Training horses and ponies is not easy. That’s the first thing to remember. Yes some horses are easier than others. Yes some are more talented than others. Some have easier characters than others too. However when training horses believe me you will hit a resistance somewhere but the resistance won’t be the problem. Let me say again, your horses resistance wont be the problem. The horse only resist because they are tired, too weak, don’t understand the question, don’t know the answer and become frustrated or are just too tense to focus. Mares can act strange when they are in season while some handle this time with no trouble.
A horse may also resist due to a past experience that they can’t let go of mentally. Some horses are more forgiving than others but horses in general are highly intelligent animals with an incredible memory bank. They are capable of remembering all the good as well as all the bad. How long your horse resists the work at hand and how big of a bump depends on the following:
- how you react is the number cause of how big or small a resistance will become.
- how you diagnose the resistance will be important. For example; ask some questions to yourself like
- Is my horse too fresh?
- Is my horse not understanding me?
- Is my horse in pain somewhere?
- how are my aids? Am being clear?
- Is it the way I’m sitting or does my position need tweaking?
- Is it the bit, the bridle, the saddle?
- How are the horses teeth?
These are questions I ask so I can make a plan. Now having said all that I do not pull my horses out of work unless they have an injury that requires rest. If for example I feel a horse may have some small things physically going on I will discuss this with my vet. I will see what I can do to make sure my horse is healthy and comfortable. However I do not stop the training. I may shorten sessions, work the horse in hand, long line, or send a horse out for some days of trails. In other words I may lighten the load or change to an area of training the horse is more comfortable with. I may take some pressure off for a while. I do believe a horses mind should be worked in some way in a consistent manor.
“Perfect practice makes perfect work” This is an important saying to remember. It has truth. Small doses of good work will take you further than hours of bad work. So with that in mind I will share some experiences and give some advice.
The reality is we are human and no matter how good we ride or train we will make a mistake somewhere. I’ve come to realize I have to put a lot of thought into my work and planning to avoid as many mistakes with my horses as possible. I must also realize when things are headed down the wrong path. When I realize things are not going in the right direction I have to pause and give some thought as to why I’m hitting that bump in the road or why the horse is resisting or not understanding me.
I often think of my fathers wise words. The horse can do all that we want. We are the ones who can not communicate to the horse in a way he understands. When you realize you must work as hard at perfection as your horse that will be the first step in the right direction. In other words when I have a resistance my first thought is how can I explain this to my horse. How can I be more clear with my aids. How can I teach him this exercise in a different way that his personality will better understand. I also think of my position. Good riders are always working on their position. Once your position is secure it’s time for the art of timing.
Timing is critical to proper work. Timing is very important to many sports. Timing is not exclusive to riding. Timing is important to a person racing on skis down a hill. The skier knows exactly when to meet each pole and they know the speed they need to be at. They must then adjust to get there at the right time and in the right way. A swimmer must practice timing as the sound goes off to begin the race they must be ready to hit the water first. A golfer must have timing to hit the ball at the right moment within their swing. A baseball player must have incredible timing to hit the ball with his bat at the right moment. He must have even better timing to hit the ball at the right moment in their swing to hit the ball as far as possible. Timing, timing, timing.
Now does the horse need to learn timing too? YES
Do some horses naturally have better timing than others? YES ( like some people can dance and some just can’t hear or feel the beat)
Quick going horses often have the hardest time learning timing because at a young age their legs are going faster than their brain can organize. In the end of course a quick hind leg is good for advanced work and makes the advanced movements easier.
All this is not something written in stone. I have had some horses that are very slow behind who can piaffe super good. The point is all horses are different in their character, conformation, and work ethic. A good work ethic will take a horse farther than talent alone.
Lets use an example of a spooky horse as one type of resistance. I have had some spooky horses and some that never spook, but I can tell you the spooky ones can be such good horses when they are trained and the rider does the right thing when they spook. If I have a spooky horse I stay in a small area of the ring they are comfortable with until they are feeling warmed up and on my aids. Only when I feel I have a good connection on the outside rein do I head toward the spooky area. On the way if I feel tension I make an 8-10 meter circle and then go straight. I might make several 8-10 meter circles down the long side until the horse is thinking about me and not that shadow in the corner. Why circles? It’s a way for the horse to continue going forward as it’s hard for them to spin or run away or back up or get behind the leg in a 10 meter circle. We need all horses to be steady and confirmed on the outside rein but we especially need this on a spooky type.
I want to know my horse would follow my outside rein right through the wall. It’s a feeling you will have because your horse will not turn the corner until you tell him. This is developed over years of training, it does not happen with any horse immediately. One more note on the subject of a resistance like spooking. Do not think going past the spooky object a million times will fix the problem. Sure horses should be allowed to look and get comfortable with something they are spooking at but in the end they will find something else because they are a spooky type. You need to really train them on the outside rein and do not dwell on the object but rather what you can do to help the horse focus on you, listen to you, and trust you.
What if you are having a resistance and you get really stuck in a rut? Perhaps you thought you knew what to do but it didn’t work. Perhaps you have a plan but it backfires. It happens to a lot of good riders. Now the question; what to do? Get help from someone with experience and who you think is a good match for your horse.
Now lets talk about re-booting the situation. Your horse is going great, you’re planning the show season, you’re excited about the future………………….and………then…….your horse no longer wants to back up or maybe your horse doesn’t want to trot around the ring! I know you were doing leg yields, half passes, counter canter etc. So what happened?? Why? How the heck am I going to get out of this mess? You know you have a good horse but you’re in a rut now. You went from schooling first level to just trying to stay on a 20 meter circle. I’ve been there. Yes I’ve had those easy horses that make you feel like a super star trainer, but the truth of your knowledge comes when you have a problem or a tricky horse to ride. It’s important to problem solve rather than fight.
A horse can not be punished or even think they are being punished if they don’t understand what they are suppose to do in the first place. For example if my horse balks at the gate and wants to run out I can push them forward and ride them past the gate. I could touch with the whip. But remember what I said earlier you have a 1500 pound horse under you. In no way can you “make” any horse do something he does not want to do. The horse in the end should have respect for the rider without fear. If the horse understands the aids from the riders legs a good forward ride and touch with the whip will do the trick. However young horses may not be confirmed in their training enough to except those aids in a moment of resistance or tension.
So we can make it about the resistance or make it about getting the horse to understand me, reconnect with me, and have respect without fear of the rider. This is what training is all about. Teaching the horse to except your aids means you may need to start again from past training and “re-boot” your horses attitude. In other words there’s no crime in going back to easier work for a while to let the horses mind relax.
Do not be discouraged but take small steps with help and many times you will come over the bump with a much better horse than you had before. You will also be a much better rider. Most important allow your horse to be your teacher and rise up to be a better rider through thick and thin.
Training is repetition. By repeating the same exercises over and over for weeks, months, and years a horse becomes confirmed in his training. Resistances can come from a rider doubting themselves or not being clear enough with their aids. It can come from being too Greedy and pushing the horse too much in one day. It can come because you have not asked enough and the horse is not connecting mentally with you. It can come from tight muscles or a sore back. It can come out of no where for no reason. It can come simply because being a competition horse is hard work! It really does not matter how it came about one must make a plan, seek help, take a deep breath and move forward again slowly. Less is more. Slow is faster.
You will know when you have found the right trainer for your horse because they will understand what needs to happen and set you up for a positive result.