How to recognize and fix it.
The definition of “destination addiction” as it applies to human beings is: a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job and with the next partner. Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are.
Another name for this behavior issue might be the “if only” syndrome. If only this was different, if only that would happen, if only that other person would change.
While horses don’t have the intellect to embrace the “idea” of happiness, they know what feels comfortable to them and what doesn’t, and they experience equine destination addiction with commonly seen manifestations such as “gate addiction,” “buddy sour,” “barn sour,” etc. They can suffer from anxiety and they are thinking if only I could get to the gate, or if only I could get back to the barn, or if only I could go stand near that other horse, my anxiety would go away.
In other words, there is someplace else they would rather be than Here and Now, with us, their owners and riders.
The palomino horse doesn't want to be away from his buddy, the paint horse.
It’s not a very flattering thought that our horses would rather be in the barn or with another horse than with us. But there is no point in taking it personally, we are much better off taking a good look at the source of this anxiety and behavior, and how we can help our horses find peace no matter where and with whom they are with.
At a recent Warwick Schiller clinic I attended (as photographer and fence sitter) in Mesa, Arizona, destination addiction was an issue in almost every horse there. People who were able to bring two horses discovered they had buddy sour issues with one or both horses. Other horses didn’t want to leave the gate, they just wanted to hover around one end of the arena.
These were experienced riders who understood Warwick’s principles, so there were no rider/horse arguments going on. Overcoming this is not a battle of wills! It’s a simple process that anyone can do.
At the beginning of the session, the horse were clustered near the gate. By the end of the session, they were happy to stand unattended at the other end of the arena.
If you have watched any of Warwick’s videos, you know that he teaches that in order to fix the horse’s mistakes, you have to allow him to make those mistakes. So if the horse wants to go to the gate, he lets the horse go to the gate, then works him there in a circle, “making the wrong thing hard” and then turning the horse loose when he starts thinking he no longer wants to stay circling by the gate.
I have to admit that when I first started working on this with my horse Ava, I made a couple of mistakes:
The buddy sour problem is treated in a similar fashion, with the problem horse being circled around his buddy until he finally decides maybe being next to another horse isn’t the most fun place to be.
The palomino has to trot around the paint horse until he begins to figure out the paint is not the answer - then he is allowed to rest in a different spot.
“Horses are energy conservers, and if you understand that it will help your training.” Warwick Schiller
This exercise is also an excellent example of one of Tom Dorrance’s principles;
First you go with the horse (let him go to the gate)
Then he goes with you (make him circle)
Then you go together (turn him loose and go with him)
Besides causing obvious problems like wanting to go to the barn, the gate, and other horses, destination addiction can trigger less obvious issues that are mistakenly identified as obstinance or poor habits, like rushing (in the direction towards the gate) lagging (away from the gate) dropping the inside shoulder (on the side closest the gate) running the shoulder out (also towards the gate) and rearing (being forced to go away from the gate).
That’s a shitload of stuff caused by one simple desire on the part of the horse. What a shame that for many riders these situations cause conflict during which the rider wears out their leg aids and rein aids trying to make the horse go slower or faster or pick up their shoulder or whatever, when in fact the better way is to let the horse make the mistake, then make the mistake boring and hard work until he decides maybe the place he thought he needed to go to turned out to be not so enjoyable after all.
This principle makes so much sense, and it was a big paradigm changer for me. I was always told that if a horse doesn’t want to go somewhere, you have to MAKE him go there, because if you didn’t make him go, he would “win.”
What the horse is going to win, I have no idea.
Finally, I witnessed the transformation shown in the following video of this rearing horse at Warwick’s clinic in Sebastopol CA in 2015. The mare didn’t want to go to the side of the arena opposite from her pasture and would rear when the rider tried to make her to go there. In about half an hour, Warwick had her walking and trotting calmly all over the arena.
It looks like magic, but it’s really just an understanding of how to help your horse find peace and be happy Here, Now, with you.
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