Did you ever ask your horse what something means to him? For example we often will make a request of our horse to do something. The horse will respond by either doing what you asked, partially doing what you asked or doing something that it didn't seem you asked for. But what if that is what he thought you meant.

When I work with a horse for the first time. I observe a lot and ask a lot of questions as I would of a new person I was meeting. I ask questions to find out what the answers or meanings are to the horse. I don't judge the answers. I just want to get a dialogue going. I want to know what the horses responses are naturally. Once I get a feel for the "meaning" of things in the horses mind, I can set about possibly changing the meanings of things that may need re-defining or leave the good responses as they are.

A horse may have been taught an undesirable response unconsciously by his person releasing on the wrong timing. Or he may have learned it to protect and defend himself. Either way, it is what he has determined the meaning of a request to be.

A horse may react to a request to move move sideways by offering backwards or forwards. I would think that this horse is trying different responses or "searching" for the meaning of the request. I would NOT think "oh he is being stubborn or he knows what I want, he's just not doing it. I would set my intention, think sideways and then release when I felt the slightest try to change the "Meaning" of the request. I'd build up from there gradually.

Another point I'd like to make is the idea that a horse is not listening to you. They are ALWAYS listening. They may not be doing what you request but they are listening. Did you ever ask someone to do something and you know they heard you but they opted not to comply? I see that as the same with a horse. You may want to walk over there and he may want to eat grass instead. This is not intentional disobedience. It is a difference of opinion of what the task should be. So the Question might be phrased " I see you'd really like to eat grass but maybe you could go over here followed by some body language that would make it clear what you wanted.  If the horse complied, you might show appreciation by letting him eat the grass over "there" when you say it's ok and on your terms. I try to always keep training fair and balanced. I want to give my horse as much as he gives me. That means giving him things he truly likes ie. Grass, a groom with my hands not brushes, healthy treats like carrots and apples, or a roll etc...down time...Remember all interaction with your horse is an opportunity...
More oats for thought....
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Lipizzan Soccer, Horse-fun-ship, How and why

I recently posted this video with one of my students and a Lipizzan playing with a ball. It is part of my Horse-fun-ship series but I wanted to explain more how and why I do "Playing" like this.

When we first started working with this mare, she was very dominant, somewhat spooky, unfocused, and disinterested in interacting with us. She came into the arena and just wanted to leave. She was also PETRIFIED of that ball. We have been working with her for about 6-8 months and she now dives for her halter and bridle and shows total focus in the ring whether at Liberty, riding and/or Playing. We started with Carolyn Resnick's Waterhole Rituals to build connection, bond and trust and then moved into Playing Advanced Liberty and Games around everyday tasks. I am always astounded by how quickly horses seek to connect when played with this way. They become so interested and curious and playful. All you need is your own creativity to guide the fun. I have seen even some really serious cases turn around in a few months time to my surprise as I always go in with no idea how long things will take.

Ball and Toy/prop work is fun and a great way to get horses bolder, bring out their Play/herd instincts and teach them to focus on a task and build bond and connection. I don't like to use the word desensitize as much because it is over done and misused to the point of breaking trust and shutting horses down in some cases. I prefer to try to get the horse to play with things that they are afraid of or find hidden surprise treats in scary areas. This changes their perception quickly and provides a positive reinforcement for getting brave.

To start the ball game, you can start with a food and verbal reward when they touch the ball and build from there. You can use voice commands and hand signals as well. Another way is to put the food under the ball and show them to move it to find the food.
So if you haven't seen the video here it is....Lipizzan Soccer!