Hi, I’m Caroline Rider of Rider Horsemanship. This month’s Holistic Horse “Ask the Expert” Q&A is about developing a confident, brave horse, both on the ground and riding. This month’s video is a sequel to “How to Train a Spooky and Unpredictable Horse, Part I”, created in 2014.
Please click here to view Part I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUNPmq3qM80&list=PL1UMI_k13fYWO_amtAh_aCljfta7T_5XI&index=13
You can see in this video, Part II, a calmer, more connected and relaxed horse – on the ground. I have been working with this horse, Zor, on and off for a year now. We have been working on our liberty, lunge for self carriage, balance and collection as well as our training level in dressage and trail riding. Zor is progressing well and consistently in all areas – and, we are still struggling with his confidence and bravery when it is windy and around new things and woods.
A few months ago, beginning around May, I began pushing Zor meaning I began working him in areas that he felt more uncomfortable and unsure. As a trainer I know that in order to correctly develop a horse’s confidence and trust I must work in an environment, a.k.a “safe zone”, that they feel most comfortable in first – way before I introduce the “scary place”. I work on specific exercises in the “safe zone” that help us connect, trust, partner and of course build confidence. I will not move out of this safe zone until my horse is responsive to my subtle cues, shows total relaxation and has rhythm to his movement (3 “R’s”). When he shows up with the 3 “R’s” and in three different yet comfortable environments I will move our work together to the next and fourth area, the “scary” environment. This environment is where we are challenged the most and where he feels threatened the most, such as; woods, trails, obstacles, trailering to another farm or facility.
Why do I wait to introduce the scary place? I wait for three reasons: 1) I don’t believe in, nor practice, desensitizing; 2) young horses learn confidence and bravery from their mother’s – who don’t sack them out or desensitize them and 3) because the scary environment, like your competition or show, is a test – testing how strong your trust is, connection, confidence in you as a leader and partnership – where the willingness to try shows up.
What you will see in the beginning of this video is how I take Zor back to the scary place we worked in a year ago and show you how well he handles the woods, aka scary place. I also show you how I take things up a notch by introducing scary noises and movement. This is to further test his ability to not only think his way through his triggers but to also build more trust in me and confidence in the situation – confidence in himself to handle his emotions.
Zor and I then continue to work through the same exercises we worked on in Part I while my student makes noise and walks behind the woods. Zor can’t clearly see her yet he can hear her and catch glimpses of distant movement. This of course heightens him into a low level of adrenaline, aka self preservation mode where he displays freeze and flight patterns or coping mechanisms/behaviors.
Once I feel Zor has connected with me through our online work and is showing relaxation and rhythm in his movement, I get on and ride him. I have chosen similar riding patterns or exercises to my ground work where I ask for control over his body parts: nose, pole, shoulder, ribs and hind quarters. You can see how worried he is at first and his heightened sensory awareness makes him leery, spooky and potentially unpredictable.
During our short ride I share with you the strategies I have learned that help you not only feel safe at this stage but keep you safe. Please keep in mind that I would not be riding Zor if I didn’t see, and feel, him soften, stay connected and become relaxed in our ground work. He must show up this way at least 75% of the time in our ground work too. This consistency is what gives me confidence and tells me it’s time to ride and work through his triggers safely.
Please visit www.riderhorsemanship.com for more education materials, DVD’s, clinic opportunities, training and the TAO of Horsemanship Online Foundation Course.