We had this little guy at a clinic recently. He is fairly green in his education, and he more recently had a bit of ‘spooking’ happening, and had gotten away from the owner on the ground (spooked at something, and pulled away).
Even though he has been being ridden, we noticed he was not comfortable with the saddle at all, and in fact was quite spooked when it made a sound (not great when you want to ride him!).
So phil started working with him on the ground. One of the first things Phil had to establish was that he couldn’t get away (this can be a huge, and dangerous issue), so Phil helped him by teaching him to look to him when he ran off, instead of running off - this began with Phil putting in a hindquarter disengagement to his focus (not needing to physically touch him).
This starts on a smaller circle, and then you continue to make the circle bigger, until he is able to come in on the 22’ distance - note this comes from the hindquarters and not from pulling on his head.
Phil also worked on establishing a better feel in the halter.
All of this was done with the saddle on - a great way to help him be confident simply moving around with a focus, with the saddle on.
Phil then asked him to circle at the walk, trot and canter - and at the start, the little horse would take off even at the walk.
Phil held space and gently guided him to a stop, or a hq yield when he got anxious, to help expand his ‘thinking zone’, so instead of taking off, he began to think that stopping was a better option, and the stopping allowed him to reassess the saddle and realise it wasn’t so bad. With Phil's kind guidance it didn’t take long until he was confident at the walk, and tolerating at the trot - he still took off at the canter - it is so important to realise that increasing the gait reduces the horses ability to remain calm about something he is worried about.
So Phil did the same at the trot - gently guided him and showed him it was much more comfortable to come back to a walk, rather than take off.
By the close of the session the little guy was confident at the walk, cautiously confident at the trot, and able to tolerate at the canter.
In future sessions the owner will work on increasing this confidence in all gaits until it can be relied upon.
The vital parts of this session were;
Phil remaining calm
Phil remaining connected to the horse
Phil keeping the conversation going
Phil showing the horse the comfortable spot
Phil giving the horse time to think, and also helping him
I often hear the train of thought - “just leave him, he will figure it out” - well, he might, but it’s going to be a heck of a lot more stressful for him than if you just helped him along.
After all aren’t we supposed to be the “superior” species.