Hi, readers! It's summer and I've been playing in the sun. Also, my laptop bit the dust. Thus, the lack in posts. I'm trying to get back into my blogging routine. We'll see how it goes. ;)
I taught a wonderful lesson with one of my really fun clients last night. She has a wonderful little gelding that I ride a few times a week. They are both on the green side but willing to learn. We were working to prepare for a show, and I set up cones in the corners of the arena to help work on keeping on the rail and riding correct corners. Sweet little gelding was doing really well with all the corners except one. At this particular corner, he would drop his shoulder and push to the inside of the cone. Every time. Wonderful client wanted to know why he was spooking in that corner. Helpful railbird commented that it was probably where she was standing or possibly the saddle cover hanging over the rail. While initially it may have been one of those things, what it boiled down to is that the horse didn't want to go into that corner. He wasn't spooking and he wasn't afraid. Without the proper leadership from the saddle, he just didn't have a reason to. Now, I have no idea why he initially didn't want to go into the corner, but after three or four times, he had it in his head he shouldn't have to. So, I encouraged my student to be proactive by lifting the shoulder ahead of time and focusing her energy on riding through the corner rather than fighting about the cone. Viola!! He went right through.
As riders, we have a natural tendency to want to explain and rationalize what is happening with our horses. Especially when something goes wrong. Putting a label on it, or assigning it a reason or cause makes us feel better. The problem with this is that horses don't always have a reason for what they do; or, if our thought process isn't like the horse's, we may assign the wrong reason to the behavior. Horses live in the moment. They are not hatching plans to make our rides more difficult. They are not devious.What horses are is incredibly sensitive. If something is bothering you, it will bother them. By putting a lot of thought into the problem you are having, that corner, this movement, or that transition, you are only telling the horse that there is something to be concerned about.
If we constantly excuse our horses inappropriate behavior because there was something hanging on the rail, he doesn't like that horse, the door was open instead of closed etc, we make it ok. By putting a name on it, and allowing the horse to behave in a way they shouldn't because of that, we have given our horse the opportunity to make decisions. Now, I don't know about you, but, when I'm in the saddle, I want to be making the decisions. So, when I'm riding and the horse pulls a move that's out of line, I make sure that I was not giving a confusing message, that there's nothing the horse should be legitimately concerned about, and then I carry on with whatever I wanted in the first place. I may adjust my strategy to make the exercise more clear to the horse, but I don't spend a lot of time figuring out what may have bothered sweet Fluffy. I don't even care! I want to continue to make progress with the horse listening to me, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time focusing on a little hiccup. Often times, when we fall into a pattern with our horse, we are
anticipating the problem and creating tension in the horse. It's hard,
but when something unplanned happens, you need to brush it off and move
on. Fixating and wondering if it will happen again is almost a sure
guarantee that it will. Ensuring that your horse's attention is focused on you and being proactive to stop problems before they turn into a habit will go a long way in eliminating unwanted behavior.