My father always said to me don’t treat a horse like a person as they do not think like us. I believe this is true. Horses react but they don’t pre meditate those actions. They simply show their grouchy face when they don’t like the girth tightened. They perk their ears and look at you when you have a treat, but it’ the treat they’re after. They nicker when hungry or their stable buddy is leaving. They don’t care who feeds them as long as someone feeds them in their normal routine.
But what if what they are trying to tell you is more subtle, more complicated? This is where it gets tricky. This is where you need to own a horse for many years to really get to know them.
The first person to see the horses in the morning for breakfast gets the first hello. Has the horse drank water over night? Is he or she happy to be eating breakfast? Does their manure look normal? Are they acting energetic, which is common the first day of a show. This is the first and most important part of the day.
Next comes putting on the halter for turn out, work or going to the hot walker. Here we learn a lot. I especially find the mares to really let me know how they are doing. Some days they can’t wait to see me, other days they don’t want anything to do with me. I never take this personally and neither should you. On the days they don’t want to come to me or seems a bit cranky, those are the days I must listen closely. Those are the days I have to decide do they just need encouragement which is always the rider/handlers job. Or maybe they don’t feel well. Perhaps they have some pain. This is one reason I love to lunge the horses or work in hand before I ride. This warm up without the rider lets us know, how their muscles are feeling, how their soundness looks, are they quiet or fresh? I see a lot on the lunge line and can often better plan my routine.
What I know is that our desires and needs must never come before the horses. If you want to work on counter canter but you feel the canter walk transitions are not as good as they should be then you might need to change plans. Spend some time organizing the canter walk transitions even if it means no counter canter that day.
I recently swam with the dolphins at the Dolphin research center in Key West. This particular day the dolphins had much larger crowds to please than normal due to the holidays. The trainers need the money from the people to pay for the research center so they book the dolphins to their highest capacity with good reason. However the trainers make it very clear to their patrons that they will not compromise the dolphins well being under any circumstance. When the dolphins didn’t want to do something the trainers had a method of no reaction to the wrong behavior and positive reward for the good behavior. This training is one all animals can flourish on. Positive reinforcement.
I’m a trainer that likes to send horses to the ring each and every day, but I’ve learned when to back off, when to realize the horse might be sore and seek treatment and when the horse just needs a change in routine. No horse can do the same old routine day in and day out. It must be fun and like any athlete the horses will have sore spots that should be treated. We go to the chiropractor, the massuse, we take care of ourselves with vitamins and our horses deserve all that too. However be knowledble about it. If you feel something isn’t right with your horse it may be they are just having an off day or it may be he or she is trying to tell you something.
I learn so much from my horses in the stable. This is a place where riders must take some time. If I have a groom these are some questions I may ask before heading to the ring. How was she in the paddock? How was she in the hot walker? Any grouchy behavior when putting the girth on? Did she eat her lunch? It helps me know what to expect both mentally and physically. If they can’t talk we need to learn to read body language. The only way to read it is to first pay attention to it.