Manners used to matter. And they still do in certain circles (halter classes and cotillions).
I like the horses I own and work with to have good manners, but I don’t expect perfect manners. There are some horses who need to express themselves and sometimes that translates into less than perfect manners. The same is true of people. To be perfectly polite you must be inauthentic, and that’s not a good trade in my book, with people or horses.
Those who have been following my blog for some time know that I have a horse who is happy to express himself rather rudely and with whom pressure-release techniques or reprimands are largely ineffective. I’ve been clicker training him despite the fact that my least favorite new obligation is making sure that I have treats in my pockets.
This is especially challenging when what I’m wearing doesn’t have pockets. They don’t tell you that you’ll need a new wardrobe when you start clicker-training or that you’ll have to wear an apron all day as if you were a Cold War housewife or one of those dreadful fanny packs (I don’t know what was worse, the design or the name) that were once so popular with foreign tourists in big American cities.
But I have something good to report. It’s all worth it. Yesterday and today (I can’t guarantee tomorrow, but I have a good feeling about it), the new horse demonstrated lovely manners. The horse that used to happily pull away with a chain over his nose and dive for grass, who would turn his hindquarters towards you as he turned around instead of turning them away, the horse who acted as if he didn’t know how big his head was, and who tried to maneuver you out of his space with a shoulder that could be measured in miles, is now a perfect gentleman.
The other day, he had his feet done in the paddock, with his friend loose, and he was the picture of a well-behaved horse. Yesterday, he gave up grass to put his halter on, lowering his head and waiting for instructions about where I wanted him to walk. This morning, he walked on clover puffs on the way from his stall to the sacrifice paddock without even taking a longing look. After we went through the gate, he turned around to face me, and lowered his head so I could remove the halter. Then he stood there until I told him he was good, and walked away from me with his impressive hindquarters an impressive distance away.
Life with horses can so often be an exercise in frustration. So I relish the days and savor the joys of training’s little triumphs. We still have a series of days to put together, which will grow into weeks and months, until I know that I have a horse who is safe and trustworthy and gentle and responsive. I’m not going to ask him where the fish knife goes, but he does have lovely manners.