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

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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.  

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship –Putting you and your horse in good hands.
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Horse Training: Evading the Bit – Why A Stronger Bit Isn’t the Answer

Seen on Facebook:  “Anybody know of a good bit to use on a horse that runs through commands and fights the bit? I need to try a new bit because the horse I’m riding has a hard mouth.

Jumble of bits

When your horse runs through or fights the bit, it’s called evasion.  Common bit evasions include:

  • Chomping, opening or crossing his mouth
  • Running away
  • Leaning on the bit
  • Shaking, throwing or tossing his head
  • Going behind the bit (nose to his chest.)
  • Going above the bit (nose straight up)
  • Tongue hanging out

Unfortunately, moving up to a stronger bit or adding a gadget (eg. draw reins) is a common solution.  While it may work in the short term, it doesn’t address the real source of the problem.

If you want to eliminate the problem and build a better,  more trusting and willing partnership with your horse read on.

Following are 3 causes of bit evasions and how to correct them.

Cause #1 – Dental Problems & Poor Bit Fit

Horses run from pain.  Sharp teeth, ulcers inside his mouth or an injury to his tongue will be aggravated by the bit – even in gentle hands.

The Correction – Have your vet or equine dentist check for sharp or broken teeth, ulcers and even damage to his tongue.    Just like you, your horse should have his teeth checked by a professional at least annually and in some cases every 6 months.

Cause #2 – Poor Bit Fit

If the bit is too wide or sits too low in the mouth, it will move around too much.  If it’s too narrow or sits too high, it will pinch and damage the skin and bars in the mouth.  Bits also cause pain if they are too fat, too thin or don’t leave enough room for the tongue or push up into the palate.

The Correction – Check the size of the bit and how it fits the shape of your horse’s mouth.  It should not stick out on either side of the mouth or pinch the corners of his lips.  It should be about ¼” wider than the measurement from lip to lip (corner to corner).  Find the style of bit that works with the shape and size of your horse’s mouth having enough room for the tongue, not pressing on the palate and fitting easily between the bars.

When fitted correctly, the bit sits quietly across the bars without pulling up the lips or moving up and down.  Remember “a wrinkle not a smile“.  For most horses, this means at least one but no more than two wrinkles in the corners of the lips  However, for some horses there may be no wrinkle at all.  Adjust as necessary to ensure the bit fits comfortably without sliding up and down loosely.  

Cause #3 – Busy or Unsteady Hands

Hands that are busy, unsteady, tense, see-saw,  pull or constantly bump the horse’s mouth cause pain and discomfort.  They are also the sign of a tense and unbalanced rider.

The Correction – Develop an independent seat.  You should never use the reins for support, balance or the primary means for controlling your horse.  Your hands must work independently from your seat so that you can influence your horse without creating tension or resistance.  You will be balanced, able to follow and work with your horses movement – applying your aids at the right time, with the least amount of pressure and without tension.

For your horse to be able to perform at his best and be a confident, trusting and willing partner, he needs to be pain free, balanced and relaxed.   You can help him develop this way of going by being a quiet, balanced and relaxed rider.

Your Turn – What do you do when your horse evades the bit or gets strong?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


Like this post? Share it with a friend, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  
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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).  
 
Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.
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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
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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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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: Stopping Your Horse from Grabbing Grass

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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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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.

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.

Do You Go to Battle if Your Horse Doesn’t Listen?

Image

Understanding

The following is an excerpt from a blog I came across recently in which the writer was offering suggestions for how to handle a a horse who won’t stop.

“Don’t treat him gently, thinking you can avoid the problem or dare to think he’s doing it because he’s frightened! He’s doing it because he’s a bully. Treat him like we should treat all bullies. Stand up to him. …

All the time you’re doing this your legs should be kicking. Forget about looking refined. This is war! You are up there to prove a point. You have made a decision to crack this habit and you need to kick on through it.”

The post ends with this statement:

“Remember that brute force will never work but for all problems there is always a solution. WE just haven’t found it yet.”

Well, I agree with the blog writer on one point – brute force will never work.  But it seems that her idea of brute force and mine are very different.

There are 3 things with which I disagree with the writer:

  1. “He’s doing it because he’s a bully.”  A horse’s main priority is his safety.  When he feels threatened or even suspects the potential for danger, his first defence is flight.  If he feels he can’t run away, then he’ll fight.   Mental stress as well as physical pain have the same effect.  If your horse doesn’t understand, feels pain or stress of any kind, he will be provoked into defensive behaviour like bolting, bucking, rearing, striking, kicking out, etc.
  2. “Your legs should be kicking.”  Kicking a horse makes no sense to me.  First of all, it makes your seat unstable, creates tension in your body and causes you to pull on the reins. Second, it does not give any clear signal to your horse of what it is you want him to do.  Good riding requires the rider to have an independent seat and quiet hands as well as the ability to give clear aids at the right time. This requires suppleness and balance so that you have the ability to feel your horse.
  3. “This is war!”  I want to have a partnership with my horse not be at ‘war’ with him (or any horse).  The foundation of the training scale is relaxation.  My goal is to eliminate resistance by helping my horse to be calm, relaxed and free of tension.  Kicking with the mindset of ‘winning the battle’ is counter productive.  It creates tension in both the rider and the horse.

The bottom line is this, if your horse is doing something you don’t want him to do or isn’t doing something you do want him to do, it isn’t because he is stubborn, stupid or bad in any way.  It is because he:

  • doesn’t understand
  • is frightened or in pain
  • it just doesn’t make sense to him
  • isn’t physically or mentally able to do what you are asking of him.

A good rider – a good horse person – who has empathy for the horse – will take the time to figure out what is getting in the way and fix it.  Even if that means changing something about themselves.

Your Turn!

What do you do when your horse does something you don’t want or doesn’t do something when you ask?

What other great questions or suggestions do you have? Please leave me a comment and share this post so others can benefit. Enjoy your journey!

5 Things You Must Do if Your Horse is Behaving Badly and You’re Losing Your Confidence

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I recently received an email from a young woman confused by her horse’s sudden change approaching jump smin behaviour.  She and her mare have been together for 3 years.  The first year, they showed in hunter, jumper and eventing competitions.  The mare was “a double clear, point and shoot, honest horse” and they worked well together.  Then the mare was off for a year with a foot injury.  When she started training again, the mare was going well and they began jumping higher fences.  All was going well until the rider was thrown at a fence during a show.

“I got back on did the next round which went okay. Then in the final jumper round, she threw me again at the last fence and by then I was just confused. I didnt know, and still don`t know what happened to our connection and our ability to work as a team over the courses. Since then she has thrown me 5 times, and we always have refusals during our jumping lessons and shows.”

Now the young woman doesn’t know what to expect when she’s jumping her mare. She’s tired of falling off and has become afraid of jumping – something she hasn’t experienced before. As she says

“the nerves and anxiety take over.”

When a horse’s performance changes for the worse, you need to do some detective work to get to the root cause of the problem.  Only when you know what the cause is can you apply the appropriate solution.

Horses are creatures of habit and only change their behaviour when something is getting in the way.  Following these tips can help you find the cause and the best solution to your horse’s performance problem.

1.  Check for a physical problem.   Horses can be sore without showing lameness or other noticeable signs.  It’s natural for them as prey animals to hide any sign of weakness which would make them a more appealing target for predators.  So horses can be very good at hiding muscle soreness or chiropractic misalignment.  It is possible that she has some lingering muscle soreness or a misalignment from when she had the foot problem.  You may have experienced this yourself that when one part of the body is sore, other parts take on extra work and can get sore.  Have an equine massage therapist or chiropractor (or both) give your horse a thorough examination.  They can find and relieve some physical problems that you or your veterinarian may have missed.

2.  Check saddle fit.  Horses’ muscle development can change with age and the amount and type of work they are doing.  Saddles also change with wear.  The stuffing can pack or break down and wrinkles can develop in the leather causing pressure points.  Since this mare had a year off from any work, her shape will be much different than when she was in regular work. Check the condition of your saddle and how well it fits your horse.  Here’s a link to some good videos about how to check saddle fit.  http://www.schleese.com/9PointChecklist.  A good saddle fitter can also help with the assessment and may even be able to make adjustments to your saddle so that it fits your horse better.

3.  Go Back to Basics with Your Horse. Training problems can also happen because the horse is moved along more quickly than she is physically or mentally ready to handle. Go back to the work your horse can comfortably perform and bring her along more slowly.  A good place to start is with flat work that helps strengthen her hindquarters and back – both necessary for jumping higher fences.   Then rebuild her confidence by working over poles, cavalletti and smaller jumps.

4.  Go Back to Basics with Your Riding.  Suppleness and balance are both very important components of good riding.  Suppleness is replaced with tension when riders lose their confidence.  The riders’ balance may be thrown off if they progress too quickly without having a solid independent seat.  Rider tension and imbalance impact the horse’s ability to perform well. Focusing on improving your seat and hands improves your softness, suppleness and balance in the saddle – which makes you a better partner for your horse.

5. Enlist your coach’s help.  Have a very honest conversation with your coach about how you are feeling.  Work with him or her to go back to a level of riding where both you and your horse are comfortable so that you can ride without tension, improve your seat and your riding position and your horse can develop the strength and suppleness for the work you want her to do.  As you rebuild  your confidence, your horse’s confidence and fill in any gaps in your riding foundation, you and your horse will become better partners for each other.

The most important thing to remember is that your horse’s behaviour is her communication.  When she has been performing consistently well and then suddenly changes, there is something getting in her way.  Figure out what the cause is and then you can work on the most beneficial solution.

I would love to hear what the greatest challenge is that you are facing with your horse right now?  What challenges have you faced and overcome?  Share in the comments below.

If you want to work with me live and in person to learn more strategies and techniques for increasing your confidence, improving your horse’s behaviour and building a stronger partnership with your horse, visit my website or contact me about hosting a clinic or workshop at your location.

Enjoy your journey.

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

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

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.

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

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
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Confident Rider Tip #2 – Decreasing Uncertainty Builds Confidence

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Most of us don’t like uncertainty.  Uncertainty makes us nervous – even frightened.  When you work with horses there is often uncertainty involved.  That uncertainty may be because you don’t know how something will turn out.

It may be about not knowing how your horse is going to behave in certain situations.  Will he let you catch him today? Will he spook in that corner of the arena?  Will he spook ‘at nothing’?   Will he be calm on the trail today?  What will he do when we go to the show?

Uncertainty is uncomfortable because it triggers the fight or flight centre of your brain causing fear, anxiety and even temporary mental or physical paralysis.  These reactions worked well for our prehistoric ancestors who had to be wary of dangers that threatened their lives every day.  I can only imagine what it would be like to come face to face with a sabre tooth tiger or a meat eating dinosaur.

But these reactions aren’t so great when they interfere with the pleasure of the activities you want to share with your horse.  You miss out on so many possibilities and amazing experiences.  You lose the magic of true connection and partnership.

You may have looked at other riders who never seem to be afraid and wondered if some people are born with a genetic predisposition that allows their brains to not go to that place.  There may be a very small number of people who do seem to have these genes.  They don’t seem to be triggered into fear as easily as the rest of us.  But that is a tiny, tiny part of the population.  For most of part, people are not born that way.

What most of us (including me) have to do is develop skills and practices that help us to take positive action in the face of uncertainty – despite the fear and anxiety that we feel.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t have it.  We simply learn to manage it.   People who are able to move through their uncertainty are able to take forward action because they turn that uncertainty into curiousity and creative thinking.  They ask better questions and are able to solve problems.

Horses don’t behave randomly.  There is always a reason for what they do.  It may be a learned response that needs to be “un-learned”.  It may be a natural response to a noise we don’t hear or a movement we don’t see.  It may even be a response to a subtle shift in your energy, your position in the saddle or posture on the ground.

When you become curious about your horse’s behaviour, you gain a better understanding of him and of his perception of the world.  You begin to see with certainty what causes his behaviour and then you can take actions to change it.  You can be pro-active instead of reactive.

So how do you become curious and ask better questions?  You start by staying in the moment.  That means you stop creating stories about what is going to happen.  You know that future thinking you do where you predict what is going to happen before it happens.  Things like – “he’s going to spook in that corner and he’ll bolt and then I’ll fall off and break something and end up laid up for weeks. OMG – I won’t be able to work or look after the kids.  …..”   STOP!

But, if you became curious and creative about the same situation your thinking would be more like this – “I know he doesn’t like that corner.  I wonder how I can help him deal with it better?  I could hand walk him around the arena until we both feel calm.  I need to remember to breathe and keep the tension out of my body.  I could lunge him in that corner.  I could ask my coach (or another competent rider) to ride him so I can see how they handle it and if he gets tense with them or maybe it’s my tension affecting him.  Maybe we just have a pattern about getting tense in that corner.  ….”

Did you notice how your body felt as your read those 2 different examples?  If not, read them again and pay attention to any physical reactions.

When you give your brain a problem to solve, that’s what it focuses on.  It can’t focus on 2 thoughts at the same time.  And your brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what you are making up.  So, when you focus on asking better questions your brain focuses on finding the answers and it cannot focus on anything else.  And, as you focus on solving the problem, your uncertainty decreases and you are able to take forward moving actions.

The more you do that, the more your confidence increases.

So, start asking better questions. Then share your results in the comments below.

If you want to work with me live and in person to learn more strategies and techniques for increasing your confidence, improving your horse’s behaviour and building a stronger partnership with your horse, visit my website or contact me about hosting a clinic or workshop at your location.

Enjoy your journey.

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

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

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.

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

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

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

Change This One Thing to Improve Your Horse Riding

Take a moment to look at the photo below and imagine that’s you riding your horse.

SONY DSC

What thoughts went through your mind?  Were they mostly positive or negative?  What did you physically feel when you had those thoughts?  Your thoughts affect how you feel not just mentally, but also physically.

The human brain can only hold one thought at a time.  We have an almost constant stream of 20,000 to 60,000 thoughts in a day.  We think at 300 words a minute.  We can’t go any longer than 11 seconds without talking to ourselves.

So, whatever you focus your mind affects the quality of all those thoughts streaming constantly through your mind.

And those thoughts also affect how your horse feels.Your horse is a master of reading even the most subtle body language.  So, even if you don’t recognize that your posture, energy, tension and movements have been affected by your thoughts, your horse picks up on it.

In the scene in the photo, if the rider gets nervous or frightened about the traffic going by, her horse (who might have been ok with cars and bicycles) reacts to her tension and also gets nervous.  With her body tense and her mind focused on the traffic, the rider becomes ineffective as she cannot give clear cues to her horse.  Both horse and rider are in ‘reactive’ mode.  There is no rational thought as the flight instinct kicks in to high gear.

But there is another (a better) option.  The rider can’t stop the flow of thoughts, but she can replace them with more helpful ones.

She can take her focus off the traffic and put it on her horse.  With focused awareness, she knows the vehicle is coming before it is beside her.  She asks her horse to bend away from the car (so if he spooks he will move towards the grass and not into the middle of the road.

With focused awareness, she also knows the cyclists are coming up behind.  She can wave them to pass on the far side, ask them to dismount and walk their bikes by, walk her horse up the driveway just in front of them or even dismount and settle herself and her horse from the ground.

When you focus on a problem, your end up in a negative cycle of thoughts that increases self doubt and decreases your confidence.  When you focus on finding a solution, you recognize there is (or could be) a problem and you look for one thing you can do to improve the situation.  Do that one thing and you will feel better. Then look for another way you can improve the situation.  When you feel better, you can help your horse feel better, too.

You have 20,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day.  Whatever you focus them on is what you will get – positive or negative; problems or solutions; self doubt or confidence.  It’s your choice.

How have your thoughts been affecting your rides?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

Enjoy the journey.

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

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

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.

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

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

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

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Have You Labelled Your Horse?

“Horses have as much individuality and character as people. ”                                 ~ C.W. Anderson (1891 – 1971)

Type “horse personality” into Google search and you’ll get 24,700,000 results (in 0.30 seconds).  There’s Parelli’s  ‘Horsenality’  where you define your horse as introverted, extroverted,  left brained or right brained.  There are websites that have tests you can take to determine your horse’s personality type.

Of course, horses are as individual as we are.  Shy, friendly, brave, confident, willing, anxious.  All these terms can be used to describe horses and humans.  But, while it’s important to understand your horse’s personality, it’s just as important not to put a label on your horse or fit him into a neat little box.

Labels limit our thinking and perception.  For example, if you believe your horse won’t do a particular movement or go where you want him to go because he is ‘stubborn’, you won’t look for any other cause for his behaviour.  Instead of understanding that maybe he won’t or can’t do what you are asking because there is something getting in the way, you use more force to get your way.

But, what if:

  • there’s a physical problem that makes it uncomfortable or painful for your horse to do that movement;
  •  he won’t go where you want him to go because you are not asking him in appropriate way or you have set inconsistent (or non existent) boundaries;
  • he won’t go in that corner of the arena or that part of the trail because there is something he hears or sees that you don’t.  Or maybe he feels the tension or hesitation in your body because  you’re not 100% comfortable with going there either.

If you put your horse in a personality box, you won’t look for any other explanation for his behaviour beyond “that’s just the way he is”.  Just like us, horses can be brave in one situation and fearful in another.   That pushy horse may simply be insecure.

Watch horses in a herd and you’ll see how they simply accept each other as they are in the moment.  When the overambitious youngster challenges an older horse, it is dealt with in the moment.  Once he shows signs of submission, the situation is over.  The herd doesn’t label him as a ‘trouble maker’.

As you peel the labels off your horse, do the same for yourself.  We carry labels, too.  Some placed by others and some we put there ourselves.  Labels like ‘not good enough’; ‘victim’; ‘nice’; ‘helper’; ‘clown’; ‘party girl’; ‘over sensitive’; fill n the blank ‘                   ‘.  If a label is boxing you in, it’s within your power to peel it off.

Today, give yourself and your horse a fresh start.  Peel away the labels.   Notice in each moment how your horse feels and how you feel.  If he is not behaving in the way you would like him to, get curious and ask ‘why’.

Look for another reason other than ‘that’s just the way he is’.  Look for another way to ask him.  Let your thinking go free – outside of the limitations of labels.

Share your experience with labels (putting them on or taking them off) in the comments below.

Enjoy the journey.

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

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

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.

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

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

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

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