From the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude toward the problem.”
~ Captain Jack Sparrow ~
How utterly absurd that a fictional character in a movie could possibly offer any enlightenment in the world of horsemanship!
And yet, in truth, Captain Jack’s insightfulness is actually the universal solution to every behavioral issue and ‘bad horse’ problem mankind has ever experienced.
At this point, I can hear the naysayers muttering that, “Each horse is an individual. No one size fits all.” Which is true about each horse being an individual unlike any other horse. But not true about one format, one belief, one philosophy, one way of life not being wholly accepted by all horses. But more on that later.
So, exactly what did Captain Jack mean when he said, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude toward the problem?”
And how does it apply in any way to horsemanship, and horse/human relationship?
As to the first question, Meriam-Webster has the following definitions for the word ‘problem.’
1a: a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution
b: a proposition in mathematics or physics stating something to be done
2a: an intricate unsettled question
b: a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation
c: difficulty in understanding or accepting
I think we can all agree that: (b) balking, biting, kicking, barging, runaways, bucking and the myriad of other ‘bad horse’ problems can definitely be ‘a source of ‘perplexity, distress, or vexation.’
To understand how Captain Jack’s ‘universal solution’ applies to all those problems, we first have to take a historical glimpse at our relationship with horses.
For thousands of years we have used entrapment and fear as the commonly accepted basic method for training horses. It is quite easy to understand why some type of entrapment was needed. If the horse was not somehow contained, they would run away! It is also easy to understand why fear was the prime motivation. We simply did not know any other way to train horses!
If a horse did not completely submit and react instantly to our commands, crops weren’t planted, wars were lost, and personnel, equipment and materials were not delivered when and where they were needed for our civilization’s survival, and growth.
Thankfully, those times are long gone as horses are now used primarily for sport and recreation.
Yet regrettably, that traditional mindset of training horses using entrapment, absolute submission, and fear as a motivation that results in being dependent on discomfort/pain to maintain control, (whips, bits, spurs) is still very much predominant in our present day horse world.
And hand in hand with that mindset is our ‘attitude’ toward all those behavioral issues and bad horse problems.
That ‘attitude’ demands that the horse instantly ‘obey’ under any and all circumstances. And if they don’t, then they have presented us with a ‘problem,’ (and/or are problematic themselves).
The sheer idiocy of that notion would be laughable if it wasn’t the direct causal of all the mental, emotional, and physical pain domestic horses needlessly endure worldwide.
For whenever horses react aversively, they do so out of pain, or fear, (or the anticipation of pain or a fearful situation that threatens their survival).
You see, when a horse bites or kicks or barges over us, the horse has not ‘failed.’ The horse is NOT the ‘problem.’ WE are the problem.’
We forced the horse to communicate ‘with extreme prejudice.’
WE were so eager to rush to judgement; we completely overlooked the simple fact that horses are horses. And as such, they can act and react according to THEIR nature, only within THEIR understanding, not our expectations.
WE were so involved in OUR goals, so blind and deaf, that we did not see all the warning signs they were giving you previously.
WE were so hell bent on submission and control that we did not heed John Milton’s warning, “He who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.” For if there is any Truth on the face of the Earth, it is that ‘other half’ he referred to that mends two hearts, and minds, and spirits into one.
WE chose what our horse is supposed to ‘obey’ regardless of how much it was against their instincts and nature.
WE chose to use the same basic formula for ‘training’ that has been used for thousands of years that have resulted in all those bad horse behavioral ‘problems.’ Why? Because WE swooned to the ‘words of guru’s marketing hype.’ And failed to look at what they were actually doing with the horses they ‘trained.’
WE refused to ‘look past the end of your nose’ to determine the root cause of our horse’s supposed ‘bad behavior.’
In short, WE are the ‘problem,’ not our horse.
That’s quite an an ‘inconvenient truth’ for some of you reading this.
I know it was for me. The realization that I had failed my horses was staggering.
I love my horses, and would literally ‘move Heaven and Earth’ if they needed something to help them heal from an injury or illness!
For days, weeks, I lamented. How could I have been SO stupid! How could I have been so hoodwinked, so fooled by the guru’s marketing hype of highly emotive ‘catch words.’
How? Because the trainer/gurus invest thousands of dollars on marketing experts to do just that! They have NO compassion for the horse. Their only interest is sales and the ‘bottom line.’
I finally worked my way out of the guilt-ridden mire.
I decided it would be best to first learn more about horses. Not about ‘training horses,’ but more about the horses themselves from ethologists and research scientists whose only interest was in sharing knowledge, (NOT ‘making another buck’ off of the backs of the horses and innocent horse owners). I needed to know ‘what ‘made them tick.’ And what were their natural wants, and needs, and fears all horses are born with.
In the process, I learned to better ‘see the world through their eyes.’
I learned how deathly important Friends, Forage, and Freedom were to their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
I learned how our present day management and care seemed to make it impossible for horses to adjust to their domestic duties and usage.
I learned how to habituate them in small increments to the ‘usage’ I chose for them using Counter Conditioning, Positive Reinforcement, and Social Learning.
I learned to show my sincere Appreciation for their efforts with something more meaningful than a ‘pat on the neck.’
I forgot about being their leader and instead, showed them I was their trusted friend, and that I would never ‘put them in harm’s way.’ And that more than anything on the world, I truly wanted to help them heal, and win their heart.
In short, (as Captain Jack said) I completely changed my attitude.
Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve the problems WE have created, with the same thinking WE used when WE created them.”
How very, very true, and applicable to both the horse world in general, and the horse/human relationship.
So, are you ready to ‘change your attitude’? Are you ready to learn the ‘why’ there are still so many supposed ‘bad horse problems’ after working with the same animal for thousands of years?
Is your love for your horse stronger than tradition and peer pressure?
If it is, then I can promise two things.
(1.) Neither you nor your horse will ever regret ‘changing your attitude.’
(2.) The two of you will share the most intimate, harmonious relationship a horse and a human can possibly share together.