Updated: Dec 19, 2019
What’s the difference between a Stanley knife and a Push Dagger? One is a tool, the other is a weapon despite both being a blade.
Your flag is a tool, not a weapon, however many horses have come to see it as the latter because of its use. Anyone that has been to my clinics will know that I’m no fan of desensitisation, but instead focus on contextual understanding of a particular stimulus. In simple terms... you teach your horse that when they are afraid, they look to you for support, instead of taking it upon themselves to go into fight or flight. Hand in hand with this, my horses can all stand while i wave my flag around, rub it on their bodies, ride with it and do pretty much anything with it. That said, should I ask the horse to move with it, they need to be sensitive and responsive.
How is that possible if they are so comfortable with it flapping around them? It’s simple... the cue needs to come from your body, and your energy. Not the stick. Horses around the world perceive sticks and flags as weapons because they are ‘trained’ to run away from them.
When a horse is running away from your tools you can never give them peace, not truly... and that’s what good horsemanship is all about. Letting the horse find peace.
People often ask me how to go about getting the horse less spooky. Expecting a long winded answer involving tarps, flags and wheelie bins they are often surprised when the answer is ‘let him find comfort in you’. No matter how many wheelie bins he sees, how many flags, lorries or umbrellas each one is a little different to the last, and that might be the one that bothers him. Before it gets to that, make sure he’s looking to you for support.
How you use your tools will influence his decision as to whether you are worth following. So don’t let them be a weapon.
Its not just the flag...
We have talked about our flag but the same applies to halters, bridles, spurs, schooling whips and every other potential tool you would ever use.
Its not easy...
I cant tell you how many horses i have met that have taken a dislike to me because of my tools. Not because of me personally of course, but because of how a tool has previously been used the horse believes a flag/halter etc is a weapon...
Its no simple task convincing a horse otherwise, but it can be done.
In an ideal world it will never get to that, but just check on your horses when you next work. Can you flick your whip around your horses head without them getting worried? If not, then maybe how they think of the stick and how you think of the stick is not the same.