I wrote a blog post on November 23 that has been read almost 10,000 times. Below is a question I received regarding that blog as well as my answer. The original blog was titled, ‘The scared horse needs to be allowed to cycle through work cycles and then emotional cycles.’
How does this translate under saddle? I have a smart, energetic 17y.o. QH mare who is very respectful and understanding in the round pen. We’ve worked through our emotional cycles on the ground over time and it certainly makes a difference in our relationship. But once under saddle, if she gets into an emotional cycle because of a new motion (pivots, picking up her ribcage, yielding her hindquarters while moving forward) how do I get her out of it? I don’t want to reward her for becoming emotional and nervous by letting her out of the movement we’re trying. But I also don’t want to stress her further and cause damage to our relationship. Any advice is very welcome! Thanks!!
The further we go in horse training the more subtle things become. Colt starting reminds me of kindergarden; the language we use is basic and broad. Which also makes things easier and more obvious. Think of how a kindergarden teacher speaks to the children. The progress is also more visible. Little Johnny can’t write…little Johnny can write his name.
Fast forward little Johnny to college and it isn’t so easy to measure his progress. Many of the things he learns are internal thoughts or refinements of the basics he learned years ago. The progress is more subtle…still very important…but harder to measure.
With all that said…
Create a base. A reference point. A safe place. Some might consider this a place where the horse gets a reward. In kindergarden this is might be both a physical place as well as a verbal (emotional) reward. Two examples of this with Jac would be;
- the section of my arena that I often rest him in between the back doors (straight ahead of the camera) I call it 12:00 and 3:00 in my arena;
- turning and facing me is a reward, I talk about this in Episode 13 at 17:30 seconds.
Jac starts to hunt those places (physical) because he gets to relax there (emotional). So turning and facing me is a physical movement that he associates with a emotional reward. Still with me? Good, because here is where it gets tricky.
When you are riding your horse you need to create a safe place. Something that they can hunt. Some physical movement that they can associate with a mental reward. By the time you are working on the movements you listed (pivots, picking up her ribcage, yielding her hindquarters while moving forward) we can pretend your horse is in high school.
That means that your horse needs to find rewards inside of things that might look like work. Lets pretend you want to work on moving your horses hindquarter while moving forward. I’m going to call that moving her hip. Warm her up and then do something familiar; say trotting a 20 foot circle. At some point I hope you have made that a ‘safe’ place, something not too stressful. This circle should be a place where in the past when she relaxed there you stopped and got off. You put her away for the day. Now when you trot a 20′ circle she gets hopeful….can you see how by doing this we are training her emotions to be associated positively with the circle?
Now we want to move her hip. So we trot the circle and she gets mentally prepared for good things to happen. After a few circles I would pull her nose slightly in and push her hip out with my inside leg. (I would have taught her to move her hip at a stand still first). At the slightest correct movement (hip swings out slightly) I would release and get back on my circle.
Mentally she will look at this as a bump in the otherwise smooth road. Trot a few more quiet circles and be done. If you do it 20 times in a row then she will have a reason to be stressed.
If you over do the ‘work’ of moving her hip you will destroy the ‘safe’ place. Be very aware that you don’t do that. You must have ‘safe’ places for your horse to return to or emotionally they head down hill.
In a few more episodes I will be showing the first time I ‘mount up’ on Jac. It is an exceptional demonstration of Jac mentally searching for the answer….and he has never had this question asked before. He is beginning to exhibit a hunt for an ’emotional’ state of being….because that is where I reward him. That’s a deep thought!