How to Regroup and Keep Improving with a Challenging Horse
When working with horses, sometimes in order to go forwards, we have to go backwards. With my troubled mare Willow, it can feel like one step forward, then two steps back. Because she is a highly anxious horse with a history of dangerous bucking and spooking, I have spent a long time doing groundwork with her.
Eventually, I was able to get on her bareback from the fence with no issues. Then I progressed to getting her OK with a saddle on, and then finally the big day came; I was able to put my foot in the stirrup and swing my leg over. And what happened – nothing. Well, I breathed a big sigh of relief, because all the stories I had been told about her had messed with my head, and I was worried she might explode. But after the relief wore off, I soon discovered something I didn’t expect: Miss Willow "Doesn't Like to Walk During Groundwork, Only Trot" had no forward under saddle.
So now that I was on, I had to get forward, and to get forward I would have to put pressure on Willow. She seemed fine. We spent a couple of sessions poking around the arena with me in the saddle, and even stood quietly next to the fence soaking in the attention from people who knew her history and were giving her pets and congratulations for being a quiet horse with a rider on her back.
But a quiet horse isn’t necessarily a safe horse, and something niggled at the back of my mind; she didn’t seem calm so much as resistant to going forward ~ unlike the horse I was used to on the ground, who would move her feet at the lift of a finger.
This guest post will guide you away from misinterpreting your horse's behavior, and help you improve your training methods.
By Tony Haines
I am blessed to work with horses of all different breeds and disciplines. Either starting their education under saddle, or helping them with various issues, or helping owners get along a little better with their horse. I am also blessed to occasionally be asked to teach clinics. I don't call them horsemanship clinics, because they are equally as applicable to the Natural Horsemanship student, as they are to the aspiring cross country super star (and the term can seem to bias prejudice even though any interaction with a horse is horsemanship). They are not broadly applicable because I am great at any of those disciplines, but because I focus on teaching people to hear their horse's side of the story (and why what they do that works, works; and why what they do that doesn't always work, doesn't always work). A side of the story that is often encouraged to be completely dismissed by less empathetic or less thoughtful trainers, educators and coaches.
One of my pet hates in this industry is the "don't let the horse win" mentality. Why shouldn't it win? We love them don't we? Yes of course we do, but there is a little extra difficulty in getting the horse to feel like it is winning when doing what we ask, and it requires that we see things from their point of view, based on how the horse has evolved to think and feel, not how the human wants to do things.
Horses were said to have come into existence about 55 million years ago, as a small animal around the size of a dog, with toed feet. They evolved quite successfully for millions of years, but relatively recently (I'm thinking less than 100,000 years ago, but my memory may be eluding me), their numbers began to drop rapidly. Nearly all species of horse were sent extinct, except for a very few ancestors of the modern horse. So why did the modern horse survive, when others that had been evolving successfully for many millions of years did not? Research of fossil's suggest it is because the modern horse is basically extremely paranoid and extremely agile.
How to overcome frustration on the journey to your goals.
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” ~ Tony Robbins
Oh we are a goal-focused society. As well we should be, otherwise how would anything ever get done? Our dreams would just remain in the invisible realms of fantasy if we didn’t take steps to make them become reality. We set a goal, then we set a process in motion to reach that goal.
But what does it mean to be “process oriented” as opposed to “goal oriented?" Doesn't that diminish the importance of our goals?
There would be no process if there was no goal, and the goal would remain invisible without the process needed to reach it. The trick is to get a balance that works, because when we are out of balance, we feel uncomfortable, our horses sense that, and nothing works as well as it should.
Tips for Helping Your Body Learn Body Language
Are you new to doing groundwork and thinking "I am such a klutz - I will never get the hang of this!" Well I am a founding member of the Klutz Klub.
Look at this photo of me and Ava when I was first learning how to do groundwork. It's embarrassing - she is running me over, I am facing the wrong way, I was constantly getting the rope tangled around my arms and legs.
“The ball is not going to go anywhere until we hit it.”
~ Nancy Lopez, pro golfer, winner of multiple championships.
So how the heck does hitting a golf ball compare to training and riding horses? Well, both require that just about every part of your body - head, shoulders, arms, hands, hips, feet - work smoothly together to achieve a specific result, and it can be frustrating when we don't get that result.
What Nancy is saying is that while we are swinging the club to hit the ball, we shouldn’t be thinking about what is going to happen to the ball AFTER we hit it. Is the ball going to land in the fairway, what about that sand trap, that pond? Will I lose the ball in the bushes, will the other players make fun of me?
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