Afraid of demanding too much from your horse?
In the past, I’ve been nervous to ask too much from horse. I thought that I was being “mean” or that the horse would stop liking me.
I had this idea in my head of me riding my horse bareback and bridle-less. We would have this amazing connection off the bat where he would just read my mind and we would move together as a unit.
As you probably know from your experience with horses – this is just not realistic without significant training. Horses have a mind of their own that doesn’t always align with what we’re asking them to do. Plus you need to work on liberty training and natural horsemanship to do those things!
I would often find it hard to be firm in situations where my horse wouldn’t want to do what I wanted him to do. I was torn between being firm about my request and granting the horse’s request.
My experience: demanding more from a hot horse
I remember when I started implementing trotting circles repetitively to work on bend and good rhythm in the trot. I would sometimes do 5-10 circles in a row. The first horse I did this with was quite a hot horse – emotionally he was always just ready to go.
I wanted to provide him some calm and stability emotionally by doing kinda boring, repetitive exercises.
After about the 3rd round of circle trotting, he would start racing away on me. Either that or he would start randomly drifting towards the gate.
It was clear that he was getting bored. He didn’t think much of this circle exercise. He would rather go back to his paddock and eat and hang out with his friends.
This particular horse also had a history of having an emergency brake used on him whenever he went too fast. He had learned that if he raced off, he would get a release from riding because he would have the emergency break used and then he would stop and that was a “release” from working.
What he needed was an “ask, tell, demand” type of approach so he would learn some emotional control during the 1-2 hours a day he would spend being ridden.
I really sat down and reflected on my internal conflict. I couldn’t provide the firmness in my trotting exercise because part of my brain was like “awww, he’s just tired and bored – I don’t want to bore him by continuing to do this same exercise”. The other part was telling me that is exactly what he needed to improve his emotional and physical control.
I came to a few conclusions:
1) 1-2 hours per day for 3-4 days a week is not very much time. This is how much time I like to work out during the week. It’s not pleasant but I focus and get it done because it benefits me in all other aspects of my life. It’s not too much to ask my horse to focus for this amount of time out of his day. Even if it’s not the most fun of exercises, it will provide him with better physical and mental health across the board.
2) We know that horses operate in a dominance hierarchy. If I keep changing my mind about what we’re doing and I’m not willing to back up my requests every single time, I’m teaching my horse that I’m not a very capable leader. This is going to make him lose confidence in me. It will put him in the uncomfortable position of trying to figure out when to lead and when to follow. It’s less pressure on him if I’m 100% sure of all my requests so he can be confident in following them – whether they’re boring or not.
Let me know if you think this makes sense or if you have any thoughts or comments!