It is so easy as horse owners and humans to be short on time and take your horse out for a quick training session. And if you only have a couple of days a week, to spend a couple of hours each time, with your horse, then training and riding may be the only thing that you do.
When you go to get your horse are they ready to go with you and eager to be with you? Are they easy to catch? Do the nicker when you approach or look the other way?
How does your horse respond when being taken away from the herd? Do they trust you out riding, or do they spook at everything along the way?
Maybe you could ask yourself. Does my horse consider me a part of their herd? I consider my horse to be like my child, a family member, does my horse feel the same way about me or I am a meal ticket?
When you ride out or train are they willing and ready to go or do they take time to respond to your requests?
I’ve always had a theory about horses and training and on the Come Along for the Ride Podcast I have been able to ask some of the worlds best ethical and gentle trainers, what their theories are.
In this blog I share with you the Top 5 Training Tips that were patterns that kept repeating themselves in interviews.
Top 5 Training Tips
By taking the time to do these 5 training tips, you will create a feeling of safety, connection and trust with your horse. This means that when it comes time to teach him something new, or ride him, he will respond to you in ways that you may have only dreamt about before.
1 Changing your perspective of why you have a horse.
“The main thing I try to teach to other people is changing our perspective on the horse, because after I changed my perspective there, things started to flow at a rapid speed that I was not expecting and all of a sudden the things that I had just admitted to myself and I had just come to terms with we’d never be able to do, were happening for us so quickly.” Says Mosie Trewhitt from Liberty Horsemanship.
Mosie speaks here about the foundation of having a horse in the first place. This is the first thing we need to come to terms with in every single relationship we have, with every horse that we own, at any stage of our lives.
To change your perspective on the horse is to understand that the horse may very well not want to do what you would like them to do. Your horse may not want to be a ridden horse. Your horse may not want to do dressage, jumping, camp drafting, tricks, insert any equestrian sport here.
When we think of getting a horse, we think of what it can do with us or for us. It can fulfil our dream of eventing, trail riding, western pleasure. Do we ever consider before we buy a horse what the horse might love to do? not what it is good at or bred for, but what it actually WANTS to do?
Is this something that you’ve ever considered?
The question now is, are you able to love and respect your horse if they don’t want to do what you want to do?
If the horse’s answer to your request is no, then maybe you can consider that it is just like humans who want to be accepted for who they are, not what they do?
Working in this way with horses will reveal how you react or respond to your horse saying no. As you may know, horses are great teachers and a reflection of behaviours we would do well to address.
Do you add pressure to get a yes? Do you accept the no but make them pay later by giving less scratches or food?
It’s something I’ve had to address within myself. When I became aware of the behaviours I had then I was able to adjust myself.
Now I see my horses as collaborators, I offer an idea, they say yes or no. If it’s a no, then I ask about something else.
Sometimes after they have said no, if I stay calm and open then they give me ideas that I’ve never considered before.
2 Taking the Time for your horse to trust you as a herd member
“The most beneficial thing that I do with my horses is purely sit in the paddock with them, with no expectations and no pressure and expecting nothing of them. The connection and trust that is formed is more valuable than any other training you can ever do.” says Kirsty Hagger from Willowvale Spanish Mustangs
In a world where we can take our mini-computer (smart phone) and full life of emails, social media and messaging with us everywhere. How much time do we actually spend just being? Just sitting in the paddock on the ground, on a log in a sturdy chair and just sit and be with our horses. They do this with each other all day, every day. Hopefully if they’re running with the herd, this is how they form a bond with each other. This is how they understand and communicate with each other. I really do wonder why it is that this is not taught to every single horse person in the world?
We expect our horses to get on a float or ride out, go hacking with us and leave the herd behind. Some of us work hard to make sure our horses are not heard bound.
Would it be easier, to simply take the time to make yourself a true part of the herd and have all of your horse’s trust and respect you as a herd member? To have them see you as not just the person who brings feed and always asking something of them?
As a horse person, I take the time to sit in the paddock with my horses. I have my own form of meditation where I can be present, find calmness, and at the same time be a part of my herd of horses. Even if your horses are in a barn, you can do this, take them out grazing and just be.
It’s so incredibly important to lay these foundations before asking anything of your horse. In human relationships we do it, we get to know people for a while before we really let them in, but for horses we expect them to just be there to serve our needs and trust us completely.
If you want true connection and partnership with your Horse, this is one way to achieving it.
3 Learning to listen to your horse
True connection and partnership come from a solid foundation in your relationship with your horse. This is an exercise that you can do, to help you open up to what your horse might be trying to say to you. This comes from Mel Fleming from Connecting with Horses and Riding with Synchronicity.
“The first thing I start to teach people in the clinics is about centring, breathing and body scanning. Centring is about taking your awareness down into your centre, your lower abdominal/pelvic area. Which means you’re getting out of your head, you’re getting out of being caught up in all the emotions that we get caught up in.”
“Then you breathe and expand your centre in all four directions on the in breath. And when we are breathing that way, expanding our belly, I like to say expanding our centre in all 4 directions on the in breath, as opposed to sucking your belly in as you breathe in. It changes your nervous system. When we breathe in this expansive way it allows us to relax.”
“Most people naturally breath the opposite way because they are running on adrenalin and cortisol and stress.”
“When we change our breathing we really slow our breathing down. Ideally, we take 5 to 7 seconds on the in breath, hold that breath for a few moments and then breathe out slowly.”
“You can start to calm yourself down, you start to get your mind still and your emotions still. This allows you to be more present in your body and then you can scan your body, just feel your body.”
“You’re taking yourself into a state of presence and stillness.”
“And through that breathing place of stillness, this is where you can start to connect with your horse more deeply.”
“This is because you’ve connected to yourself, your real self, your true self, not caught up in your head or caught up in your emotions. From there, you can connect to the horse.”
“You could just ask the question of the horse. How are you, how are you feeling? What’s going on for you?”
“That would be the beginning of being able to start sensing the horse and sensing your own true self and what’s going on with you.”
You see, horses live in the present. They’re not worried about what phone calls we have to make or whether they’re wearing the right shoes or what they’re going to make for dinner. They care about the breeze. They care about what’s around them and whether or not you’re a predator, or are you going to be bringing them feed?
Horses are so incredibly full of wisdom. Horses also wonder why you are trying to train them when you haven’t listened to a word they are saying to you!
Never underestimate the power of your breath in bringing yourself to the present moment. It’s a simple and powerful tool. We all have it within us right now. It costs us nothing. It takes only a minute at best to do and it can change your entire relationship with your horse.
Give it time to work and stay open.
4 Working to reduce anxiety and trauma in your horse
On first approaching your horse it’s great to consider how it is that you approach them. You may also consider their response to your approach.
Does your horse nicker to you? Does your horse’s eye go glassy and shut down? Are they ambivalent to you?
Your horse may not be shutting down because of you. It may be because of a past trauma.
If your horse does shut down at any time it’s important to know what to do about it. You can now start to see how important these training tips are to do, before you begin training your horse.
“Then you wait for the horse to relax. You wait for them to breathe out, you wait for them to lick and chew, shake their head, rub their nose. They do it every time. And once they do that, usually what you find is they start to become curious and they think, hold on a second, I do actually want to check out what she’s doing over there, what that is over there. So they actually close that gap by themselves.” Says Emma Bryant from Equality Equine Services
Imagine how our horses would respond knowing that we’ve taken the time to not rush them and expect them to just be okay with our presence. Imagine how they feel knowing that we understand what it’s like to feel someone in your space and we totally respected that. This is obviously not possible on a daily basis, but if we take the time at the beginning of a training session, imagine how much more relaxed and supple, let alone willing, the horse will be?
A great example of this is Valence Williams from Soul Horse Revolution. “I used to try and force him into the float using the pressure and release technique. It could just really send him way over his threshold where he would be raring up. Quite powerfully. So I learned to really slow down to listen and to create trust.”
“I was allowing his nervous system the time it needed to calm down. When you’ve got the trust and the calmness, you don’t get as many nos.”
The let-down is for the nervous system. It’s paramount to your horse’s ability to learn. When the nervous system is relaxed, the brain can bring in and process new information. When it is under stress and duress, it simply can’t, your horse will be in flight, fight or freeze response.
5 Calming Signals for Horses
“A calming signal is where they’ll stretch down and rub their nose on their foreleg while we’re riding. And we have been taught to jerk their head up, as they’re being disobedient. They’re ignoring you. “ says Anna Blake from Relaxed and Calm
“A horse can’t ignore us. They’re prey animals.”
“That neck stretch is going to relax him some. He’s also mentoring a behaviour he’d like to see us do, meaning, I’m no threat to you relax”
Anna also talks about not escalating our queues. This comes back to calmness, it comes back to patience and it also comes back to the let-down.
“Some of us, traditionally, have been taught ask, tell, make. We have been taught that we should escalate the cues. And I think as humans we’re really good at doing that because it is our nature to do that anyway. If we don’t think we’re heard, we talk louder.”
“So I’m the horse and we’re walking, and I think you just gave me a cue. I think you did. Oh crap. That’s the second cue. And then on the third cue, what I see the Horse do is flinch his ribs.”
“Training starts one tiny step at a time, with a reward after every step, and building on that.”
“We need to give the horse time to understand what we’re asking, and then time to respond. I tend to be pretty slow when I’m introducing something new. I want the horse to have a dopamine response in his mind. I just want him thinking, not responding out of fear of the next queue.”
Small steps, take the time, allow the let-down, then take another small step.
Know when to finish a session on a good note, absolutely reward the try and you’ll have be on your way to an incredible connection with the horse. The kind you dreamed of when you were a kid.
I hope you found this article informative and if you want to join other conscious horse lovers please join my amazing Facebook Group: Eden River Equestrian Group.
Tracy is a Conscious Horse Person, Entrepreneur, Podcaster, Blogger, Holistic Counsellor. A Grower of Organic Food and a builder of Community. She explores many topics about being conscious in the horse world, of both horses and the environment.