So, you think your horse is being naughty? Maybe it’s you.
Written By Chris Cervantes
When riding, we have all at times asked for a particular movement from a horse and it seems to ignore us or does not respond the way we want. Sometimes, the horse may even become a little agitated and throw a temper tantrum, kick out, or respond with an annoyed buck. It doesn’t help matters when riders are kicking and pulling, riding stressed, tense horses. Instead of trying to really figure out what happened with the communication between horse and rider; that soft relaxed feel that we strive for that looks so elegant, soft and completely effortless, the rider also becomes annoyed and starts complaining about the ride.
So what really happens when the horse “ignores” the rider? Let’s start by taking a look at what starts at the beginning of a horses training.
Rhythm and relaxation is at the core of your horse’s training scale. Only when your horse is truly relaxed can your horse be in the mental state to relax stretch down and come over in his back, stepping into the hand, and the rider can work towards driving the horse into an outside rein.
Not only is riding physical work for the horse, but mental work too! So you nervous Nelly riders should understand that there are horses like you and how you respond will affect how your horse responds. Imagine two tense personalities trying to work together — how much joy that is for a trainer to watch. Oh, I would rather shoot my big toe off than listen as a rider complains about the horse while hauling on the horse’s chops the whole ride.
Is it the horse or the rider who is the real problem? This is a question every rider should ask themselves honestly because if you cannot see the problem, you cannot properly address it.
Blaming the horse for not listening when the failure is on your part won’t make things better. Take an honest look at yourself first and think about what you might be doing wrong because only then can the situation truly become better. Riders must stay emotionally neutral; it is easier said than done for sure, but you must learn to separate your emotions from your riding.
Common Rider Excuses
As a trainer, I hear riders blame the horse for not “liking” a certain lead, a particular fence, going on trail rides, or even a certain rider. There is always some convenient excuse to blame a horse for your own mistakes.
Other riders may say “I don’t like this horse; he never listens.” If you want to learn to ride you need to ask yourself why you do not like a particular horse. Is it because he challenges your skills as a rider? Or because he doesn’t cover up your flaws and makes you have to work and coordinate your aids that extra bit harder?
When there is a problem and emotions are flying around remember your emotions affect your horse. Horses are naturally pretty easy going, loving, willing animals. The need to “show them who is boss” or “not show them any fear” frequently is not needed. I will never say every horse is easy going; I have met plenty that have a touch of a bully type attitude and, sometimes an aggressive, assertive ride is necessary to show the horse he is not the boss. That is perfectly fine when needed, just know when it is needed and when it is not and it is not necessary when the bad attitude is really your own.
You have probably heard the saying that everything has a time and place and timing is particularly important when it comes to horses. Many of the “bully” type of horses developed such behavior because a scared owner (or even trainer) over a period of time allowed such behavior and it escalated. This is why it is so important to nip a true problem in the bud early on before the problem becomes worse or even dangerous. If you’re not capable (as prideful as some trainers are they sometimes need help, too) to correct an issue find someone who is, otherwise you may find you have a 1200 pound monster to deal with.
Must Be The Weather…
Riders can be creative when assigning blame for bad communication with their horse blaming it on the weather and even feed. Owners cut back on horses feed to have a horse they can ride easier because he has less energy. If you have to not feed your horse properly so he has a calmer disposition (essentially starving it, even if only to a small degree) it’s time to rethink if he is even the horse for you.
Work on your skills as a rider if you want to get the most from your horse, but if you still can’t possibly manage your horse, for safety reasons, maybe it is best to find a new horse that will work better with your level of riding skills. Don’t see it as a failure, it is okay to admit you and your horse just aren’t a good match for each other. I am a believer that not all riders should be on all types of horses. A rider may really love a particular horse but if the team doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work.
When many riders are faced with “I must really learn to ride to fix the problem or get a new horse” will opt to find a different horse, allowing for a more enjoyable ride than to have a learning experience and grow from. There is nothing wrong with that, especially when horse and rider safety are concerned. The best thing you can do (for you and your horse) is to try to recognize the type of rider you are and make the best decision based on what is safest and makes you happiest as a rider.
Rider’s Riding Tree Basics
Working with a skilled trainer can be very beneficial in learning to safely ride a wide variety of horses, not just a particular horse. Only on a wide variety of horses can you start to develop the necessary skills to ride horses correctly.
I like to follow the Rider’s Riding Tree; an approach that explains how riders essentially learn to ride with each element building on top of the next. We can’t skip one element and expect to not have problems in the elements ahead so this approach helps build a solid foundation for riders.
We start with rhythm, balance, following the motion, application of aids, coordination of the aids, and influence. All of these elements work together to allow for a soft, flawless ride which we strive to achieve in riding.
Remember, bad rides are inevitable and will always be there because, just like people, horses have bad days too. However they do not have the mental capability of saying “I am having a bad day I should control my emotions” or even think “tomorrow will be better” – horses are animals; the respond in the moment and react to emotions – their own and yours.
If you want a horse that is always predictable, easy to ride, and will be in the same mood every day, you should go ride a carousel horse.
Humans, however, do have the mental ability to control their attitude and say “today is just not my day.” Humans can think about why a horse is a little fresh and adjust their own attitudes. “I was running late and didn’t turn him out like I should have; he has been in his stall longer than anticipated … The temperature dropped last night and he is a little more fresh than usual… We have tomorrow to work on it, that is okay.”
So when you find yourself becoming stressed when you’re riding, no matter what the situation is, just take a minute and walk. Stop and think, are you becoming too emotionally involved? If needed, work on something else that will calm you down and not let your emotions go flying. You don’t want to take it out on your horse for no good reason; however, don’t misunderstand me, naughty horse behavior should be addressed immediately and not allowed, but what you may be interpreting as a naughty horse may simply be a horse responding to issues you are creating in your riding.
You will always face challenges when you ride, but with every challenge comes the practice of being patient; a skill that is necessary to have mastered when you have a difficult ride. If you find yourself getting frustrated, remember you’re the one who has the capability of staying emotionally neutral, Pookie Bear doesn’t.