Confident Rider Tip – Managing the ‘What If’s’

Whether you’re suffering from ‘show nerves’ or are afraid to ride at all, you may have been told by your friends, your coach, or even said to yourself – “It’s just in your head”.  

"Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed." Michael Pritchard

It’s true that fear exists in our brains.  There’s a perfectly natural and instinctive program that starts automatically when our brains believe we are in danger.  It’s meant to keep us safe and prevent us from doing things that could cause us physical harm.  The problem is that when it interferes with your enjoyment of riding or showing, then fear is no longer your friend.  

Your brain can’t tell the difference between a real or an imagined danger.  So, when we ‘think’ we might be hurt in some way, that fear alarm is triggered.  The perceived ‘hurt’ might be potential physical injury or emotional (i.e. embarrassment, judgment, etc.)

The good news is that you can take control and manage that fear – whether it’s a mild feeling of stress, a stronger anxiety or an out right shaking in your boots fear.  

You solve any problem at the root of it.  And, the root of the fear is in your head – your thoughts.  When fear controls your thoughts, you go into that negative spiral of the ‘what if’s’.  You ‘think’ that whatever you are about to do is not going to end well.    Riding becomes miserable instead of fun.

The good news is that you can influence your thoughts to build your confidence.  To control those show nerves. To have fun riding your horse.

Change your thoughts and you change how you feel.

Simple advice.  But most people struggle with it.  Take these 3 steps to do it successfully.

Step #1 – Be aware of what you are thinking and saying.  You have about 50,000 thoughts every day!  And you’re unaware of most of them.   As you go through your day, notice how often you use dis-empowering, negative phrases.

Perhaps some of these phrases sound familiar.

  1. “I don’t know what to do!”
  2.  “I’m stuck.”
  3. “This won’t work.”
  4. “This is too much for me.”
  5. “I’ll never get this.”

Notice the emotions you have when you are talking to yourself and to others.

Step #2 – Write down your thoughts.    Keep a journal (on paper or digitally) where you record your negative thoughts.  Write them down as soon as they happen (or as soon afterwards as you can) so that you can record them as accurately as possible.    Note what was going through your mind and what you were doing at that moment.   Also notice the emotions you were feeling.  What came first, the thought or the feeling?

You may find writing down negative thoughts and feelings is difficult.  You may prefer not to face them, feel afraid or even think they are stupid.  But, ignoring the negative thoughts and feelings won’t make them disappear – it just makes them stronger.  You’ll deal with them in the next step.

Step #3 – Flip those negative thoughts on their heads. Once you’ve recorded and become aware of your most common negative thoughts then you can re-write them into empowering phrases that build your confidence.   By changing a negative to a positive statement or question, you give your sub-conscious mind a problem to solve.  It loves solving problems.  So, it will go to work figuring out an answer.  You will move forward.  It will work. You will be able to handle it.  And you will get it.

Here are 5 more examples of confidence-breaking phrases and their confidence building alternatives:

“I’m afraid my horse will spook”  becomes  “I admit that I have a fear my horse will spook. What help can I get to work through this?”

“I hope I don’t fall apart in the show”  becomes “I have prepared myself and my horse well for this show.  We will do our best.”

“I can’t do what my coach wants me to do”  becomes “There’s something I’m not getting yet. I can ask for more help and I can practice more. I know I will get it eventually.”

“I’ll never get these transitions right” becomes “We’ve only been working on these movements  for a short time.  It takes time to get them consistently.”

 “I can’t afford riding lessons or training” becomes “This is something that’s really important to me.  I need xx dollars.  I just need to figure out a way to make that extra money.”

Taking these 3 steps may seem difficult at first.  But the more often you do it, the more natural it becomes.  Practice changing your thoughts to evoke positive emotions and your confidence will grow. 

Share your ‘what if’ and the positive alternative below.  Can’t think of a positive alternative? Post your negative thought & I’ll help you out.


Want more tips on Winning the Mental Game?  Join me on January 8, 2014 at 7pm EST for a free online video training – Confidence with Horses – 3 Actions To Take Now to Be More Confident in the New Year!  To register,  click here.


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

Confident Rider Tip - Focus on progress instead of perfection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Horse Training: 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?

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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!

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

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bw horse rider doorway

What one thing distinguishes good riders from not-so-good riders and fearless riders from fearful riders?  It is their mindset.  You may have seen a less talented rider do better than a very talented rider in a competition, in a lesson or just riding down a trail.  Your mind set either pushes you forward or holds you back.

Here are 7 tips to help you develop a more positive mindset whenever you’re with your horse.

  1. Be here now. Stay present and in the moment by focusing on the cues from your  horse and your body.  When you pay attention to what is happening now in this moment, you become pro-active rather than reactive.  You can prevent things from falling apart – even if it’s only falling apart in your mind.
  2. Stop worrying about the outcome.  Focus on building a solid foundation and taking each step that is needed for you and your horse to be able to perform well whether that’s on the trail or in the show ring.
  3. Let go of what others might think about your performance.  Stop trying to read other peoples’ minds.  People who care about you will support you.  The opinion of anyone who doesn’t care about and support you is not important.  Let it go.
  4. Leave distractions and stresses from your life at the barn door.  You really don’t want to take them along for the ride.  If you really want to, you can pick them up on your way out of the door.  Or you can also just decide to leave them there permanently.
  5. Let go of striving for perfection.  In riding (as in many things in life) there is always room for improvement.  Recognize where improvement is needed without beating up yourself (or your horse).  Refer to #2.
  6. Avoid over thinking or analyzing what you’re doing.  Being too much in your head takes you out of your body.  Riding well requires not only awareness of your own body and your horse’s body, but also being able to make a connection between you.  Think less.  Feel more.
  7. Make it a goal to have fun.  When you take things too seriously or only focus on results, riding stops being fun – for you and your horse.   You aren’t having fun if you are judging how well you did on every transition, turn, movement or jump.  When was the last time you just enjoyed being with your horse?

And you can get Free Instant Access to many more powerful tips about building your confidence, horse training and horsemanship by visiting my Facebook Fan Page

What’s your greatest mindset challenge when it comes to riding or handling your horse?  What ways have you found to improve your mindset?  Leave your answer in the comments. You can also ask me your most important question there as well.

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 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 notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

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

www.annegage.com
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Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
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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

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Are You Riding an Upside Down Horse? Learn what that is and how to fix it

In a lesson earlier this week, a student asked if it was okay that her horse was putting her head down while being ridden.  This student rides a nice little mare who is lesson horse at a fairly large and busy riding school.  The mare is one of the more popular horses and, as is the fate of nice, easy going horses, she carries around a lot of beginner riders.  In these ‘up down’ lessons, you most often hear the instructors saying (or shouting) phrases like “eyes up”, “heels down”, “up down, up down” and “pull on your rein”.

The young riders are keen and eager to canter and jump.  Unfortunately, the result is lots of bouncing on the horses’ backs, pulling and balancing on the reins and kicking to get the horses to go.  There is very little (well, usually no) focus on the horse’s frame and these up-down lesson horses have very poor postures accompanied with muscle soreness.

It’s really hard to carry yourself in correct posture – which requires  lifting your back and stepping well underneath yourself –  when there’s somebody pulling on your mouth and jamming your back as he or she bounces up and down trying to stay balanced .

Get a picture in your mind of the lesson horse with an up side down top line.  In the up side down top line, the muscles on the top of the neck, the back and the hindquarters are weak and lacking development.  The muscles on underside of the neck may be bigger (creating a ‘u’ neck) and the horse has the appearance of a ‘hay belly’.  The hay belly happens because the back muscles are weak and don’t support the weight of the abdomen so the belly hangs low.

In the right side up top line, muscles are developed on the top of the neck, the back and the haunches.  This shape is called ’round’ and is built by riding the horse from the back end to the front.  It requires suppleness, balance and lightness from the rider.

Long and Low Frame

Long and Low

In the lessons with this particular student and mare, I focus on exercises to help the horse stretch and strengthen her back muscles and engage her core muscles (yes horses do have core muscles, too).  These exercises encourage her to engage her hindquarters (bring her hind legs further under her body) which naturally lifts her back and brings her into a long and low frame.   So, yes, going with her head low is good because she is stretching the muscles on her top line.  It’s similar to you doing a nice forward bend in yoga.  It doesn’t hurt and you feel an ‘opening’ along your spine.

But, there is a difference between stretching and pulling.

Horse pulling down

Pulling down against contact

As long as the horse feels light in your hands, she is stretching and you allow her to stay in this frame.  However, if you feel like you’re holding your horse up or that you’re being pulled forward out of your saddle then your horse is falling on the forehand or pulling against you to try to get rid of the rein contact.  In either case, your horse is travelling on her forehand and not engaging her hindquarters.

To correct pulling or falling on the forehand, send your horse forward into a small circle.  This movement causes her to bring her inside hind leg forward and under herself.  She just shifted her weight back into her hindquarters lightening her front end.  Ta da!

As soon as you feel that change, you can come out of the small circle and go back to what you were doing.  The moment you feel her get heavy again, turn back into the small circle until you feel her lighten up in front.  You’ve broken the cycle of her leaning on you and you pulling against her or trying to hold her up.  (Really – if you can hold up a 1000 pound animal, maybe you should consider competing in weight lifting at the next Olympics!)

A couple of tips about using this technique.

  1. Make sure you are reading your horse’s bend correctly.  It won’t work if your horse has a left bend and you ask her to circle to the right.  Turn in the direction of her bend.  This is a good reason to work off the rail and use the centre of the arena more.  It’s hard to turn left when the wall or fence is on your left side.  If you are at least 6 feet off the rail, you have enough room to turn in either direction.
  2. Use your seat and legs to turn your horse. DO NOT pull her head into the turn with your reins.  (If you need more help with turning your horse, check out my article in the Mar/Apr issue of Horse Canada Magazine – sorry it’s not available on line – or get a copy of my new book.)

Give it a try and then share your results in the comments below.

Enjoy the journey.

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Now available in paperback! “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.

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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Horse Training Through a Child’s Eyes

“That horse looks angry, Mummy.” That was a statement made by a 6 year old child watching a popular clinician work with a young horse at a recent expo.

The bleachers were crowded  and overflowing with people enthralled by the demonstration.  This was day 2 of a 3 day series in which the popular clinician was starting a young horse under saddle.  Each session was an hour.  The horse, he had told the audience, before coming to the expo had been living a quiet life in a field and, although he had had a rider on his back a handful of times, he had not been worked for months.

On day 1, Popular Clinician, had done some ground work with the horse, saddled and bridled him and worked him at walk, trot and canter.

On day 2, he did the same.  P.C. worked with the horse before his session and the youngster was huffing and puffing as the session began.  His tail was clamped (a sign of fear) and he was showing obvious signs of stress – to be expected for a horse who was taken from a field and put into a small ring in front of about 1000 people.  After the work he did in day 1, you can bet he was feeling some sore muscles.

As P.C. worked the horse, he explained his training philosophy, talked about his travels and had the audience laughing with his funny stories.   The audience didn’t seem to be concerned about how the horse was feeling about what was going on.  But, the 6 year old noticed.

The 6 year old noticed because she wasn’t paying attention to the man in the middle of the ring.  She was watching the horse and she noticed how the horse was feeling because she noticed his body language.

There are many ways to train a horse.  Some trainers like to get the job done fast. Some prefer to take more time.  At expos, the sessions are often about keeping the audience entertained.

There are times in any training session when a horse might express fear or anger.  But, it is my belief that those should be ‘moments’ and there should be very few of them – especially if I want to earn the horse’s trust and respect, and build his confidence.  A sort of respect can be gained through fear.  But, that comes from ‘learned helplessness’ and it’s not the type of ‘respect’ I want to have.  Trust is never gained through fear.

As the horse sees that the trainer is not a threat to his safety, then he will give more expressions of calmness and relaxing.  The horse will feel good about what is happening.  He will feel safe.  He will give his trust and respect to the trainer.  He will even enjoy the work he is asked to do.

Next time you’re watching a popular clinician or a local horse trainer, try observing like a 6 year old.  If you’re watching their videos on YouTube, turn off the sound.  Pay less attention to what the trainer is saying and put your attention on what the horse is saying.  Do you like what you see?

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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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Is It My Horse or Is it Me?

I received an email the other day from someone asking for help with one of her 3 horses.  She has ridden and owned her own horses for several years and has no problems with the two geldings she started with.  But, the gelding she recently acquired has her frustrated and looking for answers.

Trainers have told this woman that she is too passive with her horses and that she ‘lets them get away with too much”.

The frustrations and challenges this woman has with her horse are common – especially with a new horse.  I’ve shared her email below to give you her full story.  Then I’ve focused on 3 points that stood out to me and gave me a good idea of what’s happening between her and this horse.

“My two geldings I’ve had this entire time have never challenged me. They’re pretty laid back, low-ranking horses.  I just got a new horse that’s a whole different story and he has exposed me. The trainer who sold him to me said he is going to take you to another level.  He also told me he was a “in your hip pocket” kind of horse.  So when he first start nudging with head and nipping when I pet him, I just thought he was being playful and friendly.  My other two horses don’t do this.   I wasn’t prepared.  It was subtle at first, then got worse and worse.  Then one day he literally ran over me trying to get in stall and push another horse out. That’s when I Googled for answers and discovered my horse had lost respect for me as his alpha horse and he was now the leader.

I start reading all I could on what to do to regain his respect and assume my role again.  So I basically started “herding” him in every situation I could.  I “free lunged” him in the arena and did the join up and had the licking of lips, yielding hindquarters, all that.   Even when I go out to feed twice a day I herd him to his feed instead of letting him walk behind me like I used to. But still, I felt like there was still something missing.  

The “willingness” to follow me or be my partner is not there. So I found myself still searching because I feel like his attitude is “I will move because you are forcing me to, but I don’t like you and I’m not doing it because I want to.”

I guess my question is, is this something that is going to come in time, or am I possibly being a bully by not understanding that even standing in the wrong position while herding him or using the lunge whip could be sending the wrong vibe?  Geez, this is so complicated to me.

Just when I think I have it right, by being lots more aggressive, I see that maybe I’m bordering on being bullying, causing him not to trust me, and still not getting the desired relationship, which is one built on respect and trust.  I just know that even after I lunge him and he licks his lips and follows me all around, if I attempt to rub him on neck or head, he will still nudge and semi-nip, like he is annoyed.

I am having trouble leading him as well.  I read that a horse is more confident following while being lead, so I tried that, but he is constantly trying to bump into me, plus it feels like he is “pushing” me, so I don’t think I should do that. Then when I lead him from shoulder, I am constantly having to bump my elbow to keep him out of space and he gets all wide-eyed and acts all offended.  

I am so discouraged right now.  I just want to get something right.  I feel like I can’t touch him, pet him, reward him, because when you give him an inch, he takes a mile. I will take any advice you can offer.  You have made the most sense to me than all the other articles combined!!! Thank you!

As I like to say, “you don’t always get the horse you want; you get the horse you need”.   But, I have good news for you – it may be simpler to change your relationship with your horse than you think.  I’ve picked out 3 points from the email that stuck out for me and give a pretty good idea of what is going on in this relationship.

1) “So when he first started nudging with me with his head and nipping when I pat him, I just thought he was being playful and friendly.  If I attempt to rub him on neck or head, he will still nudge and semi-nip, like he is annoyed.”  

Your horse is telling you that he does not like his face and neck being touched.   This is an ‘intimate’ area for horses and we need to earn the right to be in there.  I relate it to meeting someone you have just met or someone you don’t know very well who assumes to give you a great, big bare hug. It’s not a very comfortable feeling.  Some people just stand there politely and tolerate it.  Other people might have a more ‘volatile’ reaction – from stepping away to put some distance between them and the other person or even pushing the person away.

Humans greet each other face to face.  We share this trait with our dog and cat pets because it is a predator based behaviour.  Watch how horses approach each other when they are being passive or friendly.  They extend their lowered neck and head softly towards the other horse (or human).  The other horse extends his/her neck and they exchange breath. If they are bonded, they come closer bending their bodies away from each other and share in some mutual grooming – generally on the withers or along the back.

Only when horses are challenging or telling another horse to move out of their way do they approach with a high head and strong energy.  Going ‘head to head’ is aggressive, bullying body language in horses – picture 2 stallions fighting.  This is what colts and geldings are mimicking when they play halter tag.  Predators also approach the head and neck.

When you want to pat your horse, approach with softened body language (just soften the energy coming from your core), and walk in an arc to his shoulder.  Rub or scratch his withers (horses don’t pat each other).  This is the sweet spot that all horses like to have scratched.  Make sure you are standing with your weight away from his head/neck.  By that I mean, don’t cock your hip towards his head.  Try this with your horse and let me know how it goes.

2) So I basically started “herding” him in every situation I could.  I “free lunged” him in the arena and did the join up and had the licking of lips, yielding hindquarters, etc.  Even when I go out to feed twice a day I herd him to his feed instead of letting him walk behind me like I used to.  

Only horses that are bullies herd other horses all the time.  Instead of constantly asking him to move, enforce your personal space boundaries.  Carry a whip or a rope with you if necessary and just use it to extend your arm.  Keep it low – pointing at the ground and only bringing up as high as your waist if your horse needs a stronger message.  Move the whip back and forth to define your bubble.  Some horse’s are sensitive enough that just pointing the end of the whip towards them will get them to back off.  Others might need a stronger energy coming from twirling the lash. Always bring the lash from the ground up towards the horse because this is less aggressive than bringing it the other way.

When you put a new horse in with a herd, there is usually a bit of running for a few minutes.  But, soon everyone settles down and one horse (usually the 2nd in the herd hierarchy) takes on the job of keeping the new horse out of the herd.  She decides how close the new horse can come and as soon as she crosses the line, #2 chases her out.  Once she is outside of that line, #2 leaves her alone.  This is simply defining personal space. Eventually, that space gets smaller and smaller until the new horse establishes her place in the herd hierarchy.

3) I constantly have to bump my elbow to keep him out of space and he gets all wide-eyed and acts all offended.  

When you have established your personal space with your horse in the field, you may find that it is much easier to lead him without him crowding you.  There are two other things that might be causing this problem however:

i) If you are standing in just in front of his shoulder when you lead him, you are in that sensitive head/neck zone.

ii) If your core (belly button) is aiming towards his head/neck.

Both of these things relate to your alignment to your horse and can cause him to turn his head away from you which then causes his shoulder to push into you.  So you are constantly fixing what you are inadvertently causing.

When you lead from his shoulder, your hip should be lined up with the middle of his shoulder.  Your core and his spine should be on parallel tracks.  So, if there were laser beams coming out of your centre and your horse’s nose, they would look like train tracks in front of you.

The photo below shows me leading a horse from the shoulder with correct alignment.

Image

When establishing a relationship with your horse based on mutual trust and respect, don’t mistake being a ‘leader’ with being a bully or being a ‘friend’ with being a push-over.  The ideal relationship should be more like that of a bonded pair within the herd.  Although one horse will yield to the other, there is rarely any aggression between them and they enjoy hanging out together.

Isn’t that what you want with your horse?

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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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