Remembering your horse is a horse

One of the interesting things that comes up for me in practice is how people will feel that their horse can do no wrong. That he won’t suddenly get excited by a herd of wild horses in the distance, he will absolutely never step on their toes, and he most certainly will never suddenly jerk his head up and rear if something startles him.


Unfortunately, I’ve seen this misinterpretation of horses too many times – thinking the horse loves me, he will never do such a thing.

The horse may “love” you (I am not always sure what horses perceive as love, as that gets into anthropomorphism, but it’s clear they feel great emotion for people in their lives). This does not mean they won’t act like a horse if frightened, threatened, or not handled with adequate firmness. The softness that some people exhibit around their horses frightens me, especially if the horse is a very forward, strong personality who needs reminders of boundaries.

When I was a novice, I was constantly surprised at how much training horses required, even after they were supposedly “trained.” Training is continuous, it is something you do every time you handle your horse. We teach by repetition, but also by variation.

Jazzie_Ruella_cometomeI loved the opportunity to spend time learning about my horses and this began to excite me, almost more than riding. The learning about training was toward the goal of safe riding but was enormously interesting because of what I learned about myself in terms of boundaries and safety and what the horse needed to feel safe.

Because I write about the wonderful relationships that can be had with horses, I feel I must give equal time to the tough times. Training your horse isn’t always easy. The horse may have other ideas that aren’t in your best interest.

I’m reminded of a gelding at a recent clinic who was determined to get out the gate, even if it meant pushing his SHR_Sandra_Jackie1owner out of the way. She shouted at him and used her body and the gate to block him. It was very effective because she is very strong – not only in her body, but in her mind and heart also. She became an inarguable force. She never dropped her guard or her intention for a minute. And besides, this horse “loved” his owner, but when it comes to doing what he wants he just charges ahead. He outweighed her by over a thousand pounds yet she never waivered in her resolve to keep him in the corral.

A softer person may have let that one get by and the horse out and running around causing trouble. While we often say “it’s never the horse’s fault,” that is true, but it isn’t the horse’s fault because a horse is going to be a horse. Perhaps a horse handler has done something wrong. Or someone in the past has mishandled the horse and we are reaping the results.

IMG_1874One thing people often don’t realize is that their quiet, half-asleep horse at home may be a fire-breathing dragon when in a group with other horses. A simple trail ride with four or five other horses can turn into a rodeo, the same with a clinic situation with many horses the horse doesn’t know. When training my horses for trails, I generally begin by riding them out with one other horse. When they are comfortable with that I may introduce riding with a second horse, or even riding alone if I feel our connection is deeply rooted enough. There will be times that the horse is inclined to “go with the herd” but if our connection is really deep, then I can bring him or her back to me more easily. That way both of us can return to center and feel comforted by each other’s presence in times of stress.

I never say these things “never” happen, because with horses, anything really can happen. But by proper connection and training my horses will know that I am a safe haven, a place to come back to, when they get overly excited or stimulated by surroundings.

It’s very difficult for people who love their horses a lot to recognize when they are giving over too much power to their horse. They are really heading in the DSC_0204right direction with their love and devotion, but they now need to set some boundaries and deepen relationship based on mutual trust. Move away from the “isn’t he wonderful?” whether he is stepping into their space or yanking at the end of the lead rope. Move into the “I require that you respect my space” and “stand still or whoa.” This way, not so many upsetting things will happen.

Think about teaching a young horse not to burst through gateways. Why don’t we want the horse doing this? Because he could trample someone or injure himself on the gate itself. His energy is not productive energy, it is explosive. We want to model quiet energy coming through the gate and eventually the youngster (or oldster possibly) will quiet down and follow our lead through the gate without incident.

All these things take some time. When people buy a horse that is supposed to be “bomb-proof” or have excellent training and they find something wrong in the training, they need to realize that the horse has been trained to the needs of the previous owner. Maybe that owner liked that horse to be rude or dismissive, or those factors didn’t matter to that owner. It could also be the horse responded differently to that owner’s energy than to the current owners’. Recognize that training is ongoing, even with the so-called “bomb-proof” horse. In some cases, “bomb-proof” also may be another phrase to denote a horse not tuned into his environment, which could be dangerous in the end. This may be due to what I consider to be “over-de-sensitization” so that the horse doesn’t respond to anything stimulating in his environment.

Copyright (c) Susan Smith

Teeth and hooves: working with the aggressive horse

Danger: Watch out for that horse!

That horse is gonna kill you!


Articles in Horse Around New Mexico


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