Sunday, February 8, 2015

You Have to Go through it to Get to the Other Side

An interesting thing showed up yesterday.  Red and I rode for the first time since our work on the scary corner last week.  And . . . he wasn't worried about the corner any more, even though it was windy, the arena doors were banging, and there were patches of snow that had blown in inside the arena doors.  He rode deep into the corner without my having to do anything special at all.  Hmm . . . what a good reminder that is . . .

Every time you ride (or handle a horse on the ground for that matter), the two of you are teaching each other in your interaction - and, if you don't pay attention, sometimes the things that are learned aren't the things you want.

I was failing to provide him the leadership and direction he needed in order not to worry.  A horse that worries and takes matters into his own hands is telling you that he doesn't completely trust you to be in charge of his safety and life - and this has nothing to do with "respect".  It has to do with trust, or lack of trust, in your leadership.  If, when the horse needs you to give him direction, you hang up the phone and give him no guidance, why should he trust you?

And I wasn't getting the job done - my job.  Every time I rode him through the scary corner without giving him direction - where he made the decision to shy away, bend towards the outside and have his anxiety level rise - this confirmed for him that there was something to worry about.  As far as he was concerned, I had hung up on him. And every time we finished a ride and left this issue hanging, that baked it in further.  And it wasn't about desensitization - for some horses just hanging around there would have been enough - for Red it was about doubt in my leadership.  He's a very smart horse, and he didn't trust any human to be in charge of anything and was worried about everything when I got him.  He's learned that he can trust me, but it's a process that's ongoing, and I have to be aware of situations where the worry shows up and he's telling me that he needs extra direction and guidance for him to trust my decisions.

You have to be willing to get through the thing that's an issue, and get to the other side - if you don't, the issue won't be fixed.  If your horse repeats the same behavior every ride, look hard at your contribution to this - in terms of your body position and any braces/blocks you may be adding in and your focus and direction/leading of the horse.

It's about getting mental and emotional buy-in from the horse, not making the horse comply.  It's about the horse changing his mind, not because he's exhausted and gives up, or because he's punished, or because he just has no other choice.  It's about the horse deciding that because you're not worried, he doesn't have to be either - it's about the horse letting go of the worry and giving a big sigh of relief.

My "wake-up" about not riding mechanically has really made a difference - when I rode Red last week, I decided that we needed to address what I was doing wrong that reinforced his opinions about the scary corner, and I did.  I figured out some ways to help him through it - by giving him leadership and direction every step of the way.  I knew it was important to finish what we started to resolve the issue - and it didn't mean working with him for an usually long time and he never got all sweaty - it was about finishing the job we started and getting him to a better place before we stopped.  And he's not worried about it any more . . . funny how that works . . .  I knew all of this already, but it sure was a good reminder!


  1. Kate, I really love this post. I agree with every word. For me it's about trust as you say, not respect, not domination. It's simply being a good partner to your horse to reassure him via body position and breaking things down to get through the issue and on to success and confidence, together.

  2. Another aha moment! Don't you just love how we keep getting opportunities to learn something? :)

  3. Good points about trust and guidance - i hope to remember these when I get back on my smart scaredy one ;-)

  4. My trainer constantly reminds us that we are always training our horses, whether we are actively thinking about it or not!


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