Monday, 02 September 2019 10:32

Expectation Vs. Reality

Let’s talk about expectations!

There have been many days which a hack, a show ring experience, a dressage test (the list is endless) has not gone quite to plan. Sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned! The horse spooked, you forgot test, the weather was bad, and so on. That’s fine, we should take the positives and move on.

However, sometimes, moving on is quite difficult to do! I have, before, been disappointed with myself for not getting a Charlotte Dujardin score, in my Prelim test, even though I forgot my test half way around. This is not productive. I thought to myself, “I need to manage my expectations! I am only human. So, before I talk about our wonderful horses, just bear in mind that, alike your four-legged friend, you can only do your best. Some days are better than others, that’s just life!  

Onto the most important bit, in my opinion! Our horses. I want us to manage our expectations of our horses, not just ourselves. Again, we have such high expectations of our horses. We expect them to do the most difficult and challenging things for us, and seldom stop to think why they are doing it. We need to remember that horses are NOT machines! They are animals with their own ‘culture’ – they have totally different natural behaviours than most domestic animals which we are accustomed to. We must consider this, in all aspects of handling, riding, and owning horses. We need to think about what we are asking of them, and we need to think why they may respond in certain ways.

My point is, it is our decision to domesticate horses, not theirs. It is therefore, our responsibility to manage our expectations of them. I have created list of a few scenarios which I think we should consider next time we feel frustrated or annoyed with our horses:

Expectation: ‘Horses must ride alone, if they don’t, they are naughty’.

Reality: Horses are herd animals. They rely on each other for safety and comfort. Taking them away from their herd, for a hack or a run around the XC phase, distorts their herd/hierarchical mentality and, often, induces stress and confusion.

Expectation: ‘Horses should be bombproof, in all traffic and scenarios’.

Reality: Horses are prey animals. They are built with lengthy and strong limbs to enable them to RUN. This is how they escape predation. This is how they survive. Shying at a crisp packet may be a little OTT in some cases, but it is good to remember where this instinct comes from. It is there for a reason.

Expectation: ‘Horses shouldn't get attached to others’.

Reality: So, this is a little more complicated. Aside from horses with actual anxiety issues, caused by trauma, traumatic weaning etc. (a longer topic for another day!), most horses DO pair bond. Again, this is their instinct. Being herd animals, they rely on each other for protection, warning of predators and for herd behaviours. Pair bonding and herd bonding is vital for hierarchical relationships and the success of their functioning herd.

Expectation: ‘Horses should stand still’.
Reality: Obviously, we teach horses manners, and hopefully with positive reinforcement, they understand it. Sometimes, however, they choose to ignore us! This may be because they are stressed, they’ve been spooked, they feel uncomfortable with where they are or what you are doing with them, etc. It may just take a little time to find out why, but usually, horses

behave in these ways for genuine reasons.

Expectation: ‘Horses should not be scared of clippers!’

Reality: As aforementioned, horses are animals, not machines. As most of us are frightened of spiders, most horses are frightened of clippers! This is not because the arachnid and clipper device share ‘scary’ qualities, it is a result of how differently we and the horse are ‘conditioned’. A bit of psychology for you, but in short terms, it is just how we approach things and how our cultures/upbringings affect our fears. You can’t really compare us to a horse, likewise, you can’t really compare fears.

So, next time you feel that you or your horse are not good enough, remember this blog! 
Never stop aiming high, but manage your expectations.
Emily Hancock

tvsahu
Emily is a final - year BSc (Hons) Bioveterninary Science, documenting her journey to vet school, alongside many adventures with her 'unicorn', Phoebe. 
They love to compete, affiliated in showing, and enjoy unaffiliated dressage and showjumping. And ,of course, they adore hacking out together...
   
 
Published in Trot On Blogs
Tuesday, 16 July 2019 14:25

You Can Only Let Go If You Listen

Does my horse ‘listen’ to me?

Whilst horses cannot ‘talk’, or speak our language, it is suggested that they are able to understand many of our communicative techniques. Wathan et al (2016) found that horses are able to analyse facial expression of conspecifics, to gain social information. More recently, Proops et al (2018) found evidence of this analysis being used by horses to gain information on heterospecifics; in particular, humans. This study suggests that horses remember human emotional expressions, and associate the memory to the specific face from which they saw it displayed.

One of the most distressing things I that had read when researching this topic is how negative facial stimuli affects horses. Smith et al (2016) measured stress parameters against photographic stimuli; finding increased heart rate to be amongst the most expressed when negative stimuli, such as a frowning face, is presented. Perhaps bear this is mind when you are around your horse?

So… horses are great listeners. But do we listen to them?

In light of this, another phrase comes to my mind… a Winnie-the-Pooh (A. A Milne) quote, of course.

This quote makes me feel so sad, because it really is so true. While horses clearly ‘listen’ to us, we don’t always listen back. They spend time to monitor our emotions, yet do w​e do the same?

The reason that I am bringing this quote up is because this is something I held onto when I lost Rakker. I think it is easy for us, as owners, to stop paying attention. I don’t mean ignore your horse - I mean, get so wrapped up in worry and paranoia that you forget to ‘listen’ to them. I hold my hand up and admit this. Having a sick horse is not easy, and becoming over-focused on keeping them ‘well’ can cloud communication between you both.

When I had the decision to make, I thought about this quote. I thought “What is Rakker saying?” “What does he want me to do?”

Sadly, a genie didn’t fly out of a lamp at this point and give Rakker the magical powers of speech. Instead, I realised that I was being so selfish. I thought I wanted him alive because I would miss him too much if he went. I didn’t stop to think about what he wanted – I wasn’t listening to him.

By ‘listening’ to Rakker, I made my decision, and, as you’ll know, it was his anniversary was on Tuesday. I let Rakker sleep on the 2nd July 2018. I decided to take him to my local vets practice as he had been there many times before – he expected needles and vets. I didn’t want to stress him out by doing it at home, as he was always such an anxious horse when his home routine was disturbed. My vet, who Rakker knew well and trusted, sat with me, as we let him sleep. Rakker’s head was in my arms, as my tears rolled down his cheek. I still get upset with myself for crying because I so badly didn’t want to upset him. But he wasn’t upset. It was honestly like he knew. He was calm and he looked happy. He was led looking at me and he just drifted off, in my arms. He went peacefully.

I have honestly never cried like that in my life. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known your horse, losing them is the hardest thing you’ll ever go through as an owner. Whether you’ve known them for one month or ten years, the pain and overwhelming feeling of loss still applies to you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t grieve for the horse you’ve known for one month; only you know what you had with that horse. Only you know what you went through and the times you spend together.

Despite all, what I do keep in mind is this:

By letting him go, I listened to him. I let him talk to me, and I listened. I didn’t let my own words overwhelm his.

Although two years with him wasn’t long enough, I’ll have the memory of him with me forever. No one can take the memory of him away. I get to keep those, for the rest of my life, and, for that I am so lucky. He taught me so much. Not only whilst he was here, but afterwards, too. I am so privileged to have known him, I cannot forget that.
Please take the time to listen to your horse.
If anyone is going through the awful decision of letting go, I hope this blog has helped. I send hugs and support your way. ​
Emily Hancock
 tvsahu
Emily is a final - year BSc (Hons) Bioveterninary Science, documenting her journey to vet school, alongside many adventures with her 'unicorn', Phoebe. 
They love to compete, affiliated in showing, and enjoy unaffiliated dressage and showjumping. And ,of course, they adore hacking out together...
   
 
 
Published in Trot On Blogs

Many of the riders I know are buying young horses so that they can start and produce their own perfect partners. But, there is one common problem that seems to crop up after a while that I’m often being asked to assist with; their horse is very slow and often ‘planting’, refusing to go forward at all.  No amount of leg will get the consistent ‘forward’ that they desire. So, here’s the advice that I’ve been giving them....

Firstly, we need to appreciate how unnatural it is for a horse to carry a rider at all and that he will need to adapt his balance and muscles to be able to do so. This means that even walk can be a challenge but once the horse seems to be walking without much resistance many riders are keen to get up into trot as soon as possible and push the horse forward. This drive for a forward going horse can create a stiff back and tightness in the other muscle and joints as the horse struggles with his lack of balance and straightness. Not only can this lead to problems further down the line, including rushing, leaning and failing to engage properly, but as these riders are discovering, it can also lead to a horse being labelled slow and stubborn. 

My advice is to SLOW DOWN! If you want a more forward going horse then go back to walk and some slow exercises to aid your horse’s proprioceptive skills, straightness and balance.

Work on...
• small circles,
• turn on the forehand,
• turn on the quarters,
• leg yield,
• shoulder in,

• rein back.

Make sure your horse is relaxed and give him time to work things out. Having someone on the ground, can help if a horse gets stuck to begin with. Try not to rush the walk either.

Once your horse can confidently execute all of the above correctly, you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes to his impulsion in trot. Improved balance will also make him more confident too.  Don’t be too hasty to label your horse as lazy because it’s probably just a case of your perfect partner trying to find his feet!

I’d also like to add that I’ve had great results using this approach with older horses too.

Sara Carew

For pole work clinics, ideas, information sharing and more, check out Sara's FB group Poll Position Equestrian Coaching


 
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There are so many training methods, so many opinions on how to do the best for our horses, no wonder so many of us are plagued by DOUBT! The problem is that doubt can be, riding and training-wise, our worst enemy. Of course, asking questions and being open to new ideas and methods is never a bad thing but once you introduce anything to your horse, you have to be committed. Let's face it, if you are questioning yourself, why should your horse listen to you? 

Horses can sense doubt in our body language on the ground and when riding. Hesitation get's a big 'nah-naah" from them! Sometimes we doubt our horses but often we doubt ourselves and our ability. Doubt often creeps in if we keep switching trainers and end up confused by too many ideas, listen to too many people instead of following our gut instinct, or it can simply be that nagging inner voice that likes to undermine us with limiting thoughts.

It's amazing how some of us just love to hold on to the negative things said about the ability of our horse or ourselves. And once we grab hold of it, it often becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. So, think about some of the negative doubts you have, ask where they came from - it could simply be someone else's thoughtless remark or just a one-off bad experience -then stamp on it and replace it with a new more positive belief.

It's particularly important that you really believe in your method of riding and training. Do your research, find a good trainer and then stick to their methods. Confusing yourself and your horse by chopping and changing will only undermine yours and your horse's confidence. You have to really believe in what you're doing to get your horse to trust you. 

Have you experienced problems with doubt in yourself and others? Got any advice you'd like to share?
Published in Trot On Blogs
Wednesday, 14 March 2018 11:24

The Shying Game | Equine Behaviour

It seems to me there are two kinds of rider reactions to a horse who is spooked by something - the look and approach or the look away and ignore. Both camps are trying to instil trust and confidence in their horses and, of course, both think they are right. Like many things in equestrianism it can lead to some heated arguments!  

I know this from experience as I'm a believer in not making an issue of something that my mare is shying at and instead make sure she is listening to me, usually with the help of shoulder-in (bending away from the scary object). The two people who I often ride out with, on the other hand, ask their horses to confront what is scaring them, saying things like, 'look at it, it's not scary, go on, see…, come on, get closer…have a good sniff…..' which means I have to hang around, usually harrumphing whilst my own horse usually starts to get wound up too! And equally if I make 'helpful' suggestions whilst they're struggling with a balking side-ways horse, their response is often far from polite! 

Now, I have to admit, I was just like them, because their method seems to make sense, doesn't it? If as humans, we have a child or friend who is frightened by something that we know isn't going to harm them, we try and get them to overcome that fear by showing them that it isn't scary. And of course, there are many respected trainers who use this method. But, having taken on quite a few horses who shy, I can definitely say that this method has very rarely made them less spooky and it was actually a relief when I got a trainer who said, ' just keep away from that area of the school for now until we've got his/her attention and they've relaxed.'  I also had the benefit of hacking out with another trainer (I can't recommend this enough) who showed me that if you keep your horse focused on what you are asking, and particularly make use of shoulder-in when you approach and go past something that has made them tense up, you actually create a much more confident horse, one that definitely shies less and less. 

Equally, I think riders can get fixated on spooky objects as much as their horses do. By concentrating on the way your horse is going (rhythm, relaxation, suppleness etc) and in return keeping their concentration on you, you're both much less likely to become distracted and will grow in confidence together.
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Monday, 22 January 2018 12:42

"Ohh, Mother"

There are plenty of things that we say and do which I’m sure our horses think are totally ridiculous. I sometimes imagine I can hear Archie sighing “Ohh Mother” in a similar tone to how a bored teenager would express their exasperation to an embarrassing parent. For example…

• We insist on an excessive amount kisses and hugs. A hello one, a goodbye one, one when you’ve had to tell them off and now feel guilty…

• We fight the eternal battle against mud and stable stains when quite frankly a roll appears to be the preferred activity at all times.

• We get hyped up about a competition for which we spend month preparing and then approximately 10 minutes actually showing what we can do.

• We turn up with fancy colour coordinated kit and exclaim at how much they must love it when in fact their eyesight has pretty limited colour vision.

• We put words in their mouths (a prime example being the title of this blog!) when in reality all they probably care about is who is delivering the next meal.

The relationship between humans and horses has had a long, sometimes stormy, but often beautiful history. It’s safe to say that a lot of our behaviour makes no sense to them but they are kind enough to tolerate our foibles and love us anyway!

joae150As it says on the tin, this is a personal blog about the journey Archie and I are taking in discovering the world of eventing. Archie is a 6 year old Irish gelding, and I am a 26 year old horse addict. I didn’t grow up in a family with horses, and Archie was the first horse I ever owned, having loaned for over 20 years. I hope that we can show other riders who perhaps don’t feel that they can achieve their dreams, that anything is possible!
 
 
Re-published by kind permission of Journey of an Amateur Eventer|Blog
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If you have ever studied Monty Roberts Join-Up then the following research might not come as a surprise, but it's always good to have these things confirmed by a creditable study! Psychology researchers at The University of Sussex found that horses can tell the difference between dominant and submissive body postures in humans and much prefer to approach people who appear submissive. 

A submissive body posture is one where we slouch, keeping arms close to our bodies and legs close together with knees softly bent - basically taking up as little space as possible. In a dominant stance on the other hand, we stand up tall, chest out, with arms away from our bodies and legs apart, therefore taking up more space - on the train or bus this is often know as 'Manspreading'!  

The researchers worked with 30 domestic horses and used female handlers dressed in similar clothing including a neck warmer which covered their faces up to their eyes so that their facial expressions couldn't provide any cues. Each handler also gave every horse a food reward whilst standing in a neutral position to begin with. Then during the trial two handlers, one in a dominant stance and the other in a submissive one, stood with their backs against a neutral background, about five-six feet apart.  Each demonstrator also got to act dominant as well as passive in different tests. 

This research revealed that the horses were much more likely to approach the person displaying a submissive posture.

So, it's a reminder to all of us that if we stride up to a nervous horse, looking like one of the Shelby gang from Peaky Blinders then he's likely to want to get away from us as fast as possible! But on the other hand if a horse is pushing you around then do a bit of manspreading and he'll think twice about walking all over you!
 
Published in Trot On Blogs
Thursday, 07 December 2017 11:51

Calming Signals and Pain | Anna Blake

First, last, and always, make sure your horse is sound. 

That’s the warning that any decent equine professional gives before practically anything we do. It’s the common disclaimer; we almost skim over it as a formality before getting on to the training issues. In other words, we get complacent to chronic pain messages because it’s easier to train sometimes than it is to track down some nebulous pain. We should know better.

It’s the first question every rider should ask from the ground every day. Is my horse sound? Learning to read pain takes perception; it’s complicated in the beginning. It isn’t that we don’t care. We might not be sure and that means a vet call. We usually have a plan that day. Even if it’s a trail ride, we don’t want to cancel. If it’s something that involves money or hauling or inconveniencing other people, we usually think it’s not so bad and go ahead. We should do better.

There’s also a disclaimer that we should hear from horses –first, last and always. They are prey animals. Their instinct is so interwoven into their behavior and personality, that it’s inseparable.  Prey animals aren’t forthcoming about pain.

If your horse is stoic, he’ll grit his teeth, sometimes literally, and keep trudging on acting like he’s fine, until it’s too late. If your horse is more reactive than stoic, he’ll act aggressively hoping that bravado will pass for strength. They aren’t okay.

It’s common sense if you’re a horse. Prey animals hide their pain to survive. They are born knowing that the wolves kill the slow, lame members of the herd. Showing weakness, even within the herd, could mean less access to hay. It isn’t good or bad; it’s nature’s plan that the fit survive. We throw a wrench into that cycle when we domesticate animals so, at the very least, we must listen much more carefully.

Most of us can read enough herd dynamics to know that shy old gelding might need to eat separately. We proudly list each horse’s position in the herd as an affirmation that we know our horses. As if it’s some kind of equine astrology and now that we know the horse is a Sagittarius that explains everything.

I’ve been teaching calming signals for the last few years as a way of understanding small messages from our horses before they become huge issues. It’s fun to have a non-verbal conversation with a horse. I always give the reminder about soundness but often we’d rather have a conversation about challenges, like standing still at the mounting block. What if the mounting block represents the beginning of what hurts and your horse resists it because he’s smart? Not a training issue at all.

It’s about now that we have to ask the hard question: Is it my lousy hands or is he in pain for another reason?

How is his saddle fit? If you aren’t having that checked at the very least once a year, things have changed and he feels it. Maybe he has a rib out or his withers are a bit jammed and he needs a chiropractic adjustment. Maybe he’s in his teens and you have repressed the idea that his back might be getting arthritic.

I don’t blame people. Checking for soundness is an affirmation of our horse’s mortality. Ick. Lameness can be hard to diagnose, even with radiographs and ultrasound. And I think there are pains that horses feel that we just can’t find, even with the best help. Vet science is still an art.

If lameness weren’t complicated enough, the existence of ulcers can distract us from questions of soundness. Ulcers are a huge issue for horses. Between 60% and 90% of horses have them, and worse, they sometimes mask lameness issues. It isn’t uncommon to treat a horse for ulcers and then perhaps find a stifle problem underneath them.

For all our horse’s anxiety about pain and not showing it, and for all our anxiety about the same, we have to start by getting past our emotions, fear, and love for a moment. Stand away from your horse, take a breath, and watch with quiet eyes. These are calming signals that could also be signs of pain:

• A tense poll, elevated head.

• Ears back or one ear back and one forward.

• Tight muscles around the eye.

• Exposed white of the eye.

• Intense stare or partially closed eyes.

• Clenched lips or nostrils.

You’re right. Those are symptoms so common. Some are even contradictory. We see them all the time, it’s easy to be complacent about them. They could be calming signals to ask you to cue quieter or that they need a moment to think. Or they could be signs of pain.

It’s that experience where you type a couple of your own symptoms into Google to try to self-diagnose, only to find you could have one of twenty life-threatening issues. How many times do we think we’re just depressed but it turns out that depression is a symptom of twenty other terrifying life-threatening issues?

And suddenly playing with calming signals is less fun. If you have a stoic horse, then cut that minimal fun in half. Can we ever trust what a stoic horse relates? Are so many nebulous and negative unknowns looming large enough now that you doubt everything you used to think you knew?

Perfect. You’re not supposed to think you know everything.

Instead, work on having an open mind and good intention. We must be willing to see “bad behavior” as a message and not a training issue. Be willing to listen, but also be willing to hear things we don’t want to hear. Even embrace the idea that our horses might be in pain. I don’t mean that we all become equine hypochondriacs but how can we help them if we don’t almost welcome the idea?

Positive training, asking a horse to volunteer, is more than kind. It has a distinct advantage for the horse. He gets what he wants from a leader. He gets to be heard when he hurts.

First, last, and always, make sure your horse is sound. 


annaprof150 Anna Blake is a horse advocate, equine professional, award-winning author, and proud member of the herd at Infinity Farm, on the Colorado prairie. She trains horses and riders equine communication skills and dressage, and writes parables about horses and life. | Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog

 

Books By Anna Blake

annab150

Published in Trot On Blogs
Monday, 09 October 2017 13:32

Trusting the little voice | Ben Hart

The body has its own wisdom and responds to the world in a very sensitive way, learning to listen to the wisdom of the body is very important in the development of training skills. The body sends sensations to our brain. We usually experience them as a vague sense of knowing, a gut feeling, a tension, a nervousness or a feeling of peace and happiness.

Listening to the body is very important as the spend and subconscious level it works on can be very accurate compared to the over analytical brain. The little voice is your body's wisdom, it will speak to you just before you eat another cake for instance, saying you are full but we have become so used to overriding the brain that we stop listening and allow the thoughts in our head drive us, I want cake, I deserve cake, just one more won’t hurt. But they are so good, I have eaten two and blown it any way so what difference does a third make, I’ll start healthy eating tomorrow.

This sense we get from the animal and situation relies on our resonance circuitry, our mirror neurons fire when we see behaviour in others causing us to have a sense of another’s experience this is the beginnings of empathy. The more we experience another’s behaviour the better our resonance circuitry is at reproducing what they feel.

Often handlers “know” if their animal is having a bad day, how do they know, do they think it, no they feel it first, a combination of body language, movement, posture, action and reaction, previous experience and behaviour give us a sense of knowing the emotional states of others. Then these feelings connect to the brain and we know and rationalise the feeling to a state of knowing the animal is having a bad day.

Many handlers have a feeling about what they should or should not do, especially when it comes to getting on to go for a ride on a nervous horse, they may experience a sense of fear, nervousness apprehension, it is natural we say, but it is the little voice that is representing our feeling in the body that we actually haven’t done enough work to be sure of the animal’s behaviour, we can trust their behaviour, we are not sure we have the skills to cope. But our analytical brain over rides this again much like when we get to the third piece of cake, don’t be silly you will be fine, don’t be such a whimp, I have to do more otherwise he is going to waste, everyone else will think I am a chicken, I would get on and ride if I was any good. And so we ride. Unfortunately far too often our little voice was right and we shouldn’t be riding and accidents or fearful incidences that make the situation worse do occur.

It is possible that through our life experiences and self protection we have shut off our feeling and our little voice to a level that it is almost imperceptible.  The good news is we can with some work and attention to our bodies open up the channels of communication an reengage with our bodies again learning to listen to the small sense of feeling that is so important if we are to develop our listening skills. Trust the feeling.
hartshorsemanship 150Ben Hart hates injustice and wasted potential, and he has a mission to help people understand the true nature of equines by using the honesty of the science of behaviour to help both animals and their people unlock their true potential. He firmly believes working with equines doesn't have to be complicated, dangerous or stressful and by helping people to understand the true and amazing behaviour of equines, he wants them to better understand each other to make life better for horses, donkeys and Mules. Ben removes the myths and dependence on dominance and forceful training methods and focuses on positive, safe effective solutions that centre on both the animal and the human. Ben's delivery of training is unique, ensuring an outstanding experience that is enjoyable and life changing.
Ben Hart's Online Learning Opportunities - Hart's Horsemanship Courses
Published in Trot On Blogs
Thursday, 14 September 2017 10:58

Part Three: Riding Above Fear | Anna Blake

This is what we knew then: It started with a dream of dancing hooves and a flowing mane. He was strong and fast, and you couldn’t tell where he stopped and you started.

This is what we know now: Your horse is frightened and you know it. Or you’re frightened and your horse knows it. And it doesn’t matter who started it. You’re here now.

(Part One explained how a horse’s anxiety gets confused with disobedience when we don’t listen to his calming signals. In Part Two, we redefined fear. Now we call that emotion common sense.)

Then Corey left this comment:

So the only few lines or paragraph I would have liked to have seen …is the one describing all the methodologies out there one can try, with time and patience and constant forgiveness, before sending a misunderstood horse away to yet another home where lordy knows what will be done to him. IMHO……..

Okay, here goes. If you think this frightened horse is almost within your skill range and you have the aforementioned time and patience and constant forgiveness… or if you have acquired a huge dose of fear common sense but think your horse would be okay if you relaxed…

Begin here: Make sure your horse is sound. No, really, have the vet check him over. Call a chiropractor who does acupuncture. If the horse is the problem, he usually has a problem. Then, be safe. Wear a helmet. Remove your watch and work in horse time. Take good and kind care of both of you.

Anxiety is normal on both sides. Pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t the same thing as releasing it. Acknowledge the weird balance of dread and enthusiasm. Forgive each other again. Then know that this process will take some time.

Words matter. Negative corrections aren’t effective. Yelling “NO!” is a dead end. It isn’t instructive to horse or human. It’s right up there with yelling “Don’t be afraid!” or “Quit grabbing the reins!” or “Stop running!” Telling yourself or your horse what to not do is like trying to deny reality. Instead, create a new reality by using simple, clean, positive words like “Walk on.” “Breathe.” “Well done.” In other words…

Less correction. More direction.

Start at the beginning. Is there resistance during haltering? At the first sign of anxiety, pause and breathe. Humans tend to speed up when we get nervous. Before we know it, we’re wrestling with a thousand-pound flight animal, when slowing down in the first place could resolve the anxiety on both sides while it was still small and manageable. Go slow.

Then do something mysterious. Take the halter off and leave.

When you both volunteer for the halter, proceed to ground work. Ask for something small, like walking next to you, but you stay out of his space as much as he stays out of yours. Walk together independently. Take time to get it right; let him test your patience.

Think less about whether he’s right or wrong, and more about what your senses are telling you. Practice being less complacent. What are his ears saying? Use all your senses to “listen” to your horse. Soften your visual focus by using peripheral vision to see a wider view of your surroundings. In other words…

Less brain chatter. More physical awareness.

Listen to his calming signals. Cue his movement with your feet instead of your hands. Laugh when he gets it right, and even more when you do. Keep at it until both of you have let go of all the breath you’ve been holding. Then feel the anxiety begin to shift.

Stay with ground work for as long as you want. Build confidence by ground driving and doing horse agility. Your horse doesn’t care if you ever ride him again. Your relationship isn’t defined by proximity; it’s defined by trust. If you don’t share confidence on the ground there’s no reason to think it will magically appear when you’re in the saddle.

When it feels right, groom him and tack up. Go for a walk in the arena and stop at the mounting block. Check the strap on your helmet and climb the steps. Lay a soft hand on his neck and if he’s nervous, breathe until his poll releases. Until his eyes relax. Until he is peaceful and your belly is soft.

Only go as far as the beginning of anxiety and stop there. Release it while it’s still just a flash of an idea.

Then be mysterious again. Step down and go untack him. Remember where you started and celebrate the progress you’ve both made. Know there will be setbacks, so let this time be precious.

Find a good ground coach. Someone who is calm and breathes well. Then take tiny challenges, one after another. Slow and steady, throw your leg over and sit in the saddle at the mounting block. Breathe and feel your thigh muscles. They might need some air, too. Remember you love your horse and melt what is frozen. Dismount without taking a step and call it a win.

Next time, take a few steps. You don’t need to feel like you’re alone on the high dive… ask your ground coach to click on a lead rope and walk beside you and your horse to start. Take baby steps so everyone succeeds. There is no shame in working as a team. Then climb off before you want to.

Think rhythm. All good things for horses happen rhythmically: chewing, walking, breathing. All bad things come with a break in rhythm: bucking, bolting, spooking. Good riding for the horse means rhythm so that’s your first concern.

You can count your breath, focus on your sit-bones like a metronome, or ride to music. Whatever you like, just so it connects your spine to your horse’s movement in a slow, confidence-building rhythm. Then walk on.

When emotions arise, notice them. Refuse to demonize yourself or your horse. Breathe until the feelings get bored and leave.

This is the secret: Remember that science says that a horse’s response time is seven times quicker than ours? While they come apart ridiculously fast, they can also come back together quickly, if we ask them to. Humans believe in a snowball effect; if the horse shakes his head or any other small infraction, the inevitable end is a train wreck.

It isn’t true. If you take a breath as soon as you feel anxiety in your horse, and he will do the same. Other days, your horse might notice you go tense and blow his breath out so loud that you hear it and take his cue.

It’s a partnership; sometimes we carry them and sometimes they carry us. It doesn’t matter who starts it. Just so we all come home safe.

Then one day you notice that the dark thoughts are rare. Instead, you’re distracted by something bright and shiny. It’s your childhood dream, balanced with common sense, right here in real life.


annaprof150Anna Blake is a horse advocate, equine professional, award-winning author, and proud member of the herd at Infinity Farm, on the Colorado prairie. She trains horses and riders equine communication skills and dressage, and writes parables about horses and life. | Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog

 

Books By Anna Blake

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Published in Trot On Blogs
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