Horse Training: Stopping Your Horse from Grabbing Grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think we can do and be better than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what I would do to change this behaviour.

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

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

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

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

This way, we both enjoy the ride.

YOUR TURN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“the nerves and anxiety take over.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your journey.

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

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

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

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

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

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your journey.

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

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

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

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

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

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

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

Helping the Horse with Separation Anxiety

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Question: “I recently adopted a horse from a rescue. She is kind, but nervous and gets really anxious when taken out of her paddock. She has had some down time at the new farm and has settled in with the herd she is turned out with. I’m not sure what to do and now I am getting nervous about handling her.  I am not very confident, but I do want to win the trust of this mare.”

Answer: This is not an uncommon scenario for anyone who has adopted or rescued a horse from the race track, a rescue facility or an auction. Giving these horses time just to adjust to the new environment and routines is as important as any training you do with them. There are so many adjustments they have to make in their new lives.  Horses coming from these types of situations may have had multiple owners or trainers, and may even have suffered from neglect or abuse. That is a tough life that does not engender much trust, respect or confidence in people or unfamiliar situations.

For the first few weeks (even months), simply focus on building a bond with your horse. All of your interactions with her should be centred on building mutual trust, respect and confidence between you. Having this bond will help resolve any herd separation anxiety.  By focusing on bonding with this mare through ground work – grooming, hand walking, lunging, long lining etc. – you can change this dynamic so that she feels as safe with you as she does with her herd mates.

Initially, to keep her stress level as low as possible, work with your horse where she is still close to her herd. This may be in the paddock (if it is safe) or just on the other side of the fence.

  1. Encourage her to come into a calm shape.  When a horse feels calm, her poll is level with or lower than her withers.  Picture a horse dozing or grazing.  You can change how your horse feels by changing her posture.   With contact on your lead rope, gently rock her head side to side with downwards pressure – be careful not to pull her head down.  Keep contact on the lead rope but don’t pull or jerk on it.  Jerking or pulling will make her feel more anxiety, cause her to throw her head up and keep adrenaline running through her system.
  2. Respect her need to move when she is anxious.  Remember that horses are flight animals and asking her to stand still will only cause her more stress.  Direct her movement by calmly sending her around you in a circle.   Having a long lead rope or even a lunge line allows you to send her a safe distance away from you if she gets too rambunctious.  
  3. Protect your personal space by keeping clear boundaries about how close you allow her to come to you.  Ask her to bend around you by massaging her girth just about where your leg hangs when you are riding.

Click on this link to watch a short video showing how this technique was used to help a mare with separation anxiety in the barn.

When your horse is able to maintain this calm shape, then gradually expand the distance from her herd. If either of you get too stressed, move back to your comfort zone where you can both exhale and regain calmness. This process might take several sessions, but is well worth the time and effort in the long run.

When you adopt a horse from a rescue, think of that horse as a foster child who has been passed from home to home and has never developed a trusting relationship with a human. He or she needs time to adjust to the new environment, de-stress physically and mentally, and build trust, respect and confidence in the new situation.  With consistency and calmness, your horse’s behaviour will improve and she will feel safe with you.   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
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Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
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Are You Really Listening to What Your Horse is Saying?

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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
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6 Tips on How to Become a Good Rider

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Here’s a summary of a post I just read on a horse forum.  The post was made by a beginner adult rider who started riding 3 years ago.  In that time she has:

  • missed 10 months due to a head injury (from coming of a horse)
  • has owned 3 different horses (2 different breeds)
  • has ridden with 3 different trainers
  • has tried several different horses (on trial to buy or in lessons)
  • has ridden in at least 2 different disciplines
  • is now looking to try another discipline AND possibly another breed of horse
  • gets bored if it’s too easy
  • wants to be challenged
  • needs to build confidence as well as riding skills

and she wanted to know how long it would take her to be able to ride a horse properly.   She describes herself as feeling ’embarrassed’  when 8 year old kids whiz by her riding the same horse she feels she could never ride.

Perhaps you recognize yourself or someone you know in some of what this woman is saying.  If so, consider the following tips.Consistency Matters

  1. No matter what discipline or breed of horse you choose to ride, it’s what you do consistently that makes the difference.
  2. Choose one discipline. Find a trainer you like and who is experienced with teaching beginner adult riders. Stick with that trainer and dedicate yourself to learning that discipline.
  3. Be willing to work through the ‘boring’ stuff as well as the challenging stuff.  This is what good riders do all the time.
  4. When your trainer agrees that you are ready for your own horse (one that won’t be too much for you and you won’t be bored off in a few months or a couple of years), have him or her help you find the right horse.
  5. Becoming a competent rider takes time – that means years – especially when you are starting out as an adult. How long it takes depends on:
  • your physical ability
  • your fitness level 
  • your commitment and dedication 
  • how often you ride and practice what you are learning in your lessons.

6.  Most importantly, take your time and enjoy the process. There really is no ‘destination’ when it comes to riding.

I have been riding for most of my life and am a professional trainer and coach. I am still learning and (I hope) improving.

The journey is worth it.  Please do share your thoughts on this post or your own journey in the comments section.

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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”
 
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
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Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
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How to Lunge Your Horse Successfully

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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.

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.

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.

The same technique can be used 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.

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Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  
 
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Anne Gage
Confident Horsemanship
www.annegage.com
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