How To Help Your Horse Understand You
I’m not sure if there’s any known way of comparing animal intelligence to human intelligence, but I’m going to say this; horses are fairly intellectual. They can be taught; they know and learn. Even when you try to teach a horse something that goes against its basic instincts, it’ll still follow you and obey so long as you take the trouble of ‘breaking in’ the pony gently. As an example, it’s possible to get a horse to overcome its fear of a weird and potentially threatening object just by letting that horse get used to the presence of the object. It needs time, but if you are patient, the pony learns well. During the process of a life spent with horses, I’ve seen professional riders get their horses to do some excellent things (speaking pony show-wise) with no obvious physical or vocal cues in the slightest, and you can’t reach that sort of understanding with an animal unless that animal has a certain level of intelligence.
You also can’t reach that kind of understanding unless you relate to the horse. Let’s get this straight: in the initial stage, you have to reach out to the pony, not the other way around. The big difference between you and any animal is that the animal doesn’t know better, but you do. Thus, it is your decision to take the lead, and if you set about it the correct way, you’ll find your pony responding positively. Setting about it the best way means persuading the pony and steering it in the direction you would like in slow steps. It means ingraining habits in the horse by rewarding it for everything it does right. You may achieve a degree of unwilling obedience if you include punishment in your teaching curriculum, but you may never achieve blind trust and tenderness.
Once a pony learns its lessons, it does not forget them, but it can become puzzled badly if it starts receiving conflicting directions later on. You have to be consistent with your pony, and you need to make sure others are also consistent with it, because that is the only way you’ll achieve the kind of perfect coordination with your pony that you see in professionals.
You can see horses demonstrating their powers of understanding in other ways. I have seen horses spontaneously put on their best behavior with kids and women, and I’ve seen them roll their eyes at people they had not seen before, but sensed were complicated to deal with. I have seen horses finish with a grouchy rider and come to their owners with a large amount of joy, as if to show their relief at the end of an ordeal.
I think I can wrap up by saying this: you gain a horse’s complete understanding when you give it yours first. I have never seen a pony that didn’t respond well to a keen coach, handler or rider. Occasionally horses can be particularly difficult, but just about inevitably that was because they’d not received correct care or coaching earlier. Even these horses can be brought into line, though with a lot more patience than normal.