“We are all trainers.” I have heard this statement so many times I could recite it in my sleep, but instead of paying lip service to it let’s look at the truth behind the statement. You may say: “I’m not a trainer. I am a novice, a newbie, a weekend rider…” It doesn’t matter how you fill in the blanks…everyone is a trainer. What we do day in and day out as we interact with our horses is training. If the things we do are good, we set ourselves up for a lifetime of happiness. If the habits we exhibit are not so good, we can be in for a lot of grief over the long haul.
Your riding discipline has nothing to do with your daily horse habits. How often you ride has nothing to do with your daily horse habits. Positive horse behavior is a very simple concept, reinforce the behavior you want and correct the behavior you don’t want. I will touch on some of the big no-no’s.
- Leading your horse and letting them run all over the top of you. Not only is this behavior dangerous for all involved, it is disrespectful, and if your horse is disrespectful on the ground he certainly isn’t going to be any different under saddle. Nip this in the bud. Shake them back, keep them at a safe distance and if necessary, reinforce it until they understand.
- Running over the top of you coming out of their stall. This is another sign of disrespect and a horse’s way of saying they are in charge, not you. If you think you can win against a 1400 lb. animal be my guest but for most of us this isn’t a scenario we can feel safe in. Enter the stall and move them back until they relax and are ready to proceed at a safe distance and at a pace you decide on, not them. You may have to work at this if you have an overanxious horse but over time you will be happy you corrected this behavior.
- Swinging their head around to evade the halter. A horse’s head is its most deadly weapon. Use caution when working with a horse that gets aggressive when haltering. Work with them until you are able to get them comfortable and relaxed. You may have to run your hands back and forth over their ears gently if this is the part of the motion they don’t like. You may have to gently teach them to relax and drop their head when you put your hand on their poll. They may swing their head and wrangle with you but stay with it until they relax, then quickly release the pressure telling them that this is what you wanted from them. Don’t make abrupt movements around their head and eyes and get them comfortable with the things that make them anxious. Once they are relaxed then start working with the halter. Put it on, then once they relax, take it off. Show them it’s no big deal. Be patient, don’t fight with them and eventually what triggered the evasive behavior will go away.
- Biting. This is not acceptable under any circumstances and has to be addressed. Some horses are more mouthy by nature and if it leads to nipping or biting it has to be dealt with right away. Be aware at all times when working around a biter, especially if your back is to them when brushing, saddling or whatever. To discourage this we like to say they ran into something like my elbow just happened to be there blocking myself for safety and you ran into it. You don’t have to hit your horse or be mean or aggressive, you just need to find your own way of letting them know that biting is unacceptable. Discipline with love.
We all love our horses and we expect them to respect us, as we respect them, but in order to create a relationship that is mutually beneficial, we must understand that how we interact with our horses impacts how well the relationship works. We are all teachers and we all have something important to give. Make your contributions mutually beneficial for you and your horse.
Stay safe, Happy Riding, Enjoy the Equine Companionship, they are our best friends!
Happy Fall! The Horseologist