Troubleshooting problem behaviour
When problems arise, looking at the horse’s response to GO, STOP, and TURN will usually provide the solution. Extensive research by Dr Andrew McLean at the AEBC showed that many conflict behaviours in horses can be reduced or eliminated when you reinstall their response to the 4 basic signals:
Turn the forelegs
Turn the hindlegs (yield)
Assessing your horse then, what do you see their legs doing? The first step in assessing the root cause of behaviour problems is clearly explaining it in terms of facts (“they slow down”), rather than emotion (“being naughty”). With most conflict behaviour, there has been a change in their legs. Download a chart of root causes and the possible solutions to problem behaviour by subscribing here.
For instance, a horse that consistently shies – what happens to their legs? Quite often you will see them stalling or slowing and they will go off ‘your line’ to avoid an object (quite easy to spot a TURN issue in the horse that jumps to the side or spins full circle!) To correct a horse that persistently shies then, you will install or reinstall both GO and the TURN signal. By doing this, you will be able to reduce the likelihood of the horse rewarding itself by running from a scary object.
HOWEVER! Some behaviours are extremely hard to eliminate. Situations that the horse has linked with fear and/or pain will be deeply ingrained. It only takes a bit of practice and you have a very quick reaction from the horse – habits are formed! Coaches should be wary about claiming they can completely ‘fix’ behaviours. Instead we can all aim to reduce or shrink the behaviours to make the horse much safer to ride and handle.