Horses don’t make mistakes, but people do. When riding or working with horses and things don’t go as planned, most people want to blame the horse. Horses will only react in accordance to how they are trained by humans. If they are not trained properly or thoroughly, their own instincts take over. When that happens, we get reactions we don’t want or anticipate, and then we get upset with our horse. But here’s the thing, a horse can’t reason. When they shy at something or bolt from something, they don’t turn around and look at it and say “Gee that was dumb.” They react according to their instincts. The very best thing that we can do for our horses is gain their trust through good training, proper riding and understanding their instinctive reactions.
Let me use an example to illustrate. I have been working with a rider for almost a year now who has a horse that would blow up in the show ring. The horse would get really nervous and scared at a horse show, even trying to kick other horses that passed him. During our lessons this rider learned how to change her riding and her reactions (no yanking and pulling) creating a scenario in which the horse could perform. As a result the horse became more confident that the rider was going to take care of him. As you might imagine as the horse as become more confident and obedient, the rider has also become more confident. So while the horse was originally misbehaving in the rider’s eyes, the horse was actually reacting to what he perceived as a stressful and intolerable situation. By changing the rider and the rider’s actions, we changed the horse’s reaction.
Here is another example; a rider who tends to have heavy hands asked their horse to lope. The horse got nervous and started off in a gallop. The rider got mad, thinking this stupid horse isn’t listening to me and started jerking and ripping on the horse’s mouth. The horse threw up his head, hollowed out his back and went even faster. The rider then got even madder. Was the horse making a mistake? Absolutely not, he was just reacting to his instincts. The jerking on the reins which caused him to raise his head very high to try to avoid the pain in his mouth also caused him to stiffen his neck and hollow his back, which put him in a very uncomfortable position. This pain and discomfort generated the flight instinct, making the horse want to get away from the rider. In looking at this situation, it is easy to see who was making the mistake. The horse can’t reason, can’t tell himself that he doesn’t need to gallop when asked to lope. He can only react based on his instincts.
To correct situations where the horse is displaying undesirable behavior, you first have to understand things from the horse’s perspective. When I was young, riding meant kick to go and pull to whoa! Because we rode our horses so much, they eventually became desensitized (tired) and very calm. My real enlightening began when I was about 24 years old and I met a horseman by the name of Wayne Allen, whose mentorship over the course of many years changed my thinking (remember people can reason and change their behaviors). Fast forward 35 years, I now understand that to ride a horse properly, you use your entire body. Your hands and arms control from the withers forward. Your seat and legs control everything from the withers back to the tail. Considering this, it is in every rider’s best interest to learn how to ride properly, to be able to control their horse’s entire body.
When trying to change a horse’s behavior (and their instinctive reactions) through training, it is always best to be sure that any behavior problems are not the result of physical problems. Routine vet, dental and chiropractic care are always necessary to ensure that there are no physical barriers which are contributing to any undesirable behaviors.
Learning to ride well takes time, effort and diligence. Think about someone who is a really good golfer or tennis player. They put consistent effort and practice into their sport. To ride well enough to earn your horse’s trust and confidence takes time, effort, a willingness to understand your horses instincts and a willingness to constantly learn how to improve yourself. I hope this article makes you stop and think about your horse and the fact that horses don’t make mistakes.
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Terry Myers is a national clinician and champion horse trainer with a depth of knowledge developed from over 45 years in the horse industry. Myers has been a popular clinician at multiple expos in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more about Myers’ Ride-In-Sync methods as well as clinic and training services available, visit Myers at www.tmtrainingcenter.com or on Facebook.