When I want my horse to have a cruisy ride, it is tempting to just wander around and not ask anything of him. But my horse knows when I am pleased with him. If I want my horse to have an easy period, I try to come up with simple challenges for him. This way he can still feel a sense of achievement. The flip side of this is of course not asking the horse too much, or over challenging him. If it felt good to you, chances are it felt good to the horse. A series of simple challenges for a horse will do more to rejuvenate his mind than just wondering around.
Out and about
Getting a horse good out and about. The horse needs to have seen a scary thing and realise that it will be OK. So that the next time the horse sees the thing or is in the same situation, it knows it will be OK. It is that simple, you just need to get a horse through a scary situation without trauma. The horse doesn’t need to make super investigations, the horse doesn’t need to do fifty laps. The horse just needs to have enough exposure so that when the horse sees the same thing again the horse can say to itself ‘well last time this happened I turned out OK’.
A good example is dogs. A horse might be nervous around dogs, but normally once it sees one particular dog, it’ll work out pretty quickly that that particular dog is not a threat to it. If the horse gets past a few dogs without drama, it learns that dogs typically arn’t a big deal.
Don’t educate your horse in a cupboard
When riding in the arena or at home, we often spend our whole time convincing our horses to work with more energy. When we finally feel that our horses are educated enough, we eventually head out and spend our entire time trying to dissipate our horses energy. By constantly riding at home in the same place, we miss the opportunity to educate our horses on the wider world.
A horse needs to see a lot of different things in order to get familiar and comfortable with them and this takes time. Often when horses see new things, it also comes with a high level of energy. The same energy we are looking for when riding at home on the arena. Our time out and about can be used to help the horse get comfortable being out and get them used to productively using their energy. So don’t constantly ride your horse in the very limited environment (the cupboard) at home.
It’s the little things
You don’t have to give the horse big rein releases for them to feel a big reward. Horses are highly attuned to the reins and therefore even little releases can have a big meaning for them. Often little rein releases are more effective because in big releases the horse can feel shocked by the sudden loss of communication and guidance from the rider.
What does your horse think about you and your ability to keep him out of trouble? Not just people in general but you in particular. What have you done to build rapport with your horse?
Confusion, why horses panic
Horses really don’t like trouble and a horse that really has no idea ho to find an answer to a problem he is presented with quickly becomes troubled. If troubled enough a horse will panic. So it is very important that a horse feels comfortable enough to search for answers and that the horse has some idea of things it could try. A talented horse person educates a horse in searching for answers and takes the time to make sure the horse has some basic concepts of what it might try before presenting a horse with a question.
How scary does someone have to be before you move away from them? How scary do you have to be for your dog to move away from you? How much of your training relies on your horse moving away from you?
For a long time Chip was only used as a trail horse. This meant that without a horse in front of him to follow he didn’t really have any guidance on with which direction to go. I have struggled to rectify this however now, finally, I can leave him on a loose rein and he walks straight ahead.
The fact that horses enjoy hanging out with other horses and people so much may seem a bit silly when it is a nice sunny day and all is quiet on the farm. But to understand why horses enjoy this you have to consider where horses evolved from. If you try standing out with horses on a cold drizzly night, with poor visibility, and everything is dripping and sloppy and noisy you might see things more from the horses point of view. The horse doesn’t know that it is highly unlikely that a ravenous pack of wolves might pass through. With poor visibility and a fair amount of ambient noise having friends around can add a good deal to your confidence. Having extra eyes and ears around is a good thing and of course there is a fair chance that should the worst occur, it is your friend that gets carried off into the darkness and not you. So I can relate to horses enjoying having me around during the good times, they probably think ‘gee maybe he will stick around till nightfall, that would be swell’. Perhaps to a horse, having additional humans and horses around provides a similar feeling that humans get when they know they have a comfortable home to go to and some money in the bank.
It’s much better if you can learn from other people’s mistakes. That’s what Warren Buffett tells people and I think it holds pretty well for horse riding too. We tend to spend a lot of time going around doing the same thing over and over while we wait for a horse to change or improve. By talking with others about what they are doing and learning, a rider can significantly broaden their access to new experiences.