Horsemanship common sense
Whether you’ve been in the horse industry for years, or you’re just breaking into the equestrian world, you have probably noticed that when it comes to training horses, everyone has an opinion; from the natural horsemanship cowboys, to the FEI masters shouting in foreign accents, and that old codger at your barn who knows everything. They all have an opinion, and darn it, they all know they’re right.
So who knows their stuff, and who needs to stick to discussing the presidential campaign? It all comes down to basic common sense.
Horses, like you and me, have emotions. In fact, chances are you’ve been on the receiving end of an “I’m angry, F-you” rear and buck, or the “I’m scared and I’m getting the heck out of here” twist and run. It’s something we all like to avoid. While it’s nice to say you can ride a bucking horse, it’s not an experience we strive for.
When it comes to higher intelligence, horses fall short. While the Equus certainly isn’t as dumb as some people believe, they don’t have the smarts in spades as you do. If they had half as much brain power as us, they wouldn’t let us boss them around. So when you’re riding around and your horse freaks over a strange rock formation, fallen tree, or even a new bag that wasn’t there yesterday (oh the humanity!) it doesn’t help to get mad and beat your horse. It also doesn’t help to turn and run away (if you can help it).
The force-the-horse-to-it-and-beat method, is the reason for this article. Just think about it. If you’re scared of the water, would it assuage your fear to have someone whip you, then throw you into a pool? Hmmm…that’s a toughie. Wouldn’t you rather dip a toe in first? Maybe hold on to a friend?
Horses are the same way. So what if your horse is afraid of that new bag that wasn’t there yesterday (oh my gawd!)? The best way to approach it is to do it slowly, patiently, and kindly. Hold his hand, if you will, and let him dip his toe in.
Let him look at that nasty, scary, horse-eating bag that all his friends have been talking about all day. If he wants to back up, then you back him up. Make it your suggestion. Then he knows it’s okay to move away, but it’s still your idea. Then ask him to go forward, and bring him back. Forward, and back, forward and back. If he’s still freaking out (hey, the bag is making noise!) then take him away completely and work him on the other side of the arena. But don’t let him walk or rest!
When you’re done with your shoulder-ins and half-passes, bring him back over to that darned bag and let him rest. Ahhh, so the bag isn’t so scary. Still not working? Take him to the other side of the arena and work, then bring him back to the bag. Sooner or later he’s going to figure it out: I get to rest when I’m around the bag. The bag isn’t scary, the bag is good.
Even if dipping your toe in that water didn’t help, you might be more inclined to get in the pool if you’re hot. It’s all common sense. And the best part is, he got to figure it out himself. There was no beating, no forcing. He did it on his own with your help.
So if that old codger pulls his horse over to the bag, beating him on the way, just be glad you have your common sense and pray that he finds his, for the horse’s sake.