I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jay O’Jay, the celebrated Canadian horseman. He has just launched his Horsemanship Program and Cowboy Challenge in South Langley, British Columbia at Reign Ridge Stables.
My first question was whether over the year his views had changed on horses and on horsemanship.
Time and dedication is the root of our experience, which has a way of redefining how we think, communicate and interact with any horses.
I can remember words of wisdom that were planted in my brain as a young man. In the beginning they may have only been words but as the years rolled by I breathed them, ate them and lived them. Today I can say that I have earned a deeper respect and understanding of those words of wisdom. Let me put it this way; the definition of ice cream may be in the dictionary, but a person will never truly know what it is until they actually taste it.
At the start it was what I learned from others, now my own long experience has confirmed the fundamental principles. I know in great detail what works and what trips people up.
I then asked Jay to identify the three biggest problems that horse owners typically have with their horse without them being aware.
After a little thought he gave me the following list of problems although he pointed out that the list could be very much longer.
- Who moves who?
- What are you saying to your horse?
- Horses don’t think like humans
This is how he expanded on these problem items.
1. Who moves who?
Leadership is what horses need and want – the pecking order proves this to us. There is nothing more important in a horse/human relationship than leadership. Leadership earns you respect and a respectful horse is a horse that you can teach, communicate and bond with. This is critical and fundamental to developing the right relationship between you and your horse.
Horses are always jockeying for a higher rank in the pecking order – this is an innate survival skill that weeds out the weaker less dominant horse. Horses do this naturally with each other so don’t be surprised if one day you wake up to discover that your horse is in fact your leader.
Dominance games are won or lost simply by establishing who moves who. A dominant horse will tell a subordinate horse to move out of her personal space just by laying her ears back or by threatening to bite or kick. However, there are times when a subordinate horse may challenge the dominant horse – a kicking match ensues but in the end one of the two horses will submit and move off. “Horses cause movement in order to earn leadership and respect”.
When a horse crowds you, nudges you with its head or uses other body parts such as his shoulders in ways that causes you to move, no matter how little – in that horse’s mind he is your leader. Bottom line – he will have no reason to respect your personal space, training program or partnership.
If you want your horse to like you – earn his respect. Invite him into your personal space – don’t allow him to come into your personal space uninvited. Make your idea his idea.
2. What are you saying to your horse?
You’ll never know unless you learn how to listen. It’s actually quite amazing – the better you become at listening to your horse, the more defined and accurate your own body language or should I say your communication becomes.
Pressure motivates a horse to learn but it’s the release of pressure that teaches. I mention this because pressure / release is how we communicate with horses. Even with the simplest of things, such as reaching out to touch your horse – you are adding pressure.
We add pressure to motivate a response but we must remember that every action or movement that we make creates a reaction from the horse. It’s this reaction to our pressure that we must pay attention to – it’s your horse’s way of communicating with you.
A horse is extremely sensitive to body language, many times more than that of a human. As a result we need to constantly gauge or adjust our body language in an effort to keep our horses calm, relaxed and thinking.
You should be consistently quiet and rhythmic with your communication and you will find that your horse will learn how to trust your actions. A trusting horse is a confident horse that can focus on what it is you’re asking of him. Communication is the seed and it’s confidence and trust that grows.
3. Horses don’t think like humans
This is perhaps the most difficult one for people to accept. Horses do not think logically. Instead they work by a process of associative reasoning. For any given situation, by trial and error they have found what works for them and their response is instantaneous. To an extent they work entirely by reflexes. If you are relying on your horse figuring out logically what it should do, you are doomed to failure.
If you would like to see how Jay applies this approach, you have a great opportunity coming up. Jay will be working with his two young horses, Casper and Junior, at the Pet Lover Show on February 16 -17 at the Tradex Exhibition Centre at the Air Terminal in Abbotsford. Jay’s horsemanship demonstrations will be from 1:30 to 2:30 PM each day in the Round Pen.
If you wish to get in touch with Jay to take a lesson, attend a clinic or hire him to work with your horse, then you can contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 778-887-1833. His website can be found at www.jayojay.com. You can also follow him on Facebook.
Undoubtedly some horse owners may feel challenged by Jay’s three hidden problems. We encourage you to add a comment below whether supportive or not.