I used to dread riding Cruz. Far from being fun, it had become a frightening chore.
Now I love my horse. Not only that, but I can tell Cruz likes me, too. His whole attitude has changed because my approach to him has taken a U-turn.
In my last post I asked whether you are
(a) a figure of authority whom your horse respects?
(b) do you just hope he’s going to behave without giving him firm direction?
My own answer to that question used to be a resounding (a) ‘No’ and (b) ‘Yes’!
Authority over your horses starts on the ground. A friend who has been through similar issues noted how often we go out of our way not to inconvenience our equine buddies.
Let me give you some examples of my own guilt here.
Before: Giving Cruz hay was a messy business during which he’d grab it out of my hands while I attempted to place it on the floor.
Now: He backs up when I bring his hay and waits for me to place it on the ground before going near it. This took patient, repeated refusals to give him hay until he obeyed my quiet but insistent command to wait for it.
Before: It was a race to place feed into the manger before his muzzle thrust me out of the way.
Now: He keeps his head to one side until I’ve put the feed in his manger, because I wouldn’t give it to him until he did.
Before: I’d groom him exactly where he stood, even if he was so close to the wall that I was liable to get squashed at any moment!
Now: I ask him to move over by pressing him on his side where my leg asks for lateral work under saddle. This way I daily exert my authority and reinforce the aid for moving sideways.
Brushing His Face
Before: If he wanted to eat hay while I brushed his face, fine - I would work around his munching.
Because I wanted him to like me, I tried not to ‘upset him’ by interfering with his agenda.
Now: I hold his head up for brushing. If he tries to lower it again, I hang onto it until I’m done. He gives a big sigh and closes his eyes to enjoy the feeling of the brush strokes.
I was astounded at my blatant lack of authority over Cruz in even the smallest things. Now he enjoys being groomed and hangs his ‘fifth’ leg.
He has surrendered leadership to me, which allows him to relax. This is a vital component of the trust building process under saddle, too.
(It’s interesting to note that he also no longer pouts with his head in the corner when I bring the saddle, but has a friendly, welcoming stance.)
Any of This Sound Familiar?
There are many ways to inadvertently lose our horse’s respect. Yet gaining his respect is vital to the process of eliminating our fears.
Do you recognize your situation in any of these on-the-ground scenarios?
a. Your horse won’t let you catch him
b. He drags you along when you lead him from the field
c. He stops to munch grass on the way back to the barn
d. He won’t stand still while you groom him
If your horse frightens you, first examine your relationship with him on the ground and address those areas where he is in charge, and not you.
We need to be a competent leader on the ground before we can expect our horse to obey us under saddle.
As your horse’s respect for you increases, your fear of him will decrease.
Then you’ll be ready to lead him (in a quiet and orderly fashion!) into the riding arena. Note I say ‘into the riding arena’ not ‘off for a trail ride’. I strongly advise you to ride in an enclosed area when you’re working on your riding fears.
Next Friday I’ll go through how to minimize fear by commanding your horse’s respect while sitting in the saddle.
Horses are my big obsession, and I'm constantly striving to get better, smarter and more in harmony with my equine buddy, Cruz Bay.
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