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Is Your Horse Misbehaving?

Look! I know as well and any of you that when we are riding or doing ground work and things don’t go the way we want our emotions can get us in a knot pretty fast.

Perhaps you have seen this in unsavory expletives, loud “Ah!”, slaps, whacks and jerks. Can you relate? When we are in the moment we even feel the horse’s energy rising but do we really SEE what they are thinking and feeling?

Are they trying? Are they frightened? Are they resisting or even saying “NO!”

The resistance I always meet is the notion that by stopping in the moment when things go wrong - the horse gets a win and learns the wrong thing or gets away with its bad behavior. I agree that a release at the wrong time can get an undesired result but that’s not the point here. Have you seen this? We experience an emotional uprising that causes things to go wrong from and on both sides. By stopping when we are losing it emotionally we give ourselves and the horse the opportunity to reframe the whole situation. We can always start over! Since our horses live in the moment we can take that break, go for a walk, sit on the mounting block - just take the time to find what I like to call “absolute neutral”. By getting out of our emotions and calming ourselves into a neutral state we become more approachable for the horse. Our energy is no longer making them want to escape or causing them to feel fearful and be reactive. We already know that no one learns well when they are afraid anyways.

How could you regain emotional stability for you both in a bad situation?

1. Take a “time out”, and while you are in that space, review and assess what has been happening. Put on your analytical mind - change your emotional state.

2. Dialogue exactly what you want to do in a few simple words, out loud so that you hear yourself saying the words.

3. Start over. Be more aware, clearer and more precise. Keep it simple.

What if you could read what your horse is experiencing - would that change how you handle it? You might ask yourself these questions …

1. Is he taking over and going on autopilot or has he become robotic? It feels like your horse isn’t listening to you because he is not responding correctly. You cannot go too wrong by giving the horse the benefit of the doubt. Consider this … maybe your horse thinks he knows what you want and is offering to do it. It could be simply that he is ahead of you since he made and association to the way you set him up. Sometimes I hear a rider say things like, “I didn’t ask yet”, the solution to that is for the rider to be more in the moment with their own thoughts in the riding and synchronize their thoughts so that the horse is with them in the timing and execution. Hey ride, catch up!

2. Is your horse arguing, resisting, or refusing? This looks different than number one. You’ll see and hear tail swishing, feel sticky or stumbling feet, be tempted to be stronger with your aids, the horse’s head tosses and you start to worry that it could get worse. Perhaps you could give the horse the “benefit of the doubt” because the horse may be confused by your aids. Ask yourself if the aids were sequential, appropriately timed and if the horse was setup for any changes of pace or direction or plan in the rider’s mind.

Often, depending on the severity of the behavior I suggest that the rider, whether in the saddle or during ground work, makes the choice to “work around it”.

1. Working around something requires the rider to go with the wrong thing and redirect the horse to the right and more desired thing. For example, if you overturned on the corner, simply continue the circle and set up better for entering and exiting the corner. The work-around idea is a mindset in the rider to connect and convince instead of correct and coerce.

2. Step back to the previously easier exercise. This could be a simpler pattern or lower gait (trot instead of canter). Often the horse will flow more smoothly in the lower gait and simple pattern and blow as the tension is released. Then the rider can try the task again.

I am assuming here that these problems arise from the work. The rider’s ability to give the aids correctly, in proper time that the horse is ready to do the movement and is set up correctly to execute. If there is something wrong in the tack, the health or well being of the horse - that should be checked and corrected first.

So in summary, when frustrations escalate check the emotional levels and use “time out” to regroup. If the horse is struggling with compliance to your requests by either taking over or arguing (in your perception) try the “work-around” ideas. Using these two suggestions which I know work and are very effective will get you progressing again more quickly and safely than pushing through a problem.

Be encouraged by learning to understand your horse from a variety of perspectives and you’ll have more tools to draw on when things just don’t go the way you want. Digital courses are in development if you struggle with frustrating behaviors and want to make the smart and safe changes that will advance your horsemanship goals. Does this sound like you? Imagine you have a system set up that trains the mental and emotional connection making the future positive and progressive for both of you.

Simply go to the course waitlist to be among the first to get the notifications and information as it becomes available.

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