Riding & Trail
GOAL ORIENTED VS UNIVERSAL HORSE
Most people ride with a goal-oriented perspective. They aim to show, trail ride, work cattle or other.
Most horses can be okay within the realm of their experience: they become familiar with a jumping arena, dressage arena, cattle, or moving along a trail. I like to see horses that are universal. A roping horse should be able to clamber over or even jump a small obstacle or fence when presented to him. A jumping horse should not have a meltdown and become impossible to "deal with" if he is passing an arena full of cows. He may want to stop, look, smell, and consider the cows for a moment or two, but then ideally should be able to continue on with his ride with no leftover tension or stress from his encounter with the cows.
IT'S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS
I like to create horses whose minds are open and available to any situation. This means that to create a relationship with the horse, the rider has to become aware of influences around the horse and its reaction mentally, emotionally and physically. Through assessment, the rider will come to know his horse's current temperament at any point in time and then how to influence the availability of his mind to create the enjoyable horse/partner that he is today despite past experiences.
EXAMPLE: I had a Thoroughbred who is now 11 years old and spent a number of years on the race track where he won $90,000. When a particularly stressful situation arises, he would try to control his anxiety if he is being helped by a person working. He would consider what you ask of him...can you look left, can you step here...his mind is available enough to influence to think his way through the anxiety he is feeling. The result is that a big horse that can be even bigger and explosive will remain reasonable and manageable and not bolt or dislodge his rider. He can stay rational despite his anxiety.
A five-year-old Quarter horse that I started lightly at two was a dream. His owner decided at some point to put him on cattle and moved him to a different trainer. Within several months, the owner wanted to sell the horse; he had begun bolting, bucking and reacting irrationally and extreme in stressful situations. Based on my initial experiences with the horse, I was happy to buy him. I found a complete change from the horse's original character and realized this horse approaches life with a false sense of security and confidence. On his own, he can "think" his way through any situation. But if he is in an anxiety situation, he demands to make all decisions, which if left to his own devices creates patternized behavior and thoughts that only reinforce his current fears, frustrations, and unknowns. He is not available to allow or seek help from a person when he is stressed because he already "knows" what will happen and he would rather react in an almost aggressive and flamboyant manner (as a defensive move to protect himself) than slow down and have to work with a person to address the anxiety by thinking his way through it in small steps in order to come out with a relaxed, warm fuzzy feeling on the other side.
So given two horses in the same stressful situation, I would probably rather ride the big TB whose mind is more available to "hear" the help offered by a person rather than the independent Quarter horse who figures he can take care of things on his own. This is often the case when working with a "bombproof" horse. The horse has enough experience and exposure to things that people feel he is "safe" to rely on. This is true as long as the person riding allows the horse to make all "major" decisions. If a rider or person on the ground asks something of a horse like this that is "different" than "normal or usual" these horses tend to react in the most extreme manner when forced to "think" about something that they may not find is important. They are convinced "you're not doing it right."
HELPING YOUR HORSE
Often when we ride there are obstacles along the way whether it be a mailbox, a slamming trailer door, a flag or umbrella near an arena or another potential "crisis" opportunities as seen by the horse. Generally, people do whatever is necessary to get past and "survive" the crisis. They continue on with no thought as to whether after passing the "stressful spot" the horse has been helped, influenced or affected to be more confident when addressing a similar situation in the future. Repetitive experience and exposure have been the common method of "training" a horse. But think back as to how your horse reacts each time a new or unknown situation arises? Can you help him adjust quietly (mentally, physically, and emotionally) without the crisis becoming an issue?
Students find that from the first lesson, they can begin to work independently and know what to look for. By the third or fourth lesson, they have begun to think for themselves and are asking stimulating questions both of their self and their horse.
At a recent learning center where I improve my skills while trading ideas with a like-thinking trainer, other participants were quite impressed that my horses came over to me from across the round pen to be mounted while I waited sitting on the rail. Each one carefully lined himself up with me at the rail and stood quietly. What they couldn't believe was that other people's horses would also come over to me to be mounted after being worked with for only a short time. Once the horse understands that you are asking something of him, generally he will try for you.
The major error made is killing the horse's willingness to try. This can be done by a person reprimanding a horse for not physically responding quickly enough or to the degree that they expect a response. Sometimes it is important to accept the horse's effort and stop there for the day because his change or success is a big deal to him although it may be not near enough to what I had hoped for.