“Dear Stacy, when a horse has been started by someone else and it is very compliant but not mentally with you (robotic), do you have a system to help them express themselves and relax? Even the animals around me have to satisfy my addiction for honesty. I like them to feel comfortable enough to express themselves, so I can clearly see when they truly except new things.-Janette”

It is interesting to think about what goes into a horse becoming ‘robotic.’

I have seen several variations on this, several pieces that go into causing it. The neat thing about it is that the ‘fix’ is the same no matter what the cause is.

One cause can be training. When I think about a horse that has been trained to be robotic it makes me sad. The easiest way to describe this training is forced. Essentially, for a horse to be trained to be robotic, he is trained physically to have certain responses without his mental condition being assessed. Horses that pretend to be robots are similar to people that have also been trained to be robots. Both are hiding their true self and much of the time it is because of pressure that has been applied.horse crossing water

Another cause for a robotic feel from a horse is their personality. Some horses are naturally more serious. Some are naturally more playful. The ones that are more serious will often express that trait everywhere, not just in ‘trained’ places. For example, many serious horses won’t even eat treats. They also tend to stay out of trouble, they are NOT the ones who: open door, search for treats, pick up things with their mouths or are overly curious. They seem to be serious and a bit distant. Early on I thought these horses must have had a bad experience when they were younger but I don’t think that anymore. I have seen foals that were serious just like you will see children that are more serious. There is nothing wrong with serious if it is honestly who they are.

Interestingly, if you want to see these horses show more expression the ‘fix’ is the same for both; be more creative.

Years ago some people brought me a reining horse they wanted to sell. The person who trained it said it didn’t have enough heart. The owner brought it to me to see if I knew anyone who might want to buy the horse. He was very well trained but it was very evident that he was a robot. I agreed to ride him and look for a buyer.

It was fun to see what would help ‘wake’ him up. The first thing I did was to put a pole in the arena. Just a simple wooden pole you might cross in a trail course. The gelding approached the log showing little expression but as we got close, he wasn’t scared, but his ears started flicking around. It was as if he were quickly searching his data base for anything that he had ever experienced like this. That moment was critical.

If I had rushed him or pressured him he would have gone into emotional hiding again and applied the same rules he had learned during reining maneuvers. I was laughing.  He never lost forward motion and stepped over the log but I knew that creativity was going to be key.

I could have set up 20 obstacles that day…but wouldn’t that be overwhelming?

And most horses that are robots have already been trained with the use of overwhelming pressure.

Over time I introduced another log. Then for fun I put the logs in strange places. Whenever he started to go into his ‘trance’ I would randomly do something unexpected. Maybe I would dismount and pick up rocks from the arena. Maybe I would stop and side pass over the log. The best was when I took him trail riding.

His first ‘trail ride’ was simply leaving the arena. The lawn, to him, was a trail. A field that had not been mowed was eye popping as the grass tickled his belly. By the time we finally went on a full blown trail ride he felt as if he were excited about what could be coming up next.

My goal was not to remove all the training he had ever had before. It was to show him that he could look forward to small, pleasant changes to his routine. Imagine if a child had been sent to a very strict school for years. Sure, you could remove him from the school but why not make small changes inside of the school routine. Small changes, leading to bigger ones, would be amazing and inspiring to the student. It reminds me of the movie Dead Poets Society staring Robin Williams.

Some horses are naturally more reserved and others have been trained to be that way. If you want to see either one get more alert or inspired try adding creativity to your riding. It will help your horse and who knows…maybe it will even help you.