This heading sounds a bit like a topic for a conference, not the horse paddock. But it’s a very important subject to be aware of when working with horses. A confident human is one who feels solid in the world; they have a good idea of where they are and what’s coming up, within a flexible framework. The same goes for a horse, in order to feel confident they need to understand and accept what is currently happening and be fully prepared for upcoming events.
Frequently when I’m out and about working with horses and their humans I witness situations where the horse has not been prepared for what the human asks of it. In this situation the horse can become frightened or resistant and develop a negative headspace about the task. This can all be avoided by preparing the horse, both on the micro and the macro scale.
For example, on the micro scale, if we are riding and ask our horse to turn we may find they are slow to respond, do a poor turn and we have to be stronger with the rein aid than we would like. Alternatively if we started preparing the horse 4 or 5 metres before the turn by applying half halts with the inside rein (small squeezes) and turn our own heads and bodies slightly in the new direction of travel, then the horse knows what is coming mentally and is already changing their balance slightly when you give the actual turning aids, resulting in a smooth confident turn with minimal rein aids.
The same goes for upward and downward transitions, letting your horse know what’s coming next helps them to prepare their minds and bodies and results in a much better connection between horse and rider. And the best thing is that if you ride this way, preparing your horse before asking anything from it, then your aids can be reduced significantly. This is the goal of all good horse riders, to use as little pressure as possible while getting the biggest response possible from the horse. As I’m always saying, less is more. The less aids you apply, the more your horse will give you. As you become an almost invisible rider, the smallest movement by you becomes a cue for your horse.
Macro situations also require preparation. Recently someone told me a story of a girl who took out a horse that hadn’t been ridden for many months away from his herd, through scrubby lantana and into an open paddock where she cantered him. He promptly bolted resulting in her coming off. She sold the horse because he was too ‘difficult’. The horse could have been better prepared for this experience. Here are some ideas on how this horse could have been better prepared.
A horse is good at what a horse is doing, so if a horse is eating grass that’s what they’re good at. If the horse has been spelling, preparing them for riding is necessary for the horses’ confidence and for rider safety. Doing groundwork exercises rebuilds the connection between horse and human. Then the first few rides should be at home and in a small enclosed area before going into a large area. Then the horse needs to feel confident with the human to leave the herd and if ‘herd-bound’ needs to be slowly introduced to the idea of going out into the world alone. Gradually stretching how far you leave the herd prepares the horse for being away from the herd and builds confidence in you. It’s also a good idea to go slow the first few rides, gradually introducing the faster gaits when your horse is mentally and physically prepared.
Taking the time to prepare your horse for what you are going to ask actually means you’ll get there faster. Trying to rush things with horses never works. Preparing your horse for everything you do will result in a happy, self-confident and willing partner.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
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