I love sensitive people because they are generally also sensitive HORSE people.
I'm one of them. So this is stuff I struggle with too.
It's taken me a long time to realize that being as clear as possible with rules is the way to forge a good, solid partnership with your animal. (This works best with dogs and horses. Cats are in their own category.)
A problem that comes up often is: "Will my horse think I'm being mean if I discipline him?"
The short answer is, no. The long answer is, No, not if you do it as part of a cause and effect relationship.
The way animals (and people, for that matter) get neurotic is by not knowing what is expected of them.
#1: If your horse goes to bite you and you hit him hard in the face, will it make him headshy? No.
#2: If your horse shakes his head because he got a fly in his ear and you hit him in the face because you're scared of his headtossing, will it make him headshy? Maybe. Given enough time, yes.
I think in order for animals to learn, they have to have some kind of intentional act that puts the rest into play. In the examples above, only #1 had horse acting a certain way with intention TOWARDS a human. Therefore, the horse brain can understand this type of cause and effect.
In #2, horse is doing something unrelated to human that human perceives (incorrectly) as threatening and gets whacked, producing a nervous horse. There was no distinct cause and effect in his mind in relation to a person for what happened to him, because he thought he was just minding his own business getting a fly out of his ear, and out of nowhere a hand shows up and hits him in the face, poor guy.
I still hear a lot of horse people say that you never discipline a horse for misbehaving by hitting them in the face because it will produce a headshy horse. I think this is a misunderstanding of discipline. I say, uncertainty will produce an uncertain horse.
Have I whacked my horses in the face? Yes. Only for things that were part of this direct cause and effect scenario. Are they headshy at all? Not even a little.
I always loved how horses tend to mirror the neuroses of their owners. I've stated many times before that I am a nervous person. By nature, I worry about everything. I am hypersensitive. I rarely relax.
Despite this, my horses are pretty calm and cool. And I owe it all to following a strict set of cause-and-effect rules. They know what's expected of them, so they can relax.
If something is disturbing them, I let them look. Their feet can't move, but they can look. If something is disturbing them, I don't make a big deal out of it. I don't like, take them over there and walk them around said disturbing thing for half an hour, examining it from all angles so that they "understand" it won't hurt them.
My horses understand it won't hurt them because I'm not making a big deal out of it.
I don't really see the point to that kind of "desensitization" or whatever people call it.
Oh good, they learned if they flip over something they'll get to spend the next half hour delicately sniffing it and sneaking blades of grass.
That's not really the kind of training I'm looking for.
I have been known to say, "Chill out" and "Be cool" regularly to my horses.
I do expect them to use their brains.
I do expect them to reasonably evaluate the situation and evaluate my response to the situation and come to their own conclusions.
Ready to rock.
Ride #2 on Tiny was in the corral. We were just doing a bit of walking, halting, and backing up, with some changes of direction thrown in there.
I was just chilling on her back, staying neutral when I felt her tense up. Her head flew up, her ears pricked straight ahead and she locked on something far down the driveway.
I had a brief moment of "Uh oh" followed closely by, "Well, let's see what she does."
A large orange cat popped out from behind some railroad ties and headed our direction.
Large orange cat turned out to be a lovely fox.
Tiny watched with interest as it crossed the driveway fifty feet away and went trotting up the hill.
We went back to our regularly scheduled programming.
As always, take all this with a grain of salt and work it out for yourself. I know enough to know I don't know much.
I know I can't wait to ride on of these slides!