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Problem Solving For Horseback Riders

Updated on July 2, 2019
Ellison Hartley profile image

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.


It Happens To The Best Of Us!

We all have bad rides with our horses. We even go through bad phases with them. At least I know that I do, and have seen it with my students. There are a million things you and your horse could struggle with. Depending on what discipline you ride, some problems may be more common than others.

Think Of It As A Miscommunication Instead Of A Problem

First off, I want to say that the majority of "problems" that riders have with their horses are due to miscommunication. Learning to ride is a dance between learning to speak the horse's language and helping him to understand ours. Sometimes it is really easy, other times not so much.

The point that I want you to take from this is that when your horse misbehaves it isn't anything personal. He isn't doing it to make you mad. He either isn't understanding your signals or has a physical problem causing him pain. Discomfort is one thing that will often lead to "problems" with our horses.


Identifying The Problem

First things first. Identify the "problem". What exactly are you struggling with? What is so hard about it? How long has it been going on? Was it sudden or did the problem gradually arise?

Once you know exactly what the issue is, you are better able to figure out how to fix it.

If it is a riding issue, then you need to think about all the steps involved. What aids do you use to ask your horse to do this particular thing? How does he respond? Is it all the time? Or just every once in a while?

Break down all the steps involved in this particular task and ask yourself those questions. Now, look at your answers to those questions. Honestly assess what part you might play as the rider. Maybe when you see the problem task broken down into steps it will become clear what piece of the puzzle is missing. Maybe a puzzle piece isn't missing. It could be that you just need to improve on that one piece. Then your horse will be able to understand your cues more clearly

Be Honest With Yourself

When asking yourself these questions be honest with yourself! Part of being a good horse person is taking responsibility for your riding. Accepting that it could be something you are doing wrong causing the problem. It might not even be that you are doing it wrong. It could be you aren't giving your horse the aids clearly. He could have a gap somewhere in his training and not fully understand the basic aids. All of these things are things that as a rider you have to take responsibility for improving.

If by breaking down the steps you realize that maybe you have missed some piece of the puzzle along the way, it is okay! No big deal. Now you know what it is you need to work on in order to communicate with your horse effectively.

It may seem like something really big and daunting. Just break it down into steps and work on them progressively. As you improve each step, you should feel like you are chipping away at whatever your "problem" was.

It is possible that you can't figure out why you are having the issue. Again, it is no big deal. In this case, you should enlist the help of your instructor or a more experienced barn buddy. When they see it from the outside looking in a lot of times things can be seen more clearly.


Time To Ask For Help(There Is No Shame In It!)

If you have done all of the above and are still having trouble. Even after help from an instructor or friend, we should consider that it might be a pain issue. There could be a physical problem going on causing your horse pain. A horse in pain is harder to communicate with since they are distracted by discomfort.

If you come to the conclusion that physical pain is a possibility it is time to consult your veterinarian. Hopefully, your trainer or experienced friend has some idea of where the problem might be originating from. That way you have a starting point when you are telling your vet about what is going on. Which will help them understand the problem more clearly?

The Safety Exception! ( This Always Goes With Horses)

There is an exception to all of this. That is if the problem you are having is your horse behaving dangerously. There is no horse in the world that is worth getting hurt over. Trying to troubleshoot dangerous behaviors should be left to professional riders. If you are afraid of your horse or afraid of him hurting you it is a must to enlist professional help!

What I want you to take from this article are a few things. The first being not to take it personally when you and your horse don't seem to be speaking the same language. The next thing is that going back to basics and working step by step on the skills necessary will help you improve as a rider. It will also help your horse to understand more clearly what it is you want. Next, as riders, it is imperative that we don't blame every problem on our horse. If it is something we are doing wrong. Maybe it's not something wrong necessarily. It could just be something you have room to improve on. We owe it to our horses to improve as riders. As well as to be willing to accept that we might be part of the problem.


It Is All A Part Of The Horsemanship Journey!

Great horsemanship is not seeing a miscommunication as a "problem". Great horsemanship is being willing to try hard to figure out the why of the problem. Great horsemanship is being willing to work hard to improve. It is also asking for help when you need it. As well as getting your horse the veterinary care he needs if he has a physical problem.

Don't get frustrated! Riding is tough at times. Just be determined and dedicated to getting to the root of the problem. That way you and your horse can get back to enjoying each other again!


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