I often have people bring me Horses that they claim are perfect in every way except that they spook at almost everything when they ride them This seems to be very common to people who have had a bit of a time developing their own confidence when it comes to knowing what they should do or not do to fix their Horses behavior . Usually these are people that have done their homework, by watching videos or reading articles or getting some professional riding lessons or whatever means of potential solution possible. So why then is this issue such a big factor when it comes to dedicated people simply wanting to enjoy riding their horses? I have concluded over the past several decades, that this issue is simply a lack of understanding on the rider’s part and a naturally occurring self-preserving act on the Horses part!
The lack of understanding on the handler’s part is the first thing that I will address. I believe that it will be very beneficial to establish some roll descriptions such as that of the horse and that of the handler.
The handler must be, first, the leader.
As leader, the handler will be the decision maker of direction and speed of travel and maneuvers to be performed by the horse. This leadership role should also be responsible for the Horses posture and its attitude as well. The leader is responsible for making sure that the horse is comfortable when it is following and is attentive to the slightest suggestion of his handler.
The Horses role in this relationship is quite a bit less but no less important. By that I mean that the horse should be respectful and trust his handler and be agreeable to do whatever is asked of him without any resistance.
Now with these two definitions laid out in front of us, can you see why I said that the problem of the spooky horse is usually just, a lack of understanding on the handler’s part.
Most people don’t realize the roll that the horse handler really plays in the relationship.
This then sets the stage for the horse to receive the blame for his behavior and essentially has the handler looking for a solution where it simply doesn’t exist. The search for anything that doesn’t exist is frustrating at best and simply exhausting if persistent looking for it continues. So, what is the answer? The answer Lies simply in the handler’s development of understanding of his horse. So, are you telling me that spooking Horses are not a horse issue but rather a handler issue? Absolutely!! Does this mean that once I gain this understanding that I will never have a horse spook again? Absolutely not! So just what are you saying then? Simply this , when the handler gains the true understanding of his horse he will get with it the feel and timing that is required to stabilize the emotional state of his horse in such an effective way that the naturally occurring self-preserving ways of the Horses this handler rides will usually exhibit a much more confident manor more of the time !
The first thing that will be necessary to begin to accomplish this with your horse will be for you to find an environment in which to ride that your horse is comfortable in. If the horse has developed the habit of being hypersensitive to his surrounding you will need a place that he is comfortable in to begin the process of developing a relationship where you are the one in control. This area will only be used for a short time, but you might have to start your sessions in it for some time to overcome the issue. This comfort zone is for your safety as well as for the Horses development.
This is a perfect time to improve your ground work. I highly recommend that you Get my agility course one, if you don’t already have it. This course will greatly improve your communication skills with your horse. This will set the stage to get your Horses attitude and posture working together. This is accomplished by putting the Horses mind and body into a rhythmic flowing motion that makes you very interesting to your horse. Basically, you will be directing the Horses thoughts by moving his body parts in a way that makes logical since to you and to your horse. This flowing movement will look like you are dancing with your horse. This really is fun for the both of you because it has so much depth of value in it. The key element that makes this work for you is that you must know exactly what you want your horse to be doing at all time. When that clear mental picture is in place your timing will be perfect and your horse will melt into your leadership!
This surrender of your Horses self-preserving defensiveness will be voluntary by your horse and rewardingly appreciated by you. This is such a foundational platform of confidence for you that you will eagerly apply this concept to all your Horses. The principal is this; first know what you want the task to be, then ask for it and flow with it until it is smooth, in complete freedom and in rhythm. Now change your picture to the next logical thing that you want your horse to do then flow with it until it is smooth and in complete freedom and in rhythm. Now repeat the process with your next thing and continue the process in this manor until your horse has a soft willing attitude. Enjoy the dance! Your horse will too!
I believe the reason that the dance that you just performed with your horse was so effective in soothing your horse and improving your communication together, is because of all the instinctive principles of the horse that you were implementing and the way that you presented them to your horse. You used herd leadership principles of moving your horse’s feet. You used the natural calming element for your horse of rhythm. You successfully became interesting to your horse by changing what you were doing in a leadership role. This elevated your Horses trust and respect for you to a level where he handed over to you the role of protecting himself which allowed him to relax and go with the flow no matter what was going on around him!
The nice thing to about the previous ground work is that it will all carry over to the Horses back when you decide it’s time to ride. There is no need to rush the riding. I would rather see you keep improving your dance on the ground before you get committed on top a little too soon. They can’t hurt you while you are on the ground! You will know that you know when it is time for you to get on. This is not a race against time or someone else! This is your journey so relax and enjoy it.
Of course, before you do anything with your horse make sure that you are mentally in the now. That’s where your horse is and if you come into his space with your thoughts stuck somewhere in the past or on something that hasn’t gotten here yet, well don’t be surprised if you can’t even catch you horse today! Horses survive by their senses and they won’t let you play with them if you are not there and if you aren’t right now mentally, you aren’t there at all.
How do you get right now if you are somewhere else? Becoming aware of your breathing is one of the best ways. You will experience a sense of peace come over you when you do, and your horse will as well. Another way is to really appreciate everything and everybody in your presence. This profound state of appreciation will lift your mood and make you more pleasant to be around. Your horse will appreciate you for that.
This mental preparation should be implemented into great use. It is in fact the primary thing that was in your way of clear communication between you and your horse. By that I mean that you were suffering from a lack of awareness. Yes awareness, it is always the missing ingredient in the recipe of your solution. To think that you could fix an issue of spooking without first taking into consideration your own mental and emotional state of mind, would probably not be a very effective fix. At best it would be a mechanical one. When there is a relationship between a horse and a human you simply must not neglect the element that feelings and emotions play in this interaction by looking at a mechanical solution. This does not mean though that we won’t do any exercises in body mechanics, we will In- cooperate them with consideration given to the attitude of the horse and the rider as well! Like the ground work that we discussed earlier it was a balance of mechanics and emotion and it produced for us stellar results of fluidity and it changed the Horses attitude into a pleasant willing animal with all the confidence in the world that felt he was protected and well attended to. Now to achieve the same upon his back.
When you first step onto a horse that once was in the habit of acting insecure and spooky they will usually tighten and prepare to defend themselves. This moment can be a bit intimidating for the rider unless the rider has a predetermined plan and a clear mental picture of how the plan will unfold. Once again this is Pryor mental preparation that the rider must do to position themselves to address the issue effectively! This clear picture should have in its first a symmetrical circle that will serve as the road that the horse will be first encouraged to start down. The departure onto the circle should be at a walk but you must consider the attitude of your horse as well. The horse might be too tight to just walk at first. Whatever speed the horse is going is all right, just stay steady with him and direct him onto the 20-foot circle. It is important here, that when this horse is on the circle, that you let him feel freedom from your direction and when he starts off the circle, for you to be there for him to direct his thoughts and body back onto the circle. You should keep circling until the horse relaxes. The horse will usually slow down when he relaxes. After he has walked around relaxed for a circle or two then change direction and repeat the process. This simple circling exercise will put you into the control seat and because you let your horse relax and get comfortable when you were in control the horse liked the experience as much as you did. Now that some order and fun are both part of your ride let’s keep it interesting for the horse by changing the size of those circles and let’s let him flow around them with as little amount of help from us as we can and still stay on the circles. I would do this circling at the first of the ride for 20 minutes or so, then quit and give that horse the reward he wants most, and that is, get off his back take the saddle off and groom him and care for him and then turn him loose in his living area until the next ride. This will set the stage for a much more favorable relationship between you and the horse.
The next work on this horse should once again start with the agility ground work done in the overlapping rhythmic way. Then when you are mounted direct the horse once again into the circles until the horse is relaxed both ways. Now that you and the horse are both in a good attitude let’s send this horse on some straight lines. This may sound very simple but when you have been circling a horse and then put him onto a predetermined straight line you might find this to be a challenging task to accomplish. It is in fact that, now that you have a definable path to travel on, that you are now aware of the horse not being on your path. This is the Benefit of riding well defined lines. They form your picture and tell you when to do what. This is where great communication between the horse and rider is developed in a very efficient way. When you train your mind to think in terms of riding on well-defined lines most Horses find security from this type of disciplined leadership and will lay down their self-preserving flight reactions and become confident that they are being protected by the person. This is a very nice place to get a horse to.