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  • Writer's pictureSaskia Gerritsen

A braver horse, by allowing spooking!

When I teach riding, I always try to find analogies, examples and metaphors that makes things stick. A few weeks ago, I said something that really surprised my student. It made a big impact and helped her to see things more from her horse's point of view.

She has a lovely horse, but they had some trouble becoming a herd of 2. Her horse didn't really trust her for making good decisions, and she felt insecure because the horse could take over anytime and run off. A level of fear in both of them was causing a lot of difficulties. She had already gotten all the standard advice from other trainers:

  • your horse is old enough to know what to do by now...

  • she has to listen to you, don't let her do that...

  • be more strict, let her know you're in charge!

You ever got these kind of "tips" for handling a "reluctant/stubborn/bad" horse?

I am so glad she gave up on that approach (which was only making things worse anyway) and asked me to come for a riding lesson.

What I explained to her, the analogy that really opened her eyes and she says she will never forget, was:

Imagine you are making a bicycle tour with your best friend. You're cycling along a nice canal, everything is quiet and the sun is shining. You're having a chat and enjoying each other's company. Until suddenly two ducks fly up from the water and scare the S*%& out of your friend! She screams, stops and her heart is pounding.

In that moment, would you slap your friend and say "Stop acting up! You're old enough to know it's just ducks! Don't be stupid, come on go on!"

That is what we do with horses, but as a flight animal they have all the right to spook! As with your friend on the bicycle, it would be best to kindly lay your hand on their back. Let them know you're there with them, that they are okay and that you understand the reason. That is what you would normally do I hope.

Why we are told otherwise with horses, I really can't tell... So often the opposite is the solution. So after this little story, I told my student to do the following:

  1. As soon as your horse is aware of something, looking at something, avoiding a certain spot: acknowledge that.

  2. Stop and Look together at the thing that is frightening your horse and explain out loud what it is. When we speak we can't hold our breath. By explaining your intention is very clear to the horse.

  3. Stroke firmly and slowly on the withers and don't push to continue until they are ready.

  4. Be smart about the way you continue, maybe you can gradually approach towards the scary thing/corner/spot. Or first need to regain relaxation away from the scary spot to later re-approach.

After a few weekly lessons, she and her horse have already transformed! From two individuals that want and understand different things... to a pair of friends! And they are now achieving things that not so long ago seemed impossible!

Her horse has become brave through trust, that has been earned by making good decisions.
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