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 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 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. Horses are now used primarily for sport and recreation.
Yet regrettably, that traditional mindset of training horses using entrapment, the absolute submission goal, and fear as a motivation, (and dependent on discomfort/pain to maintain control) is still 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 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 you, the horse has not ‘failed.’ The horse is NOT the ‘problem.’ YOU are the problem.’
YOU have forced the horse to communicate ‘with extreme prejudice.’
YOU were so eager to rush to judgement; you completely overlooked the simple fact that horses are horses. And as such, they will act and react according to THEIR nature, not your expectations.
YOU were so blind deaf that you could not detect all the warning signs they gave previously.
YOU were so hell bent on submission you did not heed John Milton’s warning, “He who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.”
YOU chose what the horse is supposed to ‘obey’ regardless of how much it was against their instincts and nature.
YOU chose to use the same basic formula for ‘training’ that has been used for thousands of years that has resulted in all those bad horse behavioral ‘problems.’.
YOU refused to ‘look past the end of your nose’ to determine the root cause of their supposed ‘bad behavior.’
YOU are the ‘problem,’ not your horse.
Once you realize that, (and learn how to see the world through your horse’s eyes) you won’t have any more ‘problems’ from your horse.
Give them their needs, (Friends, Forage, and Freedom).
Habituate them in small increments to the ‘usage’ you have chosen for them.
Show them your sincere Appreciation for their efforts with something besides ‘patting them on the neck.’
Forget about being their leader and instead, show them you are their trusted friend, and that you would never ‘put them in harm’s way.’
For as Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve the problems WE have created, with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Quit ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting different or better results.’
Consider reward-based training.
You will be overwhelmingly pleased with both your horse’s performance, and the tranquility and harmony of the relationship you share with them.
Chuck Mintzlaff & Kids
Lady, Able, Sundance & Combustion
(And Nikki, Rebel & Boss)