What do you do after a stressful day: are you going to ride or not? Enjoy my video.
What do you do after a stressful day: are you going to ride or not? Enjoy my video.
We have all encountered times when we think “Now what?” at the barn. Maybe you have already reached all your equestrian goals, maybe your horse became sick and needed rest, maybe you got injured, maybe you just bought a young horse, or a senior horse… We all need inspiration if we don’t know what to teach our horse next.
#1 Horse Agility (HA)
In HA you have to navigate your horse through an obstacle course while focusing on clear communication and positive horsemanship. Horse and handler are both on foot. Horse Agility can help build a very close relationship with your horse and it keeps your horse’s mind working constructively. Skills developed in HA are very useful in daily routines as well as in new and possibly scary situations. You can even enter online competitions these days where you send in a video.
#2 Trick Training (TT)
TT is a great way to improve the relationship with your horse. You become aware of your horses intelligence and it is a fun way to spent time together. There are many simple tricks that are suitable for horses of all ages, like smiling or playing fetch. Some exercises are beneficial and can increase the horses strength and flexibility like the classical bow or the back crunch.
#3 Training husbandry skills
If your horse already knows a lot of tricks, you can start improving your husbandry skills. Ever thought of teaching your horse how to be dewormed easily or preparing him for oral medication you might need to give him some day? Teach him to accept eye drops or ointment, practice hoof trimming, braiding, taking your horses temperature, teach him to stand in a bucket of water in case you need to soak his feet. The possibilities are endless and you never know when these skills come in handy.
#4 Trailer loading
Best way to train this is if there is no goal or time limit yet. Read here the 4 reasons to start practising trailer loading today. If you don’t own a trailer, this is worth renting a trailer for.
#5 Water training
There are so many situations in which water is involved. During the summer months you can have fun water proofing your horse. Think of soaking hooves in a bucket, hosing down your horse, crossing water (river, water splash, muddy puddles), water obstacles in HA, going for a swim with your horse, spraying your horse with a plant spray and so on.
I hope I have given you some ideas to expand your horizons. Have fun!
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.
Trailer loading can be a huge issue for horse people. Why? There are 2 components in trailer loading that play a major role: the horse and the handler.
The horse plays a big role. If he is fearful to go into that little box on wheels, it makes us nervous. Who wants to stand in a small box on wheels, next to 1000 pounds of unpredictable and unwilling animal that is trying to escape instead of willingly walking in?
Fear plays a major role in most trailer loading issues. In this blog I am not talking about the fear in horses. I think they can be trained away the easiest. I am talking about the fear of the handler leading the horse into the trailer.
I know I had trailer loading issues myself. People always thought I was joking when I said:”I have trailer loading issues” or “I have trailer fear”. Most people didn’t take the “I” in my sentence literally, but I really mean it that way.
Here are a few of my biggest worries I had about trailer loading:
– What if my horse gets injured in the trailer, during loading or during the drive.
– What if the trailer or car gets a flat tire on the highway?
– What if I get injured while loading a nervous horse into a very small space? Especially when I was pregnant this was a big fear.
– What will people think of me if I can’t load my horse?
– What will people think if they have to wait for me while I am loading? I don’t want to be a burden, they probably hate waiting, they might think I am doing it wrong, etc.
– What should I say if people want to ‘help’ me load my horse and want to use pressure or force my horse?
– What will they think of me when I decline their help? I don’t want to offend them by saying “Thanks, but no thanks”.
– What if Kyra falls down in the trailer or gets stuck again? It has happened before…
– What if she panics and runs onto a busy street?
There are other factors that can play a roll as well like impatience or stress in the handler. It can be that you’re only worried or afraid when loading your own horse. I have loaded other peoples horses smoothly when the cause was the handler.
With other peoples horses I didn’t have the fears I named above. Part of it was when the horse was in the trailer, it didn’t feel like my responsibility anymore. And I was never in a hurry because I was helping people out that were desperate and ready to take (wait) the time it took to load the horse.
Have you ever noticed that what you are focusing on grows? My fears stayed intact because I was repeating them over and over in my mind. It is like a fire and as you keep feeding it, it grows and takes on a life of its own. Instead of being relieved that Kyra got out of the trailer perfectly fine and without any injury whatsoever, I kept telling myself that I was afraid of her being injured and developing a trailer issue.
As soon as I realized this, I started focusing on what went well and on all the improvements I had already achieved. Small improvements like every second ‘building duration standing in the trailer’, ‘standing more relaxed in the trailer’ as well as the big improvements ‘pulling me towards an open trailers to get in’ and ‘she didn’t poop out of stress’.
I also realized that we are in a process. It takes time and every time I could build on the foundations of trailer loading I was building on the solid behaviour I am longing for: a confident horse that loads easily and enjoys the ride.
I don’t get nervous anymore if people are watching or waiting while I load Kyra. I realize that the relationship I have with my horse and my horses feelings are worth much more than what I think other people are thinking. After all, I don’t know what they are thinking… I refuse to stress my horse by pressuring her, because of my (irrational) thoughts. I don’t want to force her anymore. Ever.
What also helped to reduce my fears, is to make the trailer and the ride as comfortable as possible. In this way I can relax better while traveling with my horse. Like a light, roomy trailer, an anti-slip floor, shavings and a hay net so Kyra can nibble away, a experienced driver who drives defensively and so on.
Enjoy the ride!
I hope you never have to deal with issues like this and when you do, I hope you overcome them too. Life is so much more enjoyable now. Taking my horse to places gives me so much joy and satisfaction, without stress and my fears. I really enjoy loading Kyra into a trailer now to go places. Oh, and Kyra does too, she literally pulls me towards a trailer if the ramp is down. Like she want to say: “Let me in. Take me with you. Let’s go!”
We are still working on a self loading horse. I am sure we can tick that off of our list of goals in 2015.
In order to bond with your horse you don’t need magic, like this recipe. I believe that everyone who is dedicated tho their horse can develop a heart-to-heart connection with their horse. You don’t have to have a lot of talent.
#1 Spent time with your horse
The more time you spend, the better you will know each other. It is not a prerequisite, but it sure does help. With spending time I am not only referring to riding. Think of other ways to spend time with your horse: hand walking, hand grazing, grooming, horse agility/groundwork and playing. The more time you spent in all kinds of situations, the better you will learn to know each other. You will learn about your horses’fears, what he likes and dislikes, if he is energetic, what attracts his attentions, how bold he is etc.
#2 Observe your horse
Learn as much as you can about body language and behaviour. Take some time to just sit and watch your horse in the pasture, in his stable or paddock. What does he do when he doesn’t know you are there? How does he interacts with other horses?
#3 Make horses and their behaviour a point of study
Horses and humans do have the same emotions, but not necessarily the same needs. Where we humans sometimes can have the urge to spend some time alone, for a prey animal that lives in herds is is not a safe thing to choose: to separate themselves from the herd. What do horses need in order to be happy or have their safety needs full filled? Do they like to graze in the sun, in the rain, the wind, snow. What bothers them? Are there specific insects that irritate him, how do you know? Does he have friends in the herd? How would you recognize that?
#4 Don’t let your ego get in the way while training your horse
If a horse is not reacting the way you want him to it might not be because he wants to deliberately counteract your goal. The horse is not trying to “win”. A horse is a reactive and responsive prey animal that sometimes just reacts according his instincts or his expectations. Or he reacts a certain way because he simply thinks that is what you meant. Make yourself familiar with the learning theory. Be consistent and reward often. Never blame the horse if things are not going like you expected them to be. The horse isn’t thinking about that!
#5 Be fun to be around
Make sure it is rewarding for your horse to spent time with you. Try to be more reinforcing than the herd you take him from if you are doing things together. If he is in a stall most of the day, where there is not much to eat, where they are restricted from interaction or exercise you know what to do, see #3.
#6 Be yourself
Be honest with yourself and respect your own limits. If you try to act braver than you actually feel, chances are that you are doing things or taking risks you otherwise would not take. Making mistakes is part of life, but I suggest reducing the risk.
Don’t train or ride a horse you are afraid of. Work on that fear first. If you are afraid to be close to a horse, work with a protective barrier until you think it is safe. If you don’t want to trot, canter or jump with a specific horse, ride him in walk or just sit on him standing until you do feel safe enough to try it.