As I’m still away, I’ve decided to dip my toe into the guest blog waters. I had some great responses to a call I put out on Twitter, and the one which I felt suited the tone and subject matter of my blog best was from Nadja. So without further ado, I present her post on how horsemanship techniques can be used by even the casual leisure rider. Many thanks to Nadja for putting this together!
We‘ve probably all shared this experience: Riding newbies, coming into the barn, being introduced to the horses, wanting to do everything right. Dreaming of a harmonious relationship with the horse, one of mutual understanding and respect (though it‘s a school horse and ridden by approximately 25 others per week).
And then we enter the reality. Find out that we are not able to bridle the horse because he sticks his head in the air. Find out that he has the tendency to aim for our feet when we pick up his. Find out that he likes to bite us in the backside when we girth him. Let alone riding. We try to pick up the reins. Resistance. We push with the legs to get him to go; he wanders off with the speed of a snail. We ask for some bend in his neck; he becomes as stiff as a board. The list is endless and can be complemented individually.
So full of good intentions we end up struggling with the horse, punishing him for his disobedience and unwillingness. And our bad conscience becomes bigger and bigger and with it grows our frustration.
I am not saying that this scenario will happen in every riding school out there, but still you are likely to encouter it. The horse world moves in the right direction, meaning more and more horses get to live like they are supposed to, running in pastures with their buddies, sharing a social life. The horse world does move, but it‘s moving slowly. So we still need some patience until every school horse lives the horse life he deserves. When his needs are met he can meet ours. Not the other way round.
To survive until then, I want to share with you some approaches from a horsemanship perspective that help you to understand the horse and vice versa. I know that one rider out of 20 or more, handling a horse once a week, will not have the impact on the horse‘s behavior and attitude he wishes to, but at least it is a start.
1. You want to make a good impression on your school horse. So try to be polite. Don‘t just open his stall, walk up to him, put the halter on (if he lets you) and drag him out. Instead open the box, wait until he looks at you, approach (not too quickly but neither hesitantly) and reach out with your hand offering him the opportunity to touch you. Wait until he touches you with his muzzle, maybe he even sniffs you, then touch him. Let him touch you first.
2. No matter what you do, always carry a soft and nice feel with your hands. Don‘t jerk on the rope or the reins. Allow your hands to close one finger after the other, slowly and surely. Build up the pressure gradually, not quickly, so your horse can tune in mentally. You will not surprise him with your request (well, he might be surprised by your politeness though) and you make it easy on him to be obedient.
3. Always – and I mean it – ask lightly first, meaning start with a polite request, a good deal – though you know that your horse is likely to ignore it. Still, give him the chance to respond to very little whenever you ask. And if he responds, no matter how long it took, release him. Reward him by taking the pressure away and allowing him to rest and think. For many horses this is a new experience. They‘ll appreciate it.
4. Don‘t micromanage him. Ask, assert yourself (if necessary) and then leave your horse alone. Don‘t tell him to trot when he is already trotting. Cut him some slack. Tell him what you want but give him the responsibilty to execute it without reminding him with every step what he was supposed to do. Your horse is able to think for himself. Show him the respect by believing that he will do it.
5. Move his feet in every way you are able to and can think of: forward, backwards, sideways, front feet around the hind feet and vice versa. Speak to the feet and try to isolate them. The more control you gain over the feet, the more respected you‘ll become – it doesn‘t matter if you are riding or on the ground. When on foot, make sure your horse doesn‘t push you around. If he does, correct him by backing him up. Even better: Don‘t allow him to invade your space or run you over.
These are the five things I‘d pay attention to when being around new horses and trying to do them some good. If you get the chance to try these out, I’d love to hear your own thoughts: did it make a difference to you, the horse and your relationship?