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Horse Sense - Part One
 By MissP   •   3rd May 2010   •   6,729 views   •   15 comments
I have lots of theories always have and probably always will. I have a theory for why i like wearing odd socks right down to why i still line my stuffed teddy bears up next to me in bed every night. However by far the most theories i have relate to horse riding and handling. It wasn't till recently when a few horse owners approached me wanting some help in regards to there horses. That made me think maybe my "theories" aren't so crazy after all. So I am going to share with you some simple "theories" of mine that have helped me over the years. I wont promise miracle cures, can't guarantee that it will even work for you. I do ask however that you approach it with an open mind.

horse SenseWhen riding and even being around horses, what people seem to forget is as long as your horse can see you and you are interacting with them. Then they are learning something, you are constantly teaching them things. Little habits, how they behave towards objects, riding routine, what they spook at. It can all be altered due to how you approach your riding and handling. What i am going to outline today is a few easy and simple things that will hopefully get you to look at how you approach certain situations in a different way. So that in turn you can start training your horse in a positive light.

Next time you go out for a trail ride i want you to try something for me. Wait for your horse to relax a bit and if you can ride on a long rein. Then turn your head to the left, watch your horse. Most of the time you will find that your horse also looks to the left. Now look straight ahead again and then turn your head to the right. Once again you will find most horses will turn to see what your looking at. This shows us how subtle changes and shifts in our position, body and temperament effects our horse. I get lots of riders who ride hot flighty horses and complain about there horse constantly spooking at things. You would be surprised at how often the rider is actually finding things for the horse to spook at themselves. Just by turning there head and assuming that the big black tree stump is going to spook there horse, in just thinking that they change there body and there position, so as soon as the horse turns to see what you have reacted to of course they are going to get a fright.

I asked several people, from beginners through to experienced horse owners this same question, and before you read on i would like you to think about how you would react in this situations. My question was, " If you were leading your horse and all of a sudden something spooked it from behind, causing it to charge forward spinning around and cutting you off, before it reached the end of the lead line and stopped. How would you react to that?" The majority of people responded in the same way. They would instinctively turn around to see what may have spooked the horse. Then they would approach the horse and reassure them.

I can see how this would be a common response in such a situation. It is only natural to want to A) see what is so scary and B) reassure our horse. However now lets look at it from the horses point of view. By turning around your acknowledging that there is something there. You don't need to find anything, don't even need to walk up to it. They are sensitive enough to feel when you turn your head in the saddle, there sensitive enough to recognize you trying to find the monster. So straight up you have made the "monster" real. Then you reassure the horse wether its a positive or negative approach doesn't matter. All the horse needs to know is A) the monster is real and B) its scary enough that it got a reaction from my handler aswell. With two simple steps you have just shown your horse that not only was that invisible trail monster real, but because you reacted to it they will continue to fear it and it will become even scarier.

Horse Sense

Best way to handle either of the above two situations . . . don't react. If you are the horses leader then you need to reassure them that there is noting there to react to and even if there is its not that scary to begin with. No herd leader is going to go around comforting each individual horse every time the herd gets a fright. The easiest way a herd leader can get a herd to stay calm, is to stay calm themselves. If the leader doesn't react to something then its not worth reacting to. What you consider to be kind and gentle reassurance is in horse language you reacting to a situation that they already believe is scary. What i believe the best thing to do in the situation i mentioned above, continue walking don't turn don't hesitate just keep walking. Ignore what they have just done, if they are blocking your path then they are in your way push them out of your space and continue doing what you were doing. Suddenly they have direction, they no longer need to think for themselves they just need to follow you and since your taking charge and you didn't react. Well then there was nothing worth getting scared over to begin with.

Same rules apply in the saddle. I was driving along the other day in my car, hands on the steering wheel. Suddenly about 25m ahead i see a plastic bag fluttering along the road. Instinctively i have relaxed my shoulders, moved my hands on the wheel, sat deeper into my car seat and steadying my car as we approached the plastic bag. It was about then that i realized i was in a machine and not on top of an animal and my big lump of metal doesn't really care about how scary a plastic bag is. It is this reaction that i try and get riders to avoid. The moment they can feel you tense up is the moment they start looking for danger. If they see you as there leader or not if you think something is scary then instinctively they are programed to find out why and think the same thing.

Its easy to see then how we can make a very normal every day object three times as scary just by assuming our horse is going to spook at it. Your intentions may be good, maybe you no that every time you pass that big yellow bin your horse suddenly turns into a crazy snorting beast . So naturally your going to shift your position, steady your horse, look at it, prepare yourself for the fireworks that always come. All your doing is saying " yes its scary, yes im scared, no i don't like it either." Once you have reacted like that, then no amount of gentle reassurance or harsh scolding is going to make him believe the bin is any less scary. Because once again it is just another reaction to prove that there fears are in deed true. Once again don't react. We have already learnt that looking at something is going to make the horse look, tensing up is going to make the horse tense. Then reacting when they do only confirms there fears. All in all we are teaching them to fear the yellow bin. So don't look at it, don't shift your position steady him or yourself. Ignore it. Ride out the fireworks be it a tiny shy to the side or a whole set of fireworks. Then continue riding as if nothing happened.

Sometimes praising can do as much damage as scolding, in some cases the only difference they can perceive between a gentle word/ a pat on the neck and a whack on the neck/ harsh yelling is the physical pain. We put to much human emotion in our handling and riding. Easy enough to see why but they don't see it as we do. How are they to no a scratch on the neck is you reassuring them? But a whack on the neck is you punishing them? In some cases any reaction is bad. Its all about learning when it is ok to react and when you need to be the leader and take control of the situation.

Next article if people are interested i will be expanding on bad habits you teach your horse without knowing, This time focusing on things you do whilst riding that have a negative impact on there attitude towards being worked and how it effects horses that bolt.
Horse Sense - Part One
Horse Sense - Part One
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