Have you ever had the experience that you followed your horses’ lead and you found out something unexpected?
One day my clients horse was very obstructive. He wouldn’t let her mount, he kept walking away and when she finally managed -with a lot of patience- to sit down, he bucked. That was a bit out of character, so I asked her to dismount. The moment she did, her stallion immediately acted much nicer.
I asked her a lot of questions: did she know why he was suddenly bolting? Could he be sore from the day before? Did something change in the herd? Could one of the mares be in heat? And so on. Alle the answers were ‘No’. We decided to check his saddle. In the meanwhile I asked if she had done something out of the ordinary. She said: I saddled him in the outdoor arena. I put my saddle on the (wooden) fence. We checked his saddle and we found a huge splinter/piece of wood in his saddle pad that was bothering him. We got rid of the splinter, saddled the stallion and all problems where gone instantly.
We want friendship, partnership and to be a team with our horse. We always want the horse to listen to us. But shouldn’t we listen as often to our horse as the horse listens to us in a friendship? We are a team, right? Is your partner or team member allowed to vote or have a voice?
First sign your horse wants to talk to you
‘Disobedient’. If your horse needs to tell you an important message, he always will act differently. That is his only way to communicate he needs to tell you something important. I put the word disobedient between quotation marks because I don’t believe in disobedient horses. I do believe they have good reasons not to please us, if they do. ‘Listening’ to your horse isn’t listening. It is observing your horse. He is not ‘telling’ you his message, he communicates it through body language and actions. Remember that.
How to ‘listen’
OK, I actually mean ‘How to observe, so you can get the message‘. First, let go of your own agenda! What!? Yes!
Think about what you want from your horse when he is ‘not listening’ and he is trying ‘to speak to you’, then let your agenda go for a moment. You are not ‘losing’ anything when you give up your goal in that moment. You can only win. The horse wins. It will be a win-win situation. That will strengthen the team spirit.
Focus on what your horse needs in that moment. Open your mind. Focus on what you know about horses natural behaviours and needs. He needs safety, clarity, health, his herd and so on. What do you see: Does he wants to flee, does he freeze, what does he wants to do if you let him? What clues is he giving you?
Give your horse responsibility
Let your horse ‘talk’ to you by giving him a bit more freedom to see where he is leading you. What does his strange behaviour tell you? Can you think of a reason? Focus on his needs. If he is bucking, check the saddle, the saddle pad, the girth, his back and so on. Does he refuse to go into the arena? Where does he want to go?
Figure it out
Try to think of reasons why he doesn’t want to do what you want him to do. Especially when he normally doesn’t act this way. What has changed since the last time you asked this specific thing you want him to do? Did you change something? Did you do something you normally wouldn’t do? Do you think this is related? Can you check that?
Accept ‘not knowing’
Sometimes you don’t know the answer(s). So you can ask your horse again to follow your lead. If he still doesn’t want to please you, follow your gut. Not your ego. Your ego can’t stand that you don’t know the answer to the questions ‘What is wrong, my dear?’, so it will urge you to make decisions that makes ‘you look right’ (make the horse obedient).
Breathe, check in with your gut feeling. Just take a moment or two if you need to. Accept that you might not know the answer, sometimes you will never know. You only will know you did the right thing by listening to your horse and changed your plans or goal for that day. Sometimes you’re lucky and Captain Hind Sight makes it clear to you. Then you will be very pleased that you listened to your horse, not to other people.
I have hundreds of examples of listening to horses messages. What are your horses’ stories? I’d love to hear them.
What to do if your horse doesn’t listen? (A question about Clicker training)
How to build a relationship with our horse
Recipe for a Magical Bond
Keeping an open mind is a challenge
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Very useful advice! I sometimes find myself torn between letting my horse speak its mind and taking control myself, but slowly we’re getting there. 🙂
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Our latest one was when he politely pointed out that there was a thing running at us. I watched his ears and the slight angle of his head follow the something which I could hardly see (speedy brown rabbit on brown school surface).
Oops, hit send too early. Anyway, I was riding him at the time and once he’d told me where it was I could see it and steer us so it had room to make it to the fence and out of the school without going under us, which was best for all parties!
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Well done, Sparrowgrass
Interesting topic. I spent most of my horse owning life having it drummed into me that the reason horses “misbehaved” was because they were trying to get out of work. Therefore, it was my job to show them that resisting was not an option. It worked pretty well, actually, until a certain chestnut mare came along who would NOT get with the program. That set me on a different path entirely, but not without a lot of discouragement and grief and a myriad of other not very nice emotions. Keep up the good work – folks like me need all the help we can get unlearning this wrong stuff. https://ginakeesling.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/todays-peregrine-story-7-pulling-down-the-brick-walls/
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Thank you for sharing your story, Gisa. I think we all need that One Horse (a pony in my case) to teach US.
For most of my old geldings life “traditional” riders have been telling me how wrong it is that we had conversations instead of me giving him orders. I was one of those traditional riders but I didn’t care. What we do works, he has strong opinions on everything. When moving cattle he knows which ones need pushed and when, I drop reins and let him do his thing. When I offer my opinion he sometimes disagrees, he’s usually right. He may be, technically, better behaved when other people ride him but he also doesn’t give as much as he does for me, he shuts down and goes into auto pilot. He is an intelligent opinionated horse who has saved me more times than I can count it would be silly not to listen to what he has to say.
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