Working with the green horse part 1
Consider me naïve but when I first started riding horses (I was 7) I didn’t realise they had to learn how to be a “good horse”. I didn’t understand that they weren’t just born into this world knowing how to be ridden, look after us, steer and stop well, hold a frame. I learnt to ride on the trusty school horses who had spent years learning how to look after, teach and even slightly challenge beginner and intermediate riders. Most of my falls were due to me getting too confident and unbalancing myself. I didn’t learn how to train, I learnt how to ride.
Once I was ready for my first horse, I had all the hopes and dreams of the success of competition. My horses had a few interesting quirks that I learnt how to hold on to and they were small enough that I could feel the fear and do it anyway… and mostly not get hurt. I did enough natural horsemanship clinics to get by but I never really got the point. To me it was not important and if you had to lunge your horse to ride you didn’t know how to ride.
It wasn’t until I started training horses for a riding school, building and learning the skills they needed to be safe and look after my young students that I started to understand. Its not about being the strongest, biggest bully but opening a pathway of communication so that when our horses did act up we could dig in and find the underlying reason. I had come full circle and now it was my responsibility to educate these horses so I could trust them with people from 5 to 85 years old and all walks of life.
The more I learnt how to make horses do what I wanted, (I was also training others horses) the more uncomfortable I got with the process. I was taught to be scarier than what they were scared of. Any no or resistance meant they were being naughty and needed to be “worked out of them” or “pushed through”. The horses got bigger, the ground further away, the behaviour more difficult and I just didn’t really want to fall off anymore.
The better you get as a rider, just holding on and pushing through, the less you have to stop and ask “why is my horse doing this? How can I best support my horse through this? How can I make this an enjoyable experience for both myself and my horse?”
You don’t get the opportunity to ask,
“Does my horse understand what I want?”
“Can my horse do what I’m asking?”
“Does my horse have a good reason for its resistance, ie. Pain, underlying issue like ulcers, teeth, poorly fitted tack etc.”
“Is my horse emotionally stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated or angry about their training?”
In the middle of a lesson with my instructor I just broke down. “There has to be a better way!” I was no longer enjoying the process, even though I was starting to reach those competition goals and dreams I had as a child. I no longer wanted to compromise on my values. I needed to get those results in a way that built my horse up, not broke him down. I needed to be my horses voice. Or I had to quit. Give it all away.
That started my years long pursuit (it never ends really), of finding ways to work with our horses that aligned with my primary philosophy of first do no harm, mentally, physically and emotionally.
There are a few key things I learnt along the way
- Horses need to be taught how to learn, look for and find the answer.
- They don’t instinctively know what to do with pressure. Their first response isn’t to give, its to fight, freeze or flee.
- They need to be able to give consent and have a say in their training. The training happens for them not to them.
- Ridden correctly they should stay sound and improve in their freedom and quality of movement.
- Teaching the horse a cue is easy (honestly it should only take 1 to 4 training sessions) building the relationship, trust and bond that elicits willingness is the hard part that takes the long time.
And I learnt a whole lot about myself and my personal relationships. If you have spent any time reflecting on why your horse is doing a certain thing and how it could be your fault, you really start to look at your own flaws.
So that lead us to our training principles that we use to guide us at equestrian movement.
- First do no harm
- Open the pathway of communication
- Establish ourselves as a leader our horse can trust and follow
- Teach our horses to be curious and confident when they spook or get looky
- Develop and emotional connection with our horses when they enjoy our company
- Give the horse the ability to consent what we are asking of them
- Also be asking ourselves if the work we are doing is for our horse or for us
If you want to learn more check out our free ebook.
Katie Boniface from https://www.equestrianmovement.com/