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.
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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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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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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!

How to Lunge Your Horse Successfully

This article was originally posted in August 2012.  But, I thought it was worth repeating because I see many people struggling with lunging their horses in a way that benefits the horse.

At a recent clinic, one woman had given up lunging her horse because he was so difficult to control.

Others are afraid of hurting their horses (or getting hurt themselves), because their horses behave ‘wildly’ on the lunge line.

And, then there are the people (like the one who sent me the following email) who are frustrated because their horses simply ‘won’t go out to lunge’ and always turn in to face the person.

                                                                                   

“I have a young Gelding who was broken in without any lunging experience. When it come to introducing this to him it seems like we are working backwards. I am really struggling to teach him to understand what i am asking of him. We get a couple of good circles which always follows with him turning to face me. Would really appreciate some advice on how to improve this in the correct way. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Regards Emma”

                                                                                   

“My horse won’t lunge” is a common complaint of many horse owners.  Lunging can be a positive and effective way of working with a horse when it is done in a way that helps the horse be balanced and relaxed.  Some of the problems people have when lunging their horses are:

  • the horse won’t go forward
  • the horse turns in and faces the person
  • the horse bucks, rears or bolts away from the person
  • the horse races around the circle unbalanced and counter bent

If your horse won’t lunge properly and safely then the problem just might be your alignment and where you are sending energy in relation to your horse.

When you’re lunging, you’re really just pushing the horse around you in a circle.  Since horses communicate through body language, they are super sensitive to your posture, energy and alignment to him.  Alignment simply means where your core hips and shoulders are aimed in relation to your horse’s head, shoulder and hips.

If you lunge using the traditional method I was first taught, you create a triangle with your horse as the base, you as the point and your arms as the sides.  Then you lead with your left foot (lunging to the left).  The problem with this position – especially for sensitive horses – is that the horse reads the line of energy coming from the left side of your body and that energy gets in his way.  Depending on your horse’s personality, he will either turn in to face you, refuse to move forward, or buck, rear or bolt away.

The photo below illustrates the best position for lunging your horse.  My core or centre (where my belt buckle is) is aimed into the centre of the horse’s shoulder.  My left shoulder is open – that is pulled slightly away from  – the horse’s head.  My right hip is angled towards the horse’s hip. I am walking around a small circle with my right foot stepping slightly towards the horse’s flank and my left foot stepping slightly towards his girth.

Lunging Alignment

Photo credit – Deborah Wilson

One way to get a feel for this posture and way of stepping is to push a wheel barrow in a circle.  If you want the wheelbarrow to move in a circle to the left, you must angle your body slightly into the arc of the circle.  Your left shoulder (on the inside of the arc) will be open or slightly behind the right (outside) shoulder.  Your hips will be aligned with your shoulders.  Your right foot will step forward and slightly out of the arc.  Your left foot will step forward and slightly towards the outside of the arc.  Try taking the same position and stepping in the same way when you lunge your horse.

From this position, you can direct your horse’s forward movement while controlling where his shoulders and hips go by sending pushing energy to the appropriate part of his body.  You can talk to him through your own body – your hip, arm or core can all send pushing energy.  If necessary, the end of your lunge line or a lunge whip can be used to create stronger driving energy.  For example, to ask your horse to go forward, push into his flank with your nearest arm or by swinging the end of your lunge line or the lash of a lunge whip towards the flank area.  The flank is the “button” where one horse pushes or bites another horse to tell him or her to “go forward”.

Always bring the rope or the whip’s lash from the ground upwards towards the horse.  For more push, continue with this movement increasing the RPM’s (rounds per minute) of the lash in this circular movement.  You don’t need to hit your horse with the whip, just twirl it faster.  This movement is much less aggressive to the horse than snapping the whip.

Correct lunging alignment

Walk around on a circle – core aimed at your horse’s shoulder. In this photo, the woman is bringing the whip towards her horse’s hip to push her hindquarters out of the circle a bit more.

The photo above (taken at a recent clinic) shows how you can use the same technique to send your horse’s hips or shoulders away from you.  For example, if your horse is pulling out of the circle, you would push his hips out which will bring his front end in If your horse is turning in towards you, you would block or push his shoulders out.

Once you are working with the correct alignment between yourself and the horse, and pushing the right “buttons”, your horse should go forward in a relaxed, willing and cooperative way.

Click here to watch my video showing the correct alignment for lunging.

Try adjusting your alignment when lunging your horse then 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

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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
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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.

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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

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Are You Really Listening to What Your Horse is Saying?

Aside

I read the following thread on a forum in the ‘horse training’ section. 

I’ve started working with one of the horses at the barn and I’ve noticed that when I ask him to do a game such as “Hide the Hiney”, he pins his ears back but shows absolutely no aggression towards me. With all the other ground work we do this is the only game in which he does this. He is a very gentle horse and always does what I ask. I was just wondering why he is pinning his ears back and is it something I need to be concerned about? Also if it is a concern how can I teach him to not pin his ears back when playing games? Thanks for all your help!

I admit that I am not familiar with this game of “Hide the Hiney” and had to do a Google search.  It’s one of the games taught by Parelli to get the horse to move his hindquarters.  If you (like me) haven’t seen it before, here’s a short video showing someone doing it with her horse.

There were 3 comments in this post that really caught my attention:

1) he pins his ears back but shows absolutely no aggression towards me

Horses’ ears are an important part of their body language and the messages they give should not be ignored.  Ears that are pinned flat back are a sign that the horse is annoyed.  Not every horse that is annoyed will act aggressively, but it should always be seen that the horse is giving a warning.  Pay attention to it.

2) this is the only game in which he does this

At the very least, it means the horse does not like what you are doing.  So something about this particular ‘game’ is annoying this horse.  The horse in the video also seems to be annoyed by it.  Watch for the spots in the video where he pins his ears back (there are a few). And watch the expression on his face.  Not happy.

Remember ‘show and tell’ from kindergarten?  Horses show and tell us how they are feeling through their posture and body movements.  The raised head and pinned ears of the horse in this video tell that he is not happy about something that is going on.  An empathetic trainer (yes, that means you whenever you work with your horse), pays attention to the horses signals and does her best to figure out what is causing that behaviour.

Is the horse just challenging because he doesn’t want to do that movement?  Then how can you break it down to make it simpler and easier for him?

Is the horse confused by something you are doing? How can you adjust your body language – position, posture and energy – to make it more clear to him?

Is he being affected by something else in the environment?  How can you bring his focus and attention back to you while keeping him feeling calm, safe and secure?

3) how can I teach him to not pin his ears back when playing games

Now this question really concerned me!  Even if you can, you shouldn’t teach a horse to not pin his ears back.  That would be like putting duct tape over your mouth.  If you want to really have a true bond with your horse, he must be allowed to express how he is feeling.  And he does that by showing it with his body language.  It may be a game for you, but it’s not a game your horse enjoys.  Ask yourself what the point of the ‘game’ is and look for another way that will get the same result, but that your horse doesn’t get annoyed about.

We use body language cues as a large part of our communication, too.  Many years ago, I used to not like being hugged by friends and had a friend who was unrelenting ‘hugger’.  I knew every time I met her, she was going to hug me.  I didn’t like it, but I did like my friend.  So, I would think ‘uh oh, here it comes’ and brace my entire body.  She would give me a hug and I would stand like a rock enduring it until it was over.  Now, my friend knew I didn’t like her hugs, but she was convinced that she was going to change how I felt by forcing her hugs on me.  I tolerated it, but didn’t enjoy it.  Your horse can feel the same way about some things that you are doing.  Pay attention to his body language and respect how he is feeling.  Try changing your approach.  Change how you are asking – your position, your posture, your energy.

Your horse’s body language will tell you when you’ve got it right for him.  And then you can both enjoy the game together.

Pay attention to his cues.  Don’t try to turn them off because they ‘bother’ or ‘concern’ you.  Honest, direct communication is a key part of any healthy relationship.  Respect and honour your horse’s right to express his feelings so you know what he needs.  This will strengthen your bond with him.

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Watch for my book coming soon – “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”

 

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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Ground Work – Putting it in (Your Horse’s) Perspective

Back in the days when I was training and showing hunters, we didn’t do much ground work with our horses.  Lunging was for “getting the bucks out” or taking the edge off before riding.   Round pens were for cowboys and cowgirls.   Either way, my perspective was that ground work involved chasing the horse around in endless circles for some predetermined length of time.  I didn’t enjoy doing it and I don’t think my horses enjoyed it either.  It was probably a good thing that I didn’t do much of it back then.

But, my perspective about ground work has changed over the past several years.  Now, I know that ground work is much more than lunging or round penning.  It is an integral part of working with horses in all levels of their training.  Ground work includes everything we do with horses while we are standing on the ground.  Leading, grooming, feeding, tacking up – even going out to the paddock or field to get the horse – it’s all ground work.  And, it’s all training.   And, it’s probably the most important part of training.  Certainly, it’s the most important part of building a relationship with a horse.

“Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it”. ~ Marian Anderson

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How you approach a horse sets the tone for everything else you will do with him.  It determines how the horse feels about you.  Are you a threat or not?  If you are not a threat, will you keep me safe or make me more vulnerable?  Can I relax because you are looking out for me or do I have stay alert for possible dangers?  These questions represent your horse’s perspective of being with you.

If you want to establish a positive bond – a real connection – with a horse, then as soon as you meet him, you should be really looking for how he feels.   How does he approach you? Does he ignore you altogether, push into your space or seem worried about you coming into his space?  The horse is looking at you with the same questions.  Taking into consideration the horse’s perspective of your interaction, never make assumptions or take it for granted that just because he is a horse and you’re a human, it’s OK for you to                             (fill in the blank) with him.  It’s not OK for you to assume to walk up and pat him.  It’s not OK for you to assume that when you ask him to move that he will say ‘yes’ without question.  It’s not OK for you to assume that he understands what you’re asking or that he is physically and mentally able to comply with your requests.

To understand the horse’s perspective, you must be willing to listen – to really listen – without having assumptions, preconceptions, and judgements.  Check your ego at the barn door or the paddock gate.  Then check in with your horse.

“The saddest part about being human is not paying attention. Presence is the gift of life.” ~ Stephen Levine

Listening to your horse requires observing and being aware of the subtleties of his body language, muscle tension and focus.  Everything a horse does has meaning.  He communicates through his behaviour – he has no other option.  If you notice that your horse is anxious, distracted or stressed in any way, you can help him feel calm, relaxed and safe in your company through positive, meaningful ground work.  Ignoring or becoming frustrated or stressed about his behaviour while rushing to get him groomed and tacked up for your ride, will do nothing to help him feel good about the experience or about being with you.  Nor will it put him in the best frame of mind for being ridden.

Even if your horse is well behaved, you may feel like you don’t really have the type of bond or connection with him that you would like to have.  Considering things from your horse’s perspective can help you understand why this might be.  The horse’s main priority is his safety and security.  Unless he is with someone (horse or human) who he knows is looking out for him, he will be vigilantly on alert for potential danger.  He can’t help it. He is hard-wired to do this.

Ground work is the place to start building an understanding of any horse’s perspective – to develop true empathy for the horse.  You can both safely get to know each other and establish a positive relationship – the bond you both want – when you start from the ground.

What Your Horse Wants You to Know:

• I need to know who you are. Introduce yourself and greet me politely.

• Be clear about what you want me to do or to learn.

• Understand that I won’t forget a bad experience. You can replace the memory with positive experiences.

• I need to learn new things in small parts so I can understand what you want me to do.

• I need time to think and process information.

• Keep my lessons short and don’t make me do the same thing over and over.  Recognize when I try.

• Respect my nature.  Despite my size and power, I feel vulnerable.

• Pay attention to my mental and physical needs. I can’t learn or perform well if I am sick, injured, hungry, in pain or anxious

• Treat me with kindness and respect.

“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.” ~ Dale Carnegie

If you would like to help spread the word about a better way to work with horses, please share this blog with 5 friends, send a Tweet or post 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
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

Horse Training – Demanding vs. Earning Your Horse’s Respect

I recently read an article by a Well Known Clinician in which she was offering tips for training a horse that did not want to go out on the trail alone. I agreed with her on several points:

  • The reason this is such a common problem – horses are reluctant to leave the security they feel with their herd mates.
  • That it would not be an overnight fix, but would take at least several weeks of training to resolve.
  • That the work would have the benefits of making the horse safer and more willing.
  • That ground work must be the starting point of the re-training.
  • That the horse needs to have his attention on you (the trainer/rider) rather than on his herd or distractions in the environment.

But, I disagreed with the Well Known Clinician’s instructions to:

  • “demand respect”,
  • not let him “get away with” small disobediences, and
  • “make him walk through” things that he is avoiding.

The words we use affect our behaviour.  What feelings and thoughts come to your mind when you hear the word “demand” or the phrase “don’t let him get away with …” or “make him do it”?  What comes to my mind is aggression, force, conflict.  There is a winner and a loser.  It feels dictatorial and unsympathetic to the needs and feelings of the other party – whether that is a human or a horse.  This way of thinking, in my mind, sets up a “master/servant” type of relationship.

When I work with horses, my aim is to create a willing partnership based on respect, trust and cooperation.  These elements are much stronger when they are earned rather than demanded.

Respect is earned by having clear, consistent and appropriate boundaries.

Trust is earned by paying attention to what the horse needs and then giving him that.

Confidence is built by decreasing his stress and helping him to feel calm and safe.

I want the horse to choose to follow me not because he is afraid of me, but because he feels safe with me – mentally as well as physically.

Behaviour is communication.  If the horse is not behaving or responding the way I would like him to, I don’t consider that as “disobedience”.

Rather than “not letting him get away with small disobediences”, I consider why the horse has a certain behaviour.  For example, if he won’t stand still for mounting I consider possible reasons.  Is he experiencing pain, anxiety or fear?  When I address the reason and give the horse what he needs to be calm and relaxed, then he will be able and willing to stand quietly.

Rather than “making him walk through things he is avoiding”, I consider his perspective as a flight, prey animal.  If he is concerned about a particular object, I will work with him in his “comfort zone” and gradually expand that area while I help to keep him in a calm, level frame.  In this way, I build his trust in me and his confidence increases.

When you earn your horse’s respect and trust, he will become more willing and confident – naturally.   You horse will feel safe, calm and relaxed whenever he is with you – even when he is away from his herd mates.

Click here to watch a short video (6.29 min) to see how I apply these principles when working with a horse in-hand (leading in contact) to build trust, respect and confidence.

Please do post your comments or questions below.

If you would like to help spread the word about a better way to work with horses, please share this blog with 5 friends, send a Tweet or post on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.
 
You are 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/ConfidentHorsemanship
www.twitter.com/AnneGage