First, get really mad. Swearing is preferred, and then find a stronger bit. It can be hard to find a twisted barb-wire bit sometimes, so take the grinder and cut some sharp edges into the fattest, jointed snaffle you can find. If your horse’s saliva isn’t a nice deep pink color, keep grinding away. And then mount up, take a death grip on the reins, and show him who’s boss.
What? He won’t go forward? Inconceivable! Get a whip, thrash him good. But if that wreaks havoc with his rhythm, and you know that rhythm is the very foundation of riding, then try spurs and only thrash him when he shuts down really badly. The spurs that work best have rowels with a sharp serrated edge. They’re made by the folks who make that Miracle Blade knife.
Still no luck? I’m not sure… is now the time you get out your electric cattle-prod saddle pad? Or is it time to start your testosterone shots?
Snap out of it! Are you nuts? Avoid this is horrible, abusive training! There are lots of things in the world that deserve your rage, but your horse isn’t one of them!
It’s a crazy world that I would even need to make that disclaimer. Still, I bet you’ve seen something close?? And yes, I’m preaching to the choir. I don’t think my blog readers are capable of anything close to this level of vicious riding.
Still, most of us started riding with some version of the Make ’em Method, hopefully not this extreme. We were taught to face the horse at the thing he’s afraid of and pick a fight, escalate the fight until the horse submits. Never mind that horses have side vision and his forehead is a bit of a blind spot, make him march up and ‘look’ at it anyway. Is our blind spot bigger than the horse’s?
Here’s the truth, you don’t have to win every fight. Sometimes stopping the fight is a win. From that position, you can negotiate a better cue. It will get done, it will take some time, and your communication skills will benefit. In the best scenario, the rider finds a million times to say ‘good boy’ in the process, and the horse gains confidence and pride. Best of all, there’s a sweet peace a rider gets that comes from slowing time down, rather than letting time have a runaway, dragging us along. Horses love this brand of leadership.
Sometimes we have to escalate a cue to make a correction, but immediately after that, drop your cue back to small and quiet. Change the tone of the conversation, forget the grudge, and congratulate yourself on your patience. Then start over happy.
“There is one principle that should never be abandoned when training a horse, namely, that the rider must learn to control himself before he can control his horse. This is the basic, most important principle to be preserved in equitation.” (Alois Podhajsky, 1965)
What if you are not quite happy yet? Take a breath. And no, that isn’t a figure of speech. Literally take a breath, bring air down into the very corners of your lungs and let that inhale inflate the time and space you share with your horse. Take several more deep breaths, and maybe your horse will join you. Either way, let go of frustration and ego, think of it as a human half-halt. Because your horse’s behavior begins with you, a good rider should be as responsive as she wants her horse to be.
Science and common sense tell us that a horse resists from either fear or confusion, emotions that are never resolved by aggression. We are always training, both ourselves and our horses, working a tendency towards lightness and release, or heaviness and resistance. Your choice…
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.
P.S. I saw something that burned my eyes this week. I was leaving a therapeutic riding center, passing a roping arena. I pulled over to use my phone and saw such an extreme fit of horse abuse that I had to look away. The arena was full of riders, they did nothing to help the poor horse and neither did I. Shame on me.