Confident Rider Tip: Solving the Mystery of the Unexplained ‘Spook’

Question from a reader:

“Do you find that you can be working with your horse for a while, then ask the same thing of him as you’ve already done nicely, and all of a sudden he’s not paying attention anymore? And if you try to get his attention he ‘panics’ or spooks suddenly from the least little thing?”

People are often caught off-guard by the spook, bolt or buck that seems to come out of no where.  Some people think it’s just the horse’s way of evading doing something he doesn’t want to do or that he’s trying to ‘get them’.  While it may be true that horses will try to avoid doing things we ask of them (and, honestly, why shouldn’t they avoid work any less than we do?), it’s not true that they plot and plan ways to get us humans.

Here’s the thing about horses.  As prey animals they want to conserve energy as much as possible so that they have lots available when they need to run away from a predator.  So, a part from the exuberant play that youngsters sometimes indulge in, horses are pretty lazy (to put a label on it).  But, hey – I can relate.  I don’t like to expend any more energy than is absolutely necessary.  That’s why I’m always looking for short cuts to getting chores done around the farm.  One friend says I’m very creative.  I call it laziness.  

But back to the spooking, bolting, bucking horse issue.  So, why does an animal that likes to conserve his energy expend all that excess energy to avoid doing something he doesn’t want to do or just to ‘get the human’?  The answer is – he doesn’t.

There is always a reason for the horse’s behaviour.  Here are 3 possible reasons for that unexplained spook.

  1. Horses see, hear, smell and feel things of which we -mere humans with our different level of senses – are unaware.    Just because you didn’t see or hear anything that you believe would have startled  you horse, doesn’t mean that he didn’t see, hear or even smell something.
  2. Horses learn from repetition and it only takes 3 repetitions for them to see a pattern.  So, it’s really easy to inadvertently teach a horse to be nervous at a certain spot in the arena or on the trail or when asked to perform a particular transition or movement.  And that pattern can be created just as easily for you as it can be for your horse.  So, if your horse has spooked or reacted badly when you ride by a certain area or ask for a transition or movement, your anticipation of a repeat performance can cause you to be tense and nervous which affects how your horse feels physically and mentally.  Vicious cycle created.  
  3. How you sit on your horse affects how he feels.  Whether you’re in a western, english or treeless saddle or riding bareback, you affect (for better or for worse) your horse’s balance, alignment and level of relaxation.  Have you noticed how difficult it is to remain relaxed, supple and balanced when your horse is crooked, off balance and tense?  That works both ways.  So if you’re off balance, crooked or out of alignment in any way the less relaxed  your horse will be and the more reactive he will be to stresses (even little ones) in the environment.  And, you are more likely to give unclear and even conflicting messages to your horse.

Rider misalignment has a huge impact on horses behaviour causing them to exhibit unwanted behaviours or resistance.  You may be familiar with the rider vertical alignment (ear over shoulder over hip over heel) and the horse ‘nose/poll to tail’ alignment.  But are you aware of your alignment to your horse?

Horse and Rider Alignment

Horse and Rider Alignment – My horse is aligned poll to tail (her hind legs track up with her front legs); I am square (hips and shoulders); and we are aligned with each other.

You are sitting on your horse’s spine.  So, if you not aligned with his body and his bend, he will feel at least uncomfortable and at worst pain.  You are aligned with your horse when your belly button aims between his ears; your shoulders mirror his shoulders; and, your hips mirror his hips.  If your horse has a bend to the left (even a slight one), you mirror that bend when you keep your belly button aimed between his ears and your hips and shoulders square.  If your outside shoulder comes forward, his outside shoulder will mirror that and bulge out of the bend.  You’ll both be off balance and you’ll likely be hanging on to the inside rein trying to ‘correct’ him.  And suddenly – out of no where – is that spook or resistance to doing that transition …. 

The first step you can take to helping your horse feel less stressed and therefore less reactive to things in the environment is to improve your alignment.  It will also keep you better balanced and able to deal with any sudden movements that come ‘from no where’.

Your Turn:  Was this post helpful?  Share it with a friend who can benefit from it as well then leave me a comment below and tell me what you are struggling with.


The Bottom Line – The absolute best way to develop a true partnership with your horse is by building your confidence and trust in each other.

You can get your Free Instant Access to my report “The 3 Most Important Skills You Need to Develop Confidence With Horses” when you visit www.AnneGage.com

Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship Clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship www.annegage.com.  

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship –Putting you and your horse in good hands.
www.annegage.com
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Confident Horsemanship – Welcoming a New Year

As we leave 2013 behind and enter a new year, I thought it appropriate to share my most popular blog post from the past year.

2014 Happy New Year

Confident Rider Tips – 7 Tips to Help Improve Your Riding by Improving Your Mindset.

I’ll be offering a free webinar in early January on the same topic.  To make sure you

receive details about this special event, join my mailing list by clicking here.

Wishing you all the best for the new year.  Enjoy your journey.

Enjoy your journey.

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My book is now available on Amazon.com! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

Psst … There’s a Secret to Building Your Confidence with Horses (and Riding)

When I tell people that a few years ago I lost my confidence for riding, they usually have 2 reactions.  First, they are surprised to find out how scared I was (shaking in my riding boots scared).  Second, they want to know “If you were so scared, how did you get to be so confident now?”

Desire for successI won’t lie – it took a lot of work and it didn’t happen over night.  But, here’s the secret … the main reason I was able to regain my confidence was because my ‘why’ was stronger than my fear.  If I didn’t regain my confidence, I would have had to give up doing what I love best and find another way to make a living. 

I love teaching other horse lovers how to get the best out of themselves and out of their horses.  I love seeing them develop confidence, improve their skills and build better partnerships with their horses.  I love seeing the positive transformation of the human and the horse – together.

It takes desire, dedication and determination – and a lot of work –  to regain your confidence.  It takes courage to take even baby steps forward when you are ‘shaking in your riding boots scared’.  The more clear you are about WHY you want to be with or ride horses the more motivated you will be to do the work.

What’s your why?  It’s that one specific reason you want to be with or ride horses (or a particular horse).  Your ‘why’ might be so that you can enjoy spending time supporting your horse loving child or partner without feeling stressed or anxious. It might be that you want to be able to enjoy a trail ride in the woods or along the beach with your best friend.  Or maybe it’s because you want to be able to do your best in the show ring.

Whatever your why is bring it to life.  Write about it in your journal, create a collage about it or visualize it.  Be as detailed as you can possibly be using all five senses.  What do you feel?  What do you smell?  What do you hear? What do you see?  What will you gain?  How will your life better?  At least once a day read what you’ve written, look at your collage or run through your visualization like you’re watching a movie.

Keeping your ‘why’ in the forefront of your mind will give you the courage to push through the difficult times.  Those times when you just want to quit because it seems to overwhelming.  Those times when you don’t feel like you’re making any progress.

And, remember to recognize and congratulate yourself for the baby steps you make.  Any forward movement is good – it’s movement in the right direction.

You’ll get there – one (baby) step at a time.  I know you can.  Because I’ve been where you are and I did it.

Your Turn – What is your ‘why’ for wanting to be with or ride horses?  Share your thoughts in the comments below – you might inspire someone else.  

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey!

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There are lots more practical and in depth tips on improving your Confidence and your Partnership with your horse in my book “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.   NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.com!

 Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

Click here to grab your FREE REPORT “The 3 Most Important Secrets You Need to Know to Develop Confidence with Horses”

Brought to you by Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.   www.AnneGage.com

Confident Rider Tips – 5 Fast & Simple Steps to Being a More Confident Rider (Today!)

Confident Rider Tip - Focus on progress instead of perfection.

How’s your self talk?  You know that constant babble that whirls around inside your head.

Is that voice  – your own voice – your best friend or your worst enemy?  How you talk to yourself affects how you feel and what you do.  When you learn to take control of the ‘thought monster‘ your confidence and your riding will improve.

And you do want to improve your confidence and riding, don’t you? (I thought so.)

Here are 5 steps to help you tame the Thought Monster.

Step 1 – Be aware of your thoughts.  The average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts every day.  Most of these thoughts do not change from one day to the next. And, about 80% of these thoughts are negative! Most of them focus on the past or the future, obsessing about mistakes we have made, planning ahead or worrying, creating fantasy or fiction.  The good news is that when you recognize your thoughts, you can change them.

Step 2 – Write down your thoughts.  When you write down your thoughts, you see exactly what you are thinking about and how often you are thinking about it.  Notice how often you use words like ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘should’ and ‘can’t’.  Also notice how often your thoughts are complaining, whining or judging (yourself or others).   Be careful not to beat yourself up or feel discouraged when you see how many negative thoughts you have.  We all have them.  As Dr. Phil says “you can’t change what  you don’t acknowledge”.

Step 3 – Create a new thought. Take your most frequent negative thoughts and put a positive spin on them.  For example, if your self-talk tells you “I’m such a loser! I’m never going to get these transitions right!”  Remove the judgment and stop beating yourself up.  Try re-framing the thought to a more positive message like “I’m still learning and right now, I’m having a hard time getting these transitions right.  What can I do or who can I ask for help to learn how to do them better?”  This puts the focus on how you can improve and gives your brain a problem to solve.  And your brain likes solving problems.

Step 4 – Become your own cheerleader.  It seems to be human nature to have self destructive, negative thoughts.  And, we are very good at creating negative stories in our heads about future outcomes.  But, you can change your thought patterns so that, instead of focusing on the negative, you can focus on the positive possibilities; instead of being your own worst critic, you become your best support.  Treat yourself with the same compassion and kindness you would give your best friend if she were feeling down.  Avoid saying anything to yourself that you would not want another person to say to you.

Step 5 – Practice. Practice. Practice. – Retraining your brain is no different to physical exercise.  The more you do it, the better results you see.  Just like going to your yoga or exercise class, there will be days when you won’t be motivated to do the work of paying attention to your thoughts or replace them with positive messages.  The more you practice it, the more natural it becomes.  And, you’ll feel a sense of pride for your accomplishment and a sense of control over your life. That creates an incredible boost of confidence!

The Bottom Line – Your brain can only hold one thought at a time.  Give it something positive to focus on or a problem to solve.  You can feel better about yourself and more confident – today!

Your Turn – What are some of the negative thoughts you have about your riding (I’m sure you won’t be the only one with that thought).  Share them in the comments below and I’ll help you re-frame them.  

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey!

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There are lots more practical and in depth tips on improving your Confidence and your Partnership with your horse in my book “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.   NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.com!

 Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

Click here to grab your FREE REPORT “The 3 Most Important Secrets You Need to Know to Develop Confidence with Horses”

Brought to you by Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.   www.AnneGage.com

Thinking of Buying a Young Horse? Why It May Be the Wrong Choice for You

You’re thinking of buying a young horse so you (or your child) can develop a bond and learn together. Or maybe you want a horse that’s a ‘clean slate’.  You want to find your dream horse.See Beyond the Outside Beauty

Unfortunately, that dream horse can become a night mare if you buy a horse that is the wrong match for you – especially if you believe the common horse buying myths.

Here are 3 common myths about buying a young horse and, more importantly, a reality check for each one.

Myth #1 –  A young horse costs less than an older, more experienced horse.  It takes years to train a horse well and no time at all to teach a horse undesirable (unsafe) behaviours and to shatter his confidence.  You may be able to buy a young horse for less money, but any money saved will be spent on training (and then some!)    Riding lessons and horse training can cost thousands of dollars.   And, even that doesn’t guarantee that the “finished” horse will be the right partner for you.

Reality Check – Budget to purchase an older horse that already has training and experience doing the type of work you desire.  You’ll save money in the long run and both you and your horse will be happier, more confident and better partners for each other.

Myth #2 – You will learn together and develop a stronger bond.  There is a well used saying in the horse world that”green on green equals black and blue”.  You cannot learn to ride well or improve your own riding skills while working with a horse with no or very little training.  Young horses are unbalanced, unpredictable and need to have an experienced rider who has the knowledge and riding skill to give them a good start. Riding horses has inherent risk no matter what level of experience you have.  The risk  increases exponentially when an inexperienced rider is on an inexperienced horse.

Reality Check – Riding is a partnership and one of the partners should know more than the other.  Green riders learn more, faster and have more confidence when partnered with a well-schooled, experienced horse with a patient, forgiving temperament for their first equine partner.   The same is true for green horses.

Myth #3 – Older horses cost more to keep.   While some older horses may need extra supplements and some TLC to keep their bodies healthy and comfortable, these extras are generally not expensive (and are certainly less expensive than the cost of training a young horse correctly).  Unexpected veterinary expenses happen with horses of all ages. Even young horses get sick and injured – sometimes simply through youthful exuberance, inquisitiveness and poor decisions.

Reality Check – Horses – much like people – are living longer and staying healthier than they used to.  All horses, regardless of their age, require regular farrier and veterinary care, and nutrition appropriate for their stage of life and activity level. These regular expenses as well as unexpected veterinary expenses should be included in your horse keeping budget.

“Having a horse that can be your teacher, partner and friend – this is a dream come true.”

The Bottom Line – Put temperament and training at the top of your horse shopping priority list.  Breed papers, colour and appearance don’t mean a thing if the horse’s temperament doesn’t suit you or he needs a lot of training to do what you need.  A well-trained, ugly (if there is such a thing) horse with a good temperament will be a much better partner than the beautiful, registered, green horse with challenging personality traits.

As I advise my clients, the absolute best way to get the horse of your dreams is being clear about your own skills and goals, knowing what to look for and being prepared before you go shopping.

You can instantly download more horse buying tips in my ebooklet ’92 Tips You Must Know Before Buying Your First (or Next) Horse‘.

These tips will guide you through every step of the horse buying journey – how to prepare, where to look, what to look for, making an offer and what to do before bringing your new horse home.

Your Turn

What advice would you give to someone buying her first horse?  Sharing your experiences or questions is simple.  Just leave a comment or share your thoughts below or through FacebookLinkedIn orTwitter.

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey!


For more practical and in depth tips on improving your Confidence and your Partnership with your horse, order my book “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.   NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.com!

 Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

Click here to grap your FREE REPORT “The 3 Most Important Secrets You Need to Know to Develop Confidence with Horses”

Brought to you by Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.   www.AnneGage.com

Are You Expecting Too Much of Yourself or Your Horse?

We all want success and we want it now.  We’ve been taught to “reach for the stars” and set big goals.  As a result, sometimes we expect so much of ourselves and our horses that we are rarely happy with our results.

If you’ve ever said (even to yourself),

“I should be better than this!”

Then you end up feeling like a failure because that “I should be” is really a disguise for that self-defeating old mantra that whispers quietly  “I’m not good enough”.

Failure is not a fact

But what if you are exactly where you should be – where you need to be.

Maybe where you think you should be is simply wishful thinking.  Replace the phrase “should be” with “wish I was” …

  • “I wish I was better than this.”
  • “I wish I was able to …”
  • “I wish I wasn’t so …”

What are you basing your opinion that you “should be …” on?  Who are you comparing yourself to?

There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to riding.  Your results – where you are now – come from not only your physical ability, your competency and your confidence level, but also from your horse’s ability, level of training and confidence.

There is a reason that successful people (you know the ones at the horse shows that always seem to be in the top 3 placings and get Champion awards in not one but multiple classes) do so well.  They put in the hours.  If they haven’t done it themselves then someone else has put the hours into their horse so they can just sit up there, look pretty and – as long as they stay out of the horse’s way – win.

According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, people who become really good at something – really master it – have spent at least 10000 hours working on that particular thing.  Ten Thousand Hours!  That’s about 3 hours a day for 10 years.  So, if you have been riding for 10 years, but only 1 hour a week, you have only put in about 520 hrs (1 hr x 52 wk x 10 yr).  That’s being generous and assuming you didn’t miss a single hour in any year because of illness, injury, vacations, holidays, etc.

This is not to say that you need to put 10,000 hours into your riding to become good at it –  unless you want to be competitive at the highest levels of the sport.  But, it puts into perspective the amount of time needed to develop a particular level of skill.

Chances are slim to none that you will progress very far in developing mastery of any skill if you only put in 1 hour of practice a week.  Now lots of people enjoy a weekly riding lesson and are quite happy to spend that time in the saddle.  They don’t want or expect to achieve much more than the connection with the horse.

But, if you want to progress in your training – for personal fulfilment or to achieve ribbons, trophies and recognition in the show ring – the once a week hourly ride is not going to get your there.  Most people get discouraged when they feel that they aren’t making progress at the rate they “should” or that they aren’t as good as “her” or “him” or “them”.   We are certainly masters at comparing ourselves to others. We’ve all had more than 10000 hours practicing that skill.  Even if it doesn’t help us.

When our expectations are not in line with our reality ie. your other commitments  & responsibilities don’t allow you to ride 3 -6 hours a week, then you won’t be as successful in the show ring as “that other competitor that wins everything”.  Even if you are a pleasure rider, neither your riding skill nor your horse’s training will progress very far or very fast.

You can either be frustrated with  yourself, your coach and your horse and keep your expectations.  Or, you can adjust your expectations to match the reality of your situation. If the reality is that you can only ride once week, then focus on enjoying that one ride.  The choice is yours … should you decide to make it.

Your Turn

How do your goals & expectations affect your enjoyment of riding?  Sharing your experiences or questions is simple.  Just leave a comment or share your thoughts below or through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey!

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For more practical and in depth tips on improving your Confidence and your Partnership with your horse, order my book “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order from Lulu.com.
 
My paperback book is NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.com!

Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

Confident Horsemanship with Anne Gage – Putting you and your horse in good hands.

Horse Training: Handling Your Horse Safely in Spooky Situations

Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On

It’s a bit delayed, but seasonal fall weather has finally arrived where I live in Southern Ontario.  One day it felt like summer and the next day it was definitely fall.  These sudden changes in weather, drops in the barometric pressure and, of course, winds can affect the behaviour of some horses.  Just leading your horse to or from the paddock or barn can be nerve wracking.

There are 3 common mistakes people make when their horses become anxious or spooky.

Mistake #1 – Anticipating that your horse will behave badly and becoming tense as a result.  Of course, we all want to be safe when we are around our horses.  They are, after all, very large, powerful animals that can hurt us without intending to.  But, as a herd animal who is very sensitive to body language, when you get tense, your horse picks up on that and his tension increases.

What to do instead – Recognize that there is the potential for your horse to be anxious and take steps to calm yourself before you take your horse out of the paddock or barn.  Breathing in calm, deep, slow breaths is the best way to calm your flow of adrenaline and release tension from your body.  It also helps you stay mentally in the moment.

Mistake #2 – Holding on tightly to or shortening up on the lead rope or reins.  It’s human nature to want to stop the horse’s movement.  Notice how often you are telling your horse to ‘stop it’ or ‘whoa’.  As a flight animal, feeling that his ability to move away from perceived danger adds to his tension and stress level.

What to do instead – Send your horse away from you and, if you have the room, in a circle around you.  This requires giving him some more rope and that you aren’t holding your lead rope or reins tightly under his chin. Keeping him out of your space means he won’t be running over top of you if he panics.  Sending him away addresses his need to move which helps him feel less stress.

Mistake #3 – Getting in your horse’s ace.  This happens in 2 ways.  The first happens when you jerk or pull on the lead rope or bridle.  The second happens when you turn to face your horse ‘head’ on.  Both reactions also comes from our human nature to stop the horse’s movement.  The horse’s response is to feel more stress as he feels threatened and typically throws his head up resulting in increased adrenaline release.

What to do instead – At the first sign that your horse is stressed, take a steady, supple contact on the lead rope or reins.  With a gentle, rocking downwards pressure ask your horse to lower his head.  If he tries to raise his head, use blocking resistance.  Do not try to pull or force his head down.  If he’s too stressed to lower his head or pushes through your blocking resistance, then put some space between you (see previous point).  Lowering his head helps to bring down the level of adrenaline so that his stress level does not escalate.

If you slow down, breath and calm your mind, then you will be able to stay in the moment and be pro-active rather than reactive.  Your body language will communicate more calmness to your horse and help to decrease his anxiety.

Your Turn

Does the weather affect your horse?  Sharing your experiences or questions is simple.  Just leave a comment or share your thoughts below or through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey!

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For more practical and in depth tips on improving your Confidence and your Partnership with your horse, order my book “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order from Lulu.com.
 
My paperback book is NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.com!

 

Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

Confident Horsemanship with Anne Gage – Putting you and your horse in good hands.

Women in Transition – An Equine Guided Workshop

Video

October 26th – 1 day workshop in Mulmur, ON (north of Orangeville)

This workshop is open to women of all ages & no previous horse experience is required.

Change equals risk. Whether we resist it or embrace it, change is inevitable in life. Most people fear change and prefer to stay in the comfort zone of the known and familiar.

In this workshop, we will look at the resistance to and fear of change as well as some ways to not only get through it, but to approach change in a positive way.

You will learn how to:
stay focused
let go of the need to be in control
reduce emotional attachments to outcomes
reduce your concerns about failure

When you implement these strategies, you will feel less frustration, increase your drive to make change happen and have increased confidence and self awareness. For more information or to register, visit www.annegage.com/events.html. The workshop is limited to 8 participants – only 2 spaces remaining.

Horse Training: Stopping Your Horse from Grabbing Grass

Aside

I recently read an article by Julie Goodnight in The Trail Rider magazine in which she gives advice on how to stop a horse from grabbing grass while being ridden.

I took exception to this article right from the 2nd sentence in her reply:

“Snacking on the trail is a rude behavior and may be a sign that he doesn’t accept your authority.”

Far from being rude, “snacking” is a perfectly natural behaviour for a grazing animal.  An animal who is designed to travel long distances to find food and then to eat food whenever he finds it available.   It has very little (if anything at all) to do with the horse accepting “your authority”.

“While some riders allow the behavior and think of it as a horse’s natural instinct to graze constantly, it’s important to think about how horses act when part of a herd—and how they associate food with dominance.” (Julie Goodnight)

In their natural state, horses are grazers.  They DO have a natural instinct to graze constantly.  They DO NOT have a natural instinct to be aggressive and dominant about food – unless food is in short supply.  In the wild, horses travel many miles every day to graze.  They don’t live on lush pastures.  In fact, many wild horses live in areas with very sparse vegetation.  As prey animals, they know that their safety depends upon working collaboratively with their herd mates and that fighting over food is a waste of valuable energy.

“In the herd, horses establish the herd hierarchy by determining who controls food and water. Dominant horses always eat first and will run the subordinate horses away from the food supply until they’ve had their fill.” (Julie Goodnight)

Horses don't waste energy fighting over food when resources are plentiful.

Horses don’t waste energy fighting over food when resources are plentiful.

This behaviour may be seen in domestic herds, but it is created by over crowding and a lack of resources.  When food and water are always available, and the herd hierarchy is well established, this behaviour is not part of the normal herd dynamic.  Bring a special treat into the herd and you will see some pushing and even aggressive behaviour.  But, treats are – well – ‘treats’ because they are not always available.

So, I am disappointed and disturbed by Julie Goodnight’s suggestion that this behaviour is rude, a challenge to the rider’s authority and must be corrected.   Her method of “correction” requires the “domination” of the horse by the rider by whatever amount of pressure is necessary to get the horse to “re-think” his behaviour.

That way of thinking – dominance vs submission – is pretty popular even in so called ‘natural horsemanship’.

I think we can do and be better than that.

For the horse, his behaviour of eating grass that is there on the ground all around him makes sense.   The horse is NOT trying to frustrate and dominate the human who is riding him.  Just the opposite, the horse is an honest, straightforward, and social creature whose nature has been unchanged for tens of thousands of years.

We humans tend to take things personally and interpret the horse’s behaviour from our own self-centered needs and wants to have things done our way – what I want, how I want, when I want.  The horse grabbing grass while being ridden is an inconvenience and a disruption for the rider and so she sees the behaviour as unwanted or ‘bad’ and somethng that must be corrected.

Correcting the horse involves “consequences” (i.e. punishment) of some sort.  For example, the technique suggested by Julie Goodnight in the article:

“No matter what type of pressure you use, the consequences of eating without your authorization need to be harsh enough to overpower your gelding’s urge to eat.”

What happens when we change our perspective so that we see the behaviour as something perfectly natural and normal for the horse?

We train more intelligently and without abuse – that’s what happens.

Here is what I would do to change this behaviour.

First, the rider must be paying attention to the horse and what is in the environment.  When your focus is on your horse, you can feel subtle changes in his movement that signal where his focus is and what he is thinking about doing.  The sooner you notice the horse preparing to reach down for a bite of grass, the more pro-active you can be to prevent him from doing it.

Then, the rider must be ready to prevent the behaviour.  To be effective, the rider must be balanced and supple in the saddle and ride with contact on your reins.  As soon as you feel your horse pull his head down, close your fingers on your reins (to block) pressing your knuckles into his neck if necessary so you don’t get pulled out of your saddle.  At the same time, send him forward from your seat and leg.  A horse who is moving forward from his hindquarters cannot lower his head as easily.

The more consistent you are with your aids, the sooner the horse will give up the behaviour.  If you are re-training a horse who has been allowed to eat while being ridden, be prepared for the horse to look to pull down harder and refuse to move forward.  He will most likely object to this change from being allowed to not being allowed to eat.  It always takes more time to un-train an existing behaviour.  Just think of how difficult it is for any of us to change a habit.

If you enjoy it when your horse has a ‘chew’ while your out for your ride, then teach him a cue that says ‘ok you can eat now’.  I do this by asking my horse to halt and stand quietly for a moment.  Then, I release the reins and gently tap or stroke her shoulder.  When it’s time to move on, I ask her to move forward from my seat and leg taking up my reins again as she lifts her head.

This way, we both enjoy the ride.

YOUR TURN

What are your specific challenges with your horse?  What training methods have you used?  Please  leave a comment or share your thoughts below or through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey! 

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You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

Confident Horsemanship with Anne Gage – Putting you and your horse in good hands.

Women, Horses and Smooth Transitions – It’s about more than riding

Transitions.  Change.  Turning points.Winding path through trees

You can’t ride a horse without performing transitions – unless you’re just sitting on the horse not going anywhere.  But, even if you don’t ask for it, at some point the horse is going to move – because that’s what horses do.

And if  you ask your horse for a transition, but you or your horse (or worse, both of you) are not balanced, supple and in sync with each other, you’ll be in for a bumpy ride.  It won’t be pretty, it won’t happen quickly and you won’t enjoy it.

Transitions are also a part of life.  Here we are in late summer transitioning into fall.  The Swallows have left the barn for their long flight to South America for the winter.  And, I’m hearing more Blue Jays and Chickadees in the trees.  Some of my friends have just sent their young adult children off to the first year of university and others are becoming first time grandparents.

It doesn’t matter whether the change is thrust upon you or something you choose; whether it happens quickly or evolves slowly; whether it’s a small change or a huge one; whether you’re 18 or 78.  Letting go of the old and accepting the new is challenging.  It’s a process – a journey.

“Where has the time gone?” is a question we all ask at the different stages of life.  Events like your child’s first or last day of school, the birth of a grandchild, the death of a parent, a change in career or relationships, retirement are all points along our journey that cause us to remember the transient nature of life.  But instead of fearing and bemoaning these changes as we suffer a mid-life crisis, we can ride forward through them.

In riding, smooth transitions require the horse and rider to both be supple, balanced and in anne-hennessey-small.jpgsync with each other as they move forward through the change of gait.  It is the same in life transitions.

  • Developing Inner Stillness helps you quiet the loud, non-stop chatter in your head (the monkey mind) so that you can connect with your inner voice.  The voice that whispers guidance to  you quietly so that you can reflect, re-evaluate and get clear about your true priorities.
  • Identifying Obstacles that hold you back from letting go of the old and moving on with the new.   Only when your recognize what the obstacles are can you develop a plan to go through, over, under or around them.
  • Discovering Resources and Strategies that will help you create and take the actions that will keep you moving forward into your new reality.
  • Connecting with a Supportive Community that helps keep you safe as you explore your feelings and connect with your authentic self; keeps you motivated and focused on your journey; and helps you build your confidence.

If  you find yourself (or someone you know) stuck in this state of transition or could use some guidance and support as you move forward through whatever change is happening in  your life, the “Women in Transition” Equine Guided workshop may be right for you.  I’m collaborating with my friend and fellow horse woman, Dr. Victoria Creighton.  The workshop is on October 26th at her gorgeous farm in Mulmur, Ontario, and her 3 lovely horses will be our guides as we work through each of the four areas mentioned above.

Fall is a wonderful time for re-evaluating where we have been, where we are, and where we are going in our lives.  Then, when winter arrives, we can take time to hibernate and incubate new ideas, thoughts and feelings as well as plan the actions we’ll take to move forward.  Because we must move forward or we stagnate.

Your Turn

What do you struggle with when you’re facing a transition? What are your specific challenges in the four areas mentioned above? Leave your thoughts below as a comment or through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.