What Your Horse Values Most

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about various things lately, including the inner resistance most of us have regarding rest as a reward, which is tied to the inner resistance most of us have towards holding back on expressing love for horses at their heads, up close.

Rest as a reward, instead of kissing and stroking and talking in baby tongues. Taking a step back. Just sitting there. Doing nothing and knowing we are doing enough. It is so hard for us. We have this need to tell them, to add something, be it food or talk praise, to kiss and hug as if they were our babies.

Horses are so different from us. In a way they couldn’t be more different from us. Yet we want to get along and create a sameness so that we feel loved and understood ourselves. We try to change to fit them better, but I still believe they change so much more for us. To fit us, to suit us, to get along with us.

They are one of the fastest learners of all domesticated animals.

The release and the rest as a reward for learning is so powerful because it is related to their valuing of energy, as I understand it. Perhaps it is more apparent in the untouched or wilder horses.

As horses naturally spend so much time taking in low energy grasses, energy does not come in abundance. They work for it in grazing and travelling, many hours daily. Energy is precious to them. If they flee, they try to minimise the distance if they can, fleeing only a few hundred meters before turning around and investigating. Rest allows them to preserve and regain the energy that was lost by moving. The way I understand it, the peace and comfort of the rest, the nothingness that we find so difficult, is gold to them.

If you’d want to reward your horse more, you might stay with them for a little while as they start eating hay after your session, blow out another time, and soak on what you just taught him. It’s less thrilling for us than the instant gratification we tend to get from rewarding them with candy, I know. But the peace of your horse might rub off on you. It might just light up the rest of your day.

Pictures of Estonian filly Eloolil, who is one of the most stoic horses I have gentled in Estonia so far.

Want to learn more about rest as a reward, and the value of the pause in horse training? Listening to this podcast with Dr. Steve Peters, co-author of the book Evidence Based Horsemanship is a great place to start!