What is the difference and can you feel it?
Every trained horse is educated in some way. It will read the energy of the person it is interacting with - then it will be reacting to that person based on experience. It learns by routine patterns that it is exposed to regularly.
This month I’m focusing on the difference between handling and riding a “made” horse or one that has been “educated” by correct use of the riding aids.
A lot of people really love that “made” horse. It stands still and spooks in place. It patiently accepts the tack, the blanket, being told what to do and when to do it and it doesn’t usually overreact to discipline when it makes a move the person doesn’t want. Easy, right?
Think about how much progress you can get with a “made”. What happens then when a challenge comes up that the horse can’t handle calmly? Do you have the ability to communicate a “catastrophic response” routine that will regain the horse’s control and help it reconnect with you? What if it refuses a jump or avoids an obstacle? What do you do when it gets behind the bit or the neck flexes at the third vertebrae or the tongue lolls out of the mouth? If you take the time it takes to really educate your horse on the correct aids and the sequences, you will have a means of communicating exactly what your horse needs in every one of those moments.
How does that work?
Start by educating yourself on the specific aids for each response you will expect from your horse. With discipline your communication through the aids will be clear, correct, exact and get you the correct responses more quickly when you need them. “To teach is to learn” is a thought to hold to and you will learn a lot about your horse when you determine to teach and educate instead of force and make. You will get sensitive to the timing, the placement and the responses required and expected.
I learned this many years ago when preparing for my coaching exam. I was teaching my horse to respond more lightly to the neck rein and wanting her feet to move in a specific direction. You know that the neck rein has no pressure except the lay of the weight of the rein against the neck and the response is the front foot on the opposite side is to step away from the pressure.
So, it took some time but with a clear education of how to apply the sequence of training for neck rein responses my horse learned to not only step in the correct direction but also to flex her nose and bend her neck in that direction too.
Often when being neck reined the horse’s head is flexed away from the direction of travel and the shoulder is leading. Absolutely, the ride may get the maneuver accomplished but it is not pretty, professional looking or competitively rewarding. It is forced, crooked, tight and confusing for the horse.
Over time is that a horse learns to repeat that poor physical response. Then one day, that response won’t be correct. When riders don’t use the aids to communicate they end up making and “making” makes improving the ride more difficult.
Educating with the correct aids for the correct forward, flexion and steps will require the rider to think about each application of each and every aid. They will build it into a structured conversation. The horse will really connect because over time and repetition the horse understands each feel of the aids as well as all combinations of those aids. The horse becomes more confident and offers its body to the rider’s control softly and easily.
Over time by learning the subtleties of the numerous feeling I could apply to differentiate between the various moves I became captivated. You can too by studying some excellent riding manuals. At first it’s hard to imagine the ease of riding that can develop if you follow the classical system. I suggest that you explore and accept the discipline and take the time to teach and build that into your horse.
If this is a new idea or you haven’t been successful yet, you may need to remove the habit of applying force for a response at the expense of the horse’s understanding. You may need to learn how to build the response to each separate aid before you can communicate with combinations.
This is a very honorable endeavor. Take something simple like learning and teaching your horse to neck rein correctly and then discipline yourself to use that process specifically every time you ride. Guaranteed you will be amazed at what your horse can learn from the lightest feel of the neck rein and you will be happy with the results of an easier, prettier ride. Your goals are more achievable with an educated horse instead of the long term challenge of force or compromise with a “made” horse.
Be encouraged, be educated and be happy with better results - your horse will be also!