We like to remember. We remember our first good friend, our first teacher, and our first love. We remember the folks that have helped us along our way and the folks that have not. We hold on to those memories. Sometimes they are in the forefront of our thoughts, triggered by an event or a song, smell or something familiar. Other times our memories are hidden somewhere in the depths of our minds like an old friend we lost contact with.
Horses remember too. They remember everything! That’s why a good start in the halter leads to an easier start under saddle and a good start under saddle leads to a more confident horse in any discipline. Horses remember how things feel. They also remember being scared from a bad experience, over confinement, or from the over use of force. They remember how to fight when their flight response is taken away from them.
The good news is, most horses are very forgiving. We know from working with hundreds of horses that have had less than a perfect life. When these horses are offered something that feels good to them, something they understand, they find a way to bury the past. They don’t forget, they forgive and bury. If we offer them the things they understand in a way that makes them feel safe, they will choose to react in a way that helps us do our job.
A good horseman will do their best to forget any unfavorable encounters with the horses they work with. We need to have confidence in our ability to learn from our mistakes and create better learning environments for our horse partners. If we applied pressure in a way that caused a blow-up, we need to think of ways to get our job done without crossing that line again. We look for the subtle signals from our horses that allow us to expose them to things they need to know and still stay on this side of trouble. We also need to forgive and trust that given our new knowledge, everything will work out for the best. We need to leave the past in the past.