Do not argue with your horse
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, July 20, 2011 09:20 PM
Very often we find ourselves in situations that our horses are not responding or behaving the way we want. It can happen on the ground, in the saddle, anywhere, anytime... When I see such situations I notice that people often start arguing with their horses without much success and it can continue on for quite a long period of time. For example, a rider constantly bumping her horse with the legs but the horse does not change the way of going. Or, a horse spooks from a door or some other object in an arena and rider gets frustrated and starts kicking and pulling trying to get her horse close. The horse of course gets even more frightened and upset. Even though these two examples are very different at the first glance they both have the same underlying issue - Rider continues to do the same thing even though it is not productive. Rider argues with her horse without any positive outcome
Training horses in many ways like raising children. Some parents just know how to deal with their kids and others spoil them and then get upset with them and argue a lot. I notice people behave in a similar way around horses. Riders and horsepeople in general very often:
  • Do not stay connected and engaged mentally and emotionally with their horses when they are near them.
  • Reluctant to correct wrong behavior because they are afraid their horse will not love them afterwards.
  • Let emotions run wild when they are correcting inappropriate behavior and these emotions cloud their judgment and ability to see true dynamics of the situation.
  • Do not asses the situation clearly and jump into action on a wrong assumption, usually blaming the horse.
  • Start nagging at the horse without any consideration for the effects of their behavior.
To work effectively with horses either on the ground or in the saddle riders must develop very clear, cool and positive attitude no matter what they have to deal with. It is WAY easier said than done. And I am speaking from experience. To be assertive and at the same time positive and calm takes practice and self-discipline.
Now, lets see what we need to work on in order to teach our horses to listen to us so we can teach them an appropriate behavior:
  • Stay very calm, positive and focused on your horse as soon as you see him in his paddock or stall. From that moment and until you turn him out after work he and his actions occupy your whole mind. Be mentally and emotionally engaged with your horse.
  • Be very vigilant to notice that correction is needed as soon as possible, even better before the wrong behavior even happens. Do not blank out and hope that things will resolve on their own. Usually it gets worse.
  • Ask for a proper action with very light aids. It doesn't matter you are on the ground or in the saddle. Do not pull on the lead rope, do not pull on the reins - it is the same! The aids at your disposal are body language, voice, lead rope, hands, seat, legs, whip, spurs...
  • If the light request is ignored do not repeat the same action. Change something!You must get your horse's attention before he can respond. This change must be small at first- sharper movement from you, slightly stronger voice, light touch with a whip or spurs. If that is not enough quickly make your actions big and dramatic - fast and sharp actions of the whip, jump at him with your hands high and wide in the air if that is the only way to get his attention, etc. Be creative. It is not about getting physical even though you must sometimes. It is about impressing your horse. Once I had to throw a pine cone to "explain" to one mare she had to move and I meant NOW, she was behind the fence that is why I couldn't reach her with anything else :). Success greatly depends on your knowledge of the horse and with practice you will know how much drama to create if you have to.
  • This is very important piece of the puzzle. No matter how big and dramatic your actions may become you must only act it. Make your horse believe you are mad at him but do not be actually mad at him! (This one is hardest for me).
  • If you had to resort to drama you are not looking for a proper respond you were asking with light aids in the beginning. Your goal is very simple. You are looking to change your horse's actions, to make him do something, other than what he was doing before.
  • As soon as he does stop acting instantly, pause yourself for a moment to give yourself and your horse a chance to reboot your systems, take a deep breath. And request a proper behavior again with light aids.
  • Be aware of the fact that your horse may not understand your clues. In this situation get his attention and then teach him the proper response. You must always evaluate the current situation and it's dynamics. Your mind must be very calm, clear and positive in order to help you as much as possible in assessing the situation. Negative emotions will cloud your mind and you will create unnecessary pressure on your horse.
  • After you got correct respond from the light aids praise your horse lavishly. Show him your love and affection. But be mindful how you do it. Some horses are very friendly and thrive on lots of love. Others are more on aloof side and can be bothered or even offended by too much love.
The above list is not a recipe or doctrine to follow. However, this way of doing things has proven itself for me, especially, when dealing with very inappropriate, even dangerous behavior such as biting, striking with the front feet, pushing, etc. Use your common sense, be creative. Not all situations require drama. Actually, it happens rather rarely. The thing is you have to be ready to act. You have to have such mindset that you will correct your horse and act dramatically if needed at any moment. It doesn't matter how well your horse behaves, never ever assume he will do what you want all the time. Horses constantly reevaluate their herd status, they do the same with people. The better you are at catching them and correcting tiny transgressions the less drama is needed. Have an attitude that you do not argue with your horse. Your horse will start to look up to you, feel safe with you and as a consequence listen to you because you are so sure of yourself, calm, positive, very kind and nice most of the time but sharp and effective if necessary. The last but not least advice - always remember about safety for yourself, your horse and everyone around you. It is better not to act at all then put yourself or someone in danger because of your actions. Good luck!
Happy riding...
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 08:43 AM
I forgot to mention one important detail. No matter how much you work on your skills you will have situations where you will argue with your horse, get emotional, react too much, etc. Do not get too upset about it after it happens. Look at the incident calmly like you are watching it on TV. Go through it step by step and notice your emotional reactions during the incident and now while you are "watching" it. It will help you find where you went wrong and what to do next time to make it better.
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