Take time to make each experience positive.
Set things up for what you want, and then wait for it.
Ignore distractions and continue asking until you feel the horse try to respond, then release.
If you fight with the horse and react to their distractions, you will never achieve anything more than a fight.
The quality of work you do with your horse is much more important that the quantity.
Think of a set of scales, on one side goes the positive learning experiences with your horse and on the other the negative. You start out with the scales even when the horse is born. Then, every interaction with humans tips the scale to the positive or negative. As more negative experiences collect, the positive experiences must double to tip the scales back to the positive end.
It is much easier to do things right the first time than to go back and correct your mistakes.
If you are a frustrated rider, you can bet that you have a frustrated horse. You both need to go back to very easy and basic steps and review some “right answers”. By building the horse’s confidence, you build his trust in your leadership, and he will begin listening to you rather than just reacting or shutting down.
The horse needs to learn that to do what you ask is the easiest way, the least amount of work.
Artwork by Marjorie Moore
Communicate with boundaries:
Trust and respect are required in order to establish clear communication. Trust allows listening to occur by creating an environment free from fear or the need of defensive mechanisms. Respect is essential so that when you attempt to communicate, you have your partner’s attention because your partner believes you are worth listening to.
When we ride, we tell our horses to stay within the boundaries of our hands and legs. We give our horses boundaries of gaits and tempos. Consistent boundaries help our horses understand the rules of the game so that they can become active participants.
When they do not understand the rules due to inconsistent boundaries, then they become very grumpy and agitated, as would we when we don’t know when someone is going to suddenly lay into us. When nothing makes sense to your horse, he will become fearful and agitated. The more guidance, the more consistent you are in establishing rules and boundaries, the more at ease everyone becomes.
The right answer must be the quiet place
When your horse gives to you, you must give to him.
There must always be a right answer easy for the horse to find.
There should never be the feeling of being trapped.
Consequences of all choices need to be clearly defined, but there should not be any issues of force. Force creates resistance and resentment. If you feel that force is the only way to accomplish a specific goal, you need to go back to a simpler task.
With energetic and sensitive horses it is especially important to show your horse there is relief from the pressure. If your boundaries are too constricting to your horse, they will feel claustrophobic and they will try to break through your boundaries to escape.
The boundaries you create must give your horse room to move and an opportunity to find a quiet place.
Dealing with Tension
Remember that a horse is not a human, nor an extension of yourself.
Keep in mind the instincts of your horse and work within a framework that your horse can understand.
The only way to overcome your horse’s fear and survival instincts is to build his trust and respect in your leadership ability.
If your horse becomes anxious and uncooperative, remember that your own anxiety or anger only adds to his reticence. Set aside your frustration or embarrassment so that you can help your horse work through their issues.
A good leader is always calm and confident.
In order for communication and understanding to occur, both partners must be able to release their tension and anxiety and listen to each other.
You must be your horse’s role model. Release your own tension by breathing deeply and regularly and checking for tension throughout your body. Leave your life’s problems at the stable door.
Help release your horse’s tension by asking for simple exercises that your horse can successfully accomplish.
Praise your horse for everything he does well.
Incorporate simple leadership-building exercises (such as ground work) into your daily routine with your horse.
Have a clear intention. When you make a request of your horse, you must be able to clearly picture exactly what response you desire.
You must be of one mind when you make a request of your horse. You can’t be thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner or what’s on tv.
Listening to the Horse
If a horse consistently gives us a ‘wrong answer,’ we need to ask ourselves, “What are we really communicating?” Instead of becoming upset when a horse acts up, try to analyze what has led to the undesirable behavior. Are they reacting to our actions, or something else in their environment? What are we really communicating?
To show our horse there is nothing to fear, exaggerate deep breathing as a way of saying to your horse, “I’m so confident there’s nothing to worry about I’m completely relaxed.”
Breathing deeply has many benefits. It helps keep you calm and clear-headed and it releases tension in your body so your seat can stay deep and balanced on your horse.
Breathing is your first line of defense in keeping you out of bad situations, and it needs to be your first response when you find yourself in one.
Train yourself to breathe deeply at the first signs of tension. Practice breathing deeply, slowly and steadily throughout the day. When you’re driving a car, when you are paying bills, whenever you are agitated: breathe slowly and steadily. Breathe in as if you were about to sing or play an instrument. Breathe so that you use your abdomen and not your chest. When you breathe out, release the tension in your neck, your shoulders and your back.
In order for your horse to understand your requests, you must build upon what the horse already knows or understands. Build confidence by making the steps in the learning process small and easily digestible.
In teaching and training there must always be a sequential order to the lesson plan. You will leave holes in your foundation if you skip steps.
You cannot expect a horse to be where YOU want him to be today, you must simply start wherever he is and move forward.
Appreciate each small step to strengthen your partner’s desire to work with you. Everyone wants to be appreciated, including our horses.
There will always be more that you think your horse should do, and you will want your horse to do things even better than he does now. You will always want more, that’s just the way we are. You must train yourself to appreciate the small accomplishments as you work through the process of creating a relationship of harmony with your horse.
Positive feedback keeps the brain open to new ideas.
Enjoy the Process
Don’t try to prove anything.