How did I get Batman, a horse who rarely expressed himself, was afraid of trying, did not want to spend time with me and was impossible to teach news things, to become a proud, playful and comfortable horse?
Build him up, not break him down! How do you succeed with an introvert horse, is a question I receive every now and then. And it is an interesting topic!
I have not worked with that many horses in my life in general, but I have spent 9 years with Batman, so I guess that counts.
He is an introvert! And I’m extremely extroverted myself. The fun thing here is that I think prefer introverted horses over extroverted ones. All the horses I have been close to in my life, are introverts. I actually get tired when I’m around extroverted horses for too long! So there are clearly some benefits with having a horse that is a bit less outgoing and “all over the place”.
“Welcome to the land of “Why should I? What’s in it for me?” This horse reads people like a book. He knows what you want and he’s not going to give it to you, unless you treat him right. Even though he appears stubborn or lazy, he’s not at all lazy in the mind! Reverse psychology is where it’s at, oh… and treats!”
Article about equine personalities
With Batman, the key is patience and praise. Simple as that. In the beginning I literally had to drag him after me. If he was a human, I believe he would rather stay in bed and watch Netflix, instead of joining an adventure with me, haha.
But you can’t continue to force your horse to follow you, which I learned rather quickly when he simply refused to walk, or ran back home. He was way stronger than me, and violence is never a solution. So I had to start thinking. How can I make Batman want to spend time with me?
First of all: Make the time spent with Matilde the best time ever!
And so I did! Short sessions, went for adventures, hacks in the forest, tried something new all the time. I discovered that Batman love treats, so I simply brought carrots, apples and snacks with me every day. The next thing I discovered is that he loved praise. The rest was simple. When I started to praise him every single time me behaved well, took a step in the right direction, showed progress, appeared interested, express himself or offered an exercise, I immediately said “GOOD BOOOOY” with a loud and happy voice. I fed him carrots, dismounted or ended the session or gave him a rub or massage. I let him do whatever he wanted, combined with his favorite praise.
Said by Matilde 1 000 000 times.
I made it crystal clear to him that he did a great job. Every time that happened, he became more outgoing, braver and showed more emotions. He grew! He is really a fun horse to be around who makes me laugh all the time, but he appears to be hiding that when he is insecure. I highly recommend lots of praise, talk to your horse and be careful not to ask for too much. You don’t want to cross the limit, so be careful with pushing to far. I have of course done that mistake too many times. End the session when your horse feels amazing!
When do I praise Batman?
- When he pay attention to me
- When he greets me
- When he follow me
- When he tries to understand what I’m asking for
- When he is expressing himself
- When he attempts to do an exercise or a trick
- When he succeed with an exercise or trick
- When he fails to do an exercise or trick
- When he is trying to jump a fence, but stops before the fence (praise the attempt!)
- When he is stopping on cue from walk, trot or canter
- When I let him out back to the herd
- When he lifts his legs when I’m getting his feet done
- When he stands still when I’m washing his legs
- When I load him on the trailer
- When he waits on cue
- When he gladly accept a saddle
- When he stand still for a photo or selfie
- Every minute during a photoshoot (posing is actually hard work, and he must constantly pay attention, don’t take it for granted)
- When he is PLAYFUL!
- When he is polite around food
And the list goes on. Most of the praise is a simple “good boy” or a small piece of carrot. But for his confidence and mood, it is worth everything.
Of course I have rules too, I do not allow dangerous behavior, and that rarely happen with Batman. But in a stressful situation, he can attempt to run away. Sometimes, that can lead to a disaster, for example in traffic. So I will of course correct that behavior to avoid dangerous sitations. If I need to correct him, I mostly use my voice and that will be more than enough. But when you are buliding your horse up, instead of breaking it down, you will as a result have a safer, happier, stronger, prouder and more playful horse who trusts you.
Peace, love and Friesian hugs,
Batman & Matilde