You have a training plan already outlined and you have a lesson plan for that day’s training session.(read You Gotta Have a Plan if You Want to Succeed ) You have just swung up into the saddle and are walking to the training arena. You know what you want out of the session but… now is the time to ask that very important question: What does my horse need?
All your hopes and dreams, all your plans and schemes mean little to your horse. He has his own set of plans for the day. It goes like this:
Breakfast! My favorite thing!
Pasture! My favorite thing!
Dinner! My favorite thing!
“Being ridden” is quite often very far down on his/her list of fun things to do today. Only clever and empathetic riders can get their horse to look forward to being ridden. How many times have you seen a rider holding a halter approach the horse only to have the horse take one look and turn away from the rider? In some cases, the horse runs to the far end of the pasture. The horse that greets the rider at the stall door with ears forward tells the tale of a rider that knows how to supply what the horse needs to have a real partner in training.
A clever rider finds the key to the horse’s interest in the task at hand. Each horse’s needs are different but they generally fall into several categories.
The horse needs comfort.
The horse needs confidence.
The horse needs courage.
Let’s look at each of these needs.
When the horse needs comfort.
- Is the horse sick? — Get his temperature, take his pulse, take his respiration and capillary refill time, has he/she pooped, has he/she drunk water— then get a vet!
- Is the horse hurt/lame? —Get poultice/bandages/bute/wraps or Get a vet!
- Does the saddle fit? — Get a saddle fitter!
- Does the bridle and bit fit? — Fix it! Change bits, lower/raise bit, buy new bridle that fits better
- Do I sit easily and in balance with the horse? — Work out more, do more core work, do more yoga, take lunge line lessons!
- Is the footing comfortable for this horse? — Work in the level field, find an area of the arena that is not too deep or hard or worst of all, uneven
- Is the weather causing anhidrosis (non sweating)? — Work in the cool of the morning, work in the shade, splash water on horse during session, stop working so hard and just hack lightly. Try supplements designed just for anhidrosis.
- Is the work I am asking too hard for this horse? — Consult a trainer for scaled down versions, work shorter versions, do something within the skill set of this particular horse.
- Am I pushing the horse too fast? — Go back to the preparatory schooling figures or work on the purity of basic gaits and come back to the harder movements in a couple weeks.
- Am I approaching the difficult movements with tension and negative attitudes? If you approach a movement or schooling figure like a trip to the dentist or gynecologist office your horse will reflect that negative attitude with fear or resistance.
When a Horse Needs Confidence
- Cultivate your own positive and encouraging attitude during the training, even in the face of your horse’s panic or anger
- Take baby steps to conquer the insurmountable difficulty
- Make sure your aids are clear, consistent and timely
- Reward with your voice, or patting, or a treat quickly at ANY sign of your horse attempting to do the new/difficult thing
- Limit repetitions of a movement to only THREE tries (good or bad move on to the next skill/movement/schooling figure)
- Never ask for anything new or stressful or difficult when your horse is tired
- Never ask for anything new/difficult when your horse is frightened
- Now is the time to ask for something your horse likes to do
- Never ask your horse to repeat something he/she performed correctly for the first time ever. Walk away in glory! Ask again tomorrow after your horse has slept on it with that reward and good feeling of being your partner.
When a Horse Needs Courage
What is the difference between confidence and courage? Confidence is the ease that the horse has with his rider and his job. Courage is the attitude with which your horse greets any new/frightening experience.
- Never force your horse with kicking/hitting/spurring while driving the horse’s face is in (or over) the frightening object! Your horse will associate the punishment with the object forever more.
- Come at the fearsome object sideways, not face on
- Work your way closer with a couple of passes
- Allow the horse a moment to come to terms with the fearsome object
- Do not let the horse become mesmerized, move on!
- Ride behind or alongside of another horse that is brave
- You must be brave and confident (not angry or nervous)
- Distract your horse with a well known and loved movement or project when something frightens him
- Present the horse with an easy project that tests the courage without overwhelming the horse first before asking facing the exceptionally frightening object. After these early success where you develop trust between you and your horse, then increase the excitement level as you develop your horse’s courage “muscle”
- Have a plan where you develop your horse’s courage muscle over days and weeks
When you supply what the horse needs
it allows the horse to perform as your partner.
One more suggestion:
Build your partnership from the ground up!
A partnership formed on the ground does transfer to an under saddle partnership