's a dangerous option and not recommended. The other option, the one I most often choose, is to reset his position. If we are standing at x and he starts drifting about, I can simply bring him back to x. But if he's not drifting, he's just pulling against me, fighting, yanking his leg and me around, I can send him away quickly and bring him back. I call it resetting and reconnecting with the goal. It works like magic.

Suddenly, the horse that's been focused on his own horrible experience is focused on me and what I need from him. It's a momentary reset that won't last forever but after a few of these resets, you'll have his heart and mind on the goal and he'll stand quiet and peaceful. No longer irritated at all. 
It's about controlling the focus and rewarding the right type of focus and expression. Couple that with loads of bonding time and you've got a great horse and partner. 
Thanks Don.

Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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Don Jessop


Don opened up a community, full of people on the same journey you are!
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Don shares his  passion for writing with his passion for helping horse owners see the horse and themselves for who they truly are.

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Don believes every horse owner should have access to the Principles of Horsemanship and he shares them freely here.

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