Sometimes we face challenges when it comes to our horses, and often we over complicate these challenges by getting in our own road, instead of focusing on the simple stuff.
Some common ways we complicate things;
We think that what we know or what we are doing is 'too simple' and so we start looking for 'the next best thing' or some magic training techniques. The truth is - horses are pretty straightforward, with basic needs, and if we stick to those philosophies, we will be doing right by our horse.
Our timing sucks. We know what to do and how to do it, but it doesn't work because our timing in the release, or our body language reading skills aren't that great - if your timing is out, no technique is going to work as well as it could!
We fall into the 'my horse is different / special' trap. No, no its not, it has simple basic needs that you haven't been fulfilling - either by not understanding them, or by overwhelming your horse with too much, too early.
We don't do it long enough. We do what the coach said, but we do it for 10 repetitions and 2 days. It doesn't work, so we think its not working. Head to the gym and show me your results after 2 days. This stuff takes time! Physical, mental and emotional work takes consistency and time. Horses (nor humans) get 'fixed' overnight, so stop trying to make it happen!
The 'quickest' way to help your horse, is to observe his body language, understand what he is trying to tell you, and give him what he needs - not what you want.
The greatest example of this is the anxious or nervous horse.
Your anxious and nervous horse wants to move his feet, and feel unrestricted, and yet when we see a horse that is nervous or anxious we want to either stop him, or we want to collect the reins to prevent him from bolting. Both stopping and collecting him add to his nervous and anxious state, but make us feel better (like we have 'control'). The best course of action is to walk on a loose rein to allow him relaxation - we must still control the direction and speed, its not a case of letting him go where he likes, but a matter of understanding his mental and physical needs (movement and freedom) and facilitating that to help him relax. Either leading him, or riding him at the walk on a loose rein will fast track relaxation, and yet it sounds just too simple!
Our ‘gut feelings’ are those little ‘niggles’ that we get. A resistance, butterflies, unease. Things that happen on a physical level, which are our intuition telling us that we aren’t in alignment with our true selves.
In today's modern society, there are many things that have caused us to be out of touch with our instincts, or cause us to override them even when we have them;-
We’re busy - often we may be in a constant state of ‘unease’ and so it has become normal to us to feel that way.
It's not ‘in our gut’ and so we don't think it's a ‘gut feeling’. Sometimes our instincts can present as tension or unease in other areas of the body.
We underestimate our knowledge, so we ignore what we think, and listen to others.
We have people telling us the opposite of how we feel, and sometimes those people are professionals, so we push our feelings aside and listen to them.
We are simply ‘out of touch’ with our bodies and how they actually feel.
When it comes to our horses our instincts can be there to help us;
Stay safe - sometimes that uneasy feeling that says ‘ I don't think I should ride today’ is your intuition telling you that ‘somethings up’
Slow down - we may be following a method or training program, and our intuition may tell us ‘hey my horse just needs me to go a little slower on this one’
Find a ‘bigger issue’ - our instincts may be telling us ‘there is something not right here, maybe I should call a vet / body worker / hoof care professional’.
Protect our horse - I see this a lot with training, clinicians or coaches. A student may be uncomfortable with what they are being told to do to their horse, and yet they will continue to do so because ‘the coach must know what they are doing’. Often this is true - the coach does know what they are doing and what they are looking for, but, this doesn’t always align with how we are wanting to relate to our horses. Particular red flags in this situation is when you are being told your horse is;
Deliberately annoying you
Being a jerk
In certain circumstances it may feel that these are true, but we must remember our horse is simply doing what he believes he needs to do at the time, to remain safe. As soon as we start taking things personally, it brings us to a point of conflict, when, it is our job as the human to be constantly seeking resolutions. If something you are being told to ‘do’ to your horse doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to speak up, at the very least it should be ok to take a pause and talk more about the circumstances.
Practice tapping into your intuition by having more awareness on how you feel in your body - not just on an emotional level which can be reactive, but on a deep level. Meditation can help with our consciousness surrounding this.
Green, young or uneducated horses need a certain approach if you are to be successful in their ongoing training.
A green horse is one that has a limited amount of training, riding or exposure to things. So you can have an older horse, that hasn’t had many rides, or hasn’t been out and about much, and they are still considered to be ‘green’. As a general rule I would consider a horse that has spent more time ‘not ridden’ than ridden, to be green. For example if you have a 5 year old horse that was started as a 3 year old, he has been ridden for 2 years, and unridden for 3, so he could still be considered green or young in his education. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, being a horse that may have gone straight into a training program and has been ridden every week for 2 years, he could be considered pretty broke.
The other exception to this rule is how much education is actually being put in. The horse may have been under saddle for 2 years, but if the rider is just ‘riding’ and not actually taking the time and making the effort to educate, then basically you have a horse that is used to having a rider on, but may remain very limited in their education.
I see a lot of horses that still need to be taught their basics, even though they have been ridden for years.
In either case, it is important that we are sensitive to the green horses needs, and we set them (and us) up for success in riding. This may mean going through our checklist every time before we ride, to ensure our, and our horses safety. The purpose of going through our checklist is to look for and identify any ‘red flags’ and address them before hopping on.
Different trainers are going to have different checklists, mine includes the following as a priority, and I will add other things in as appropriate to the horse or the situation.
* Bend. The horse must be willing and soft in a bend, in both directions, by following a feel, not by me pulling their head around in the halter
* Hindquarter yield. The horse must be able to shift his hindquarter smoothly, willingly without brace or tension
* Forward. The horse must be able to walk, trot and canter with the saddle on without rushing, humping, bucking, and change directions
These are my 3 main checks. On a very green horse I would go through my entire checklist which would include turns on the haunches, sideways, unravel, watch my energy.
The investment you make to ensure that your green horse is ready is vital for your safety, and his confidence.
Here you see Leah and Ranger at a recent clinic - Ranger is a green horse just coming back into work after being started under saddle in July. In the photos you see Leah completed ground work, and tested the water with her weight in the stirrup, and her body above him, before just jumping on his back. Leah had also completed all her other checks, and once she had all ‘green lights’ her and Ranger enjoyed a great ride together.
Take the time,
Train with us;
September 3 & 4 Cowboy Dressage Clinic Wauchope
September 3 & 4 Self Carriage Clinic Gold Coast Hinterland
September 10 & 11 Advancing Clinic Invitation Only
September 17 & 18 - AVAILABLE TO BOOK - HOST US
Back to Square One
We hear this term often, and for various reasons. People often feel that they are “back to square one” with their horses, either relationship or training wise, after they have had time off, after they have had an accident or fall, or after something negative has happened - maybe a pull back, a poor transport experience.
Whilst any of these things could be considered a ‘set back’ that may need work around it, they aren’t necessarily (and more often than not aren’t even close) to “back to square one”.
Our horses are intelligent, curious and social beings, who don’t ‘forget’ their training, simply because they have had a break or some time off.
Absolutely their training is shaped by experiences, but one poor experience, won’t necessarily override 100 good ones.
More often than not it is the human that is remembering the ‘bad thing’ and is focused on that, rather than the 100 ‘good things’ that happened before it.
Let’s use a fall as an example - you’ve probably ridden your horse multiple times without incident, and yet after a fall we can feel like we are beginner riders again, and yet our horse probably doesn’t even remember that we fell off, and he certainly doesn’t put the significance on it that we do.
Riding is as much a mental game as it is a physical one, and it is important we control our focus to the reality and not the stories our mind plays out.
If you can relate to this, take a minute to write out all the great experiences you have had with your horse, and on another page write the ‘bad’ stuff - you will likely find that the good will far outweigh the negative.
Train with us
August 7 - One Day. Laterals to connection and collection. Maclean Nsw
August 13 Cowboy Dressage Gathering Glenreagh NSW
August 18 - 27 Cadillac horse course 10 days, Glenreagh NSW
September 3 & 4 - Connection & Self Carriage - Gold Coast hinterland QLD
September 3 & 4 - Cowboy Dressage clinic Wauchope NSW