A little while ago I was having a conversation with one of my friends and it’s really kind of stuck with me. We were talking about our horses and the different things we do with them and it morphed into talking about preserving a horses personality.
I am a huge advocate to horse health…I mean if you truely have horses at heart you do everything you can for them even if it means eating ramen noodles for a month…but I think alot of people overlook a horses mental health while riding. In alot of disaplines we want that horse to be calm and quiet and do the movements asked but where do we draw the line from calm and quiet to drone? I see so many horses become drones as soon as you put a saddle on. Thats spark goes out of their eyes and they do exactly what they are told because thats the way we are trained to work with horses. They HAVE to do what we ask or we punish them.
At what point to we ignore a horses personality? I agree that a horse should be willing and obedient. But what about happy? I mean truely happy about his work. Where he has confidence and excitment to go out and do his job. When do we take that willingness to please just a tad to far?
I love my two boys and they have very similar but also complete opposite personalities. When I ride I don’t mind those occasional little bucks or the head tossing of an excited horse. I don’t punish them when they are having an exubriant moment because they are expressing their feelings! (This is going to sound a little odd I know but hold out for me just a bit)
Now when I say this if either one of them when bucking down the ring like a bronc I’d get after them but that crow hop of annoyance at doing another canter transition? Meh I might give a verbal “hey quite that” and push him forward a bit to stop it but most of the time I’ll use that to my advantage. If he’s showing his annoyance at what we are doing I might transition into something else I know he enjoys before attempting to go back to what was annoying him. Maybe I’ve riden that circle one to many times and he’s bored, or confused at what I’m asking. Maybe he’s not understanding how I’m asking it or maybe he’s just being a 3 year old and having an “I don’t wanna moment” . I might need to step back a moment and re-evaluate how I was asking and what I was asking him to do and see if I can do it in a different manner to get him to understand. I’ll see if it’s just him being a youngster or if there could be something I’m doing thats causing confusion.
Cash loves to do celebratory head shakes occasionally and sometimes a hop or little buck. He’s expressing his enthusiasm and his pride at completing something he enjoys. I don’t want to correct that and tell him “No you can’t be happy!” I want to take that and praise it (ok maybe not the buck but I’ll just ignore that mostly) . I want him to enjoy what we are doing. I want to build his confidence and his pride in himself. If I want him to trust me I have to let him know how good he’s been and when he’s pleased me. It HAS to be more then a single pat by the way. That doesn’t get anything a crossed. I find telling him he’s doing good and giving him scratches is the best.
If we are jumping he might have knocked the rail down but he tried his hardest and he gave a great effort. We will do it again and if he clears it I will do all the praise I can. Petting and telling him “Good boy oh you’re such a good Cash-man!” He puffs up so big when I do that. I can’t help but do it when he’s done such good things.
Cash will also let me know when he is done with something. And sometimes I’ll ask for just one more of what ever we are doing, but many times I have to realize that I’ve hit his limit for that particular aspect and going any further will just prove frustrating and counter productive and start a fight. I’m not saying let your horses walk all over you and dictate the ride either though. Some days they just want to be stubborn and not leave their buddy (*ahem* Cash this is you like 55% of the time) but know your horse and watch for those signs of confusion, frustration and shutting down.
I’ve seen so many trainers tell riders to get after their horses for the slightest miss step. What if that miss step was your horse saying “Hey this hurts” or “Yo lady. Your leg is blocking my side pass” Just because a horse does something doesn’t always mean it’s malicious. In fact with most horses it’s not malicious at all they are just expressing themselves. Would you want to be yelled at every time you smiled and laughed at work? Or if your back was hurting and your doctor just told you to suck it up and go back to work?
I’m not saying all trainers are bad, that’s far from the truth. And I’m not saying all structured programs are bad. Again thats far from the truth. I just want to point out that taking a step back and really looking at your horse and how they are reacting to the training is a good thing. Do they have that spark in their eye? Do they show their personality in the saddle, or are they dull. Boring. Doing a perfect job with no “Umph” or bounce in their steps.
I find that the more I let my horses relax and enjoy the ride and the more I tailor my riding program to each horse the more willing they become. They are happier when I take them out and the more honest my horses are with me. They definally let me know when they don’t enjoy something and you know what? It may not be what I want to do but in the end it builds an even better bond with my horse and those days when I ask either of them to do that stuff they don’t like they usually conced. (like Cash and dressage haha) I can also tell when something is off to. When he’s not as forward or excited to do his favorite moves. I can sometimes catch things in time before it becomes a huge issue and treat it before it becomes a major injury.
Sometimes we get so focused on reaching our goals and getting to those shows that we loose the bigger picture of the bond and trust with our horses. Don’t be afraid to slow down and let your horse enjoy the ride as much as you!
Until Next time!