5 Ways to A Spook – And What To Do When It Happens

5 Ways To A Spook
Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

Let's take a riding break and do a little analysis for a moment.

What happens during the spook? It helps to examine how the horse spooks, so that we can have a plan.

Keep in mind that all these suggestions should ideally be done when the horse isn't spooking, so that he is calm, cool and able to respond and learn. Then when the spook situation happens, you will be relying on all that good practice to come through even while the horse is emotional.

1. Stopping every other stride

This one is a classic. The horse sees something from the corner of his eye, and he stops. Takes a long look. Then... it's hard to know what's going to happen. Maybe a lurch forward to another stop. Or maybe a deek sideways away from the offending object. 

In this case, you have to teach the horse to move forward - under all (most?) circumstances. Practice getting a strong response to your leg aids in areas that are not threatening to your horse. Then it would help if you can anticipate the spook, and before he stops his feet, urge him onward.

You might want to bend him away from the scary object, so that he looks to a calmer space in the arena rather that to the scary places. But you want to teach the horse to "leak" his energy out forward, through the reins, straight ahead. (Remember the old "between your reins and your legs"? This is when it's really helpful!)

2. "Running" through the reins

We call it running when the horse goes faster faster, or even if the horse stays at one speed but doesn't stop when the rider applies the aids. The horse might go straight, but it also happens sideways - as in, drifting out or falling in through the shoulders.

In this case, the horse doesn't stop and does the opposite: keeps those legs moving and going until he gets as far as possible away from the scary object. This can be as disconcerting as the horse that stops hard, because you have to not only stay with the horse, but ride through imbalances and sudden changes of direction.

This problem can be improved by training your horse to respond to your rein and leg aids. Calm the horse down (maybe walk when he wants to trot), keep him "underpower" (for example, jog even if you would normally trot), maintain the same rein length, maintain consistent aids. You have to be that ultimate active rider to make a difference. 

It's important that you do this training when the horse is calm and able to learn. It might take numerous repetitions until your horse responds to your leg and rein aids "automatically" (without thinking). Once that happens, you might find that the horse is much more responsive even in high fear situations.

3. Always spooks in that one area

Some horses get scared in a certain area, or under certain conditions, and then seem to behave the exact same way every time they pass that area or are exposed to the same conditions. It's almost like they learned to spook once, and so they do it again and again regardless of the (lack of) gravity of the situation. As we know, horses have very long memories - especially of bad events!

In this case, try to ease their fear (or reactivity) by working close to that area (or under those conditions), but not so close that the horse wants to spook.

So let's say there's a corner that your horse always wants to avoid, at all costs. Don't take the horse there. In fact, do the opposite! Show your horse that he can trust you by working as near to the area as you can without making him anxious. So stay in a comfort zone area, but do keep riding and working.

Then slowly, work closer and closer to and through the corner (don't actually point him into the scary spot). Let your horse be your guide. If he becomes more agitated, back off a little, go a little further away. Keep him where he is responsive and breathing and able to be calm. Then one time, drift a little closer to the scary corner and see how it goes.

It might take a month or longer to gain your horse's responsiveness and trust but each time he feels calmer about the scary situation, you have made progress. 

4. Bends toward the scary object

This is sort of like #2, because while the horse bends all the way around to see the object, he is also dropping the opposite shoulder and getting ready to move in that direction. It can become a vicious cycle: the horse looks at the scary object, moves away, looks again, moves away more....

Like #2, your job will be to anticipate the coming spook and work on getting the horse to bend away from the scary object. Keep the horse moving, keep the shoulders "in the body" and bend away from the object. Once the horse can take his eyes off the object, he might settle down and know that he is safe with you as the rider.

5. YOU spooking!

I had to add this one too. So many times, we become ingrained in our own behavior when we think the horse is about to spook. If it's happened to you time and again, your body takes over and begins to anticipate the spook by "assuming the position", so to speak. 

You think the horse is going to run, or turn toward the object. You lean forward, or even turn to the object yourself! Then the horse REALLY thinks he has something to be afraid of!

This is where self-awareness comes in (and possibly lessons too). If you can feel your body tightening, or maybe starting to point to the spook object, you can change what you're about to do. Loosen through your joints on purpose. Turn you core completely away from the object. Use your inside leg to prevent the horse from falling in. Count 1-2-1-2 (like I do) and focus on each and every step. 

Self-awareness, and then self-control, go a long way to teaching your horse that there is nothing to be worried about. If your body stays calm and contained, there's a much better chance that your horse will mirror you!

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

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If you like this article, read more here:

Horse-Eating Monsters: 4 Steps To Controlling The Spook

4 Steps To Better Movement

10 Strategies For The Nervous Horse Rider

Everything You Need To Know About Horses (OK, More Like 11 Things)

#1 Rider Problem of 2017: Riding “Disconnected”

Practice Sessions Registration Is Now Open!

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4 Reasons Why We Post In Trot

posting trot
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Probably one of the first things you learn in your riding lessons is to post the trot. Initially, it might take some work and muscle memory to be able to move within the horse's trot strides, but in time, posting will become second nature and a skill you may use for years on different horses in different riding styles and events.

In fact, you might get to a point where you don't remember exactly why you're posting, only that you know you are comfortable, your horse is comfortable, and you are able to be effective and efficient within the trot gait.

While the posting makes the trot easier on the rider and the horse, there are actually other, more complicated purposes that might add a completely new dimension to how you can use the posting trot to help you become a more effective rider.

Rider's Balance

Once you have figured out the rhythm of the trot, and developed some of the muscles needed to support the forward/back movement of the post, you might get into a nice groove that allows you to post relatively efficiently and comfortably within your horse's tempo.

The horse's movement prompts you and you can stay in balance fairly easily and move with the horse as needed. Posting is especially helpful if your horse has very large movement or if the trot is very bouncy, which makes it difficult for you to sit for more than a few strides. In this case, rising can save both you and your horse's back!

Even after you learn to sit the trot, you might often go back to the posting trot just to re-establish balance and posture. The forward phase can help you improve your shoulder and hip alignment, and remember to bring the shoulder blades together at the top of the rise. The sit phase can help you establish a deeper seat as the seat bones rest into the saddle. 

Energize The Movement

You can use the posting trot to encourage your horse to step forward, thereby creating more impulsion and a larger hind end stride. 

Some riders tend to hold the horse back while sitting the trot, possibly because they are tight through the back or simply can't move large enough to allow the horse enough freedom in the movement. Posting helps you move forward in the saddle enough to release that lower back and allow the horse to move forward with more energy.

If you work within the rhythm of the stride, you can actually encourage the horse to energize by sending your own energy forward to the front of the saddle while in the forward phase. The horse invariably feels the energy surge and attempts to match it.

Free The Horse's Back

There are many reasons why riders might want to post in order to simply take our weight off the horse's back.

If you do long distance trail riding, you might spend considerable time in the trot. Posting trot is often the choice of riders who want their horses to move strong and fast and not have to bear the weight of the rider long term. Posting will also save the rider's back, which in turn will help the horse because the rider can be more comfortable for longer periods of time.

Even if you ride in the ring, you might want to intersperse sitting trot with posting trot for similar reasons. So after a session of sitting trot work, you might want to post just to allow the horse's back to move without your weight for a period of time. 

Timing

Well, posting trot is all about timing, really.

At first, you might learn how to match our forward phase to the outside shoulder (so that the inside hind leg is free to reach further underneath the body). That takes considerable timing for the inexperienced rider.

Then you learn that you can influence the horse's tempo with your own posting tempo. Go slower, and the horse will slow down in the gait. Go faster, and the horse will match your tempo. This becomes key when you want to slow the gait but keep the strides as large as possible, and develop hind end and top line muscles through tempo exercises.

Finally, 1-2 rhythm of the posting trot can help you establish rhythmical aids. For example, in leg yield, you might want to apply the leg aid as the horse is getting ready to lift the inside hind leg (and outside front leg). So you can squeeze with the calf as you post forward so that you coincide the aid just as the diagonal pair of legs come off the ground to move - forward and sideways, in this case.

So, you see that there is more to the posting trot than first meets the eye! Use it with understanding and good feel and you will find it to be a very useful skill in all your riding endeavors!

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

Click here to read more and to join one of the most complete programs on the Internet!

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If you like this article, read more here:

Why Do We Post At The Trot & What’s The Fuss About Being On The Correct Diagonal?

Use the “Canter-Trot” to Truly Engage the Hind End

How To “Flow” from the Trot to the Walk

How To Improve YOUR Trot-Canter Transitions

Ode to the Stretchy Trot

Introducing The Practice Sessions!

Horse Listening Practice Sessions

Well, it's been long in development and mentioned several times over the past years, and now, I can finally say...

The Practice Sessions are ready to go!

I've had many blog readers contact me about how I might be able take the blog to the "next level." So while the articles are there for all to access and read, they don't (and honestly, they can't) get into the nitty gritty HOW of everything. In order to do that, I need more space, more effort, and even a different platform than a blog.

When I teach my own in-person students, I can give them all the details they need for each exercise. I can structure the lesson and add theory into the mix as we go. I've been doing the Practice Sessions informally for the past 10 years, creating them, then evaluating them for effectiveness, and then refining them as various students and horses gave me feedback. So when I first envisioned the Practice Sessions, my intention was to do something similar over the Internet.

The Practice Sessions are whiteboard videos that combine several figures and movements in specific order to improve a certain aspect of riding. It might be to help with quicker and clearer transitions. It might help develop left and right suppleness, or improve hind end engagement or overall balance. Often, one Practice Session can impact more than one area of development for both the horse and the rider.

To top it off, I have ridden ALL the Practice Sessions myself  with several different horses, including my own.

I have taught them to riders at different levels, riding all types of horses at different levels.

Then I put them together into detailed videos.

The videos are not your typical watch a rider/horse go through their paces scene. These videos are carefully planned and drawn out whiteboard animations. You'll get details, explanations and clear theory. You'll hear about common problems and solutions. The videos will help you develop the very basics of your riding and the quality of movement of your horse.

You'll get new Practice Sessions twice a month.

But then I realized that I needed to add more than just these exercises. There's so much more that I can offer over the Internet, that would support the Practice Sessions and make it more of a complete program. So here are some added bonuses:

  • Quality of Movement Exercises (improve things such as better impulsion, hind end use, energy over the back, "connection")
  • Once A Month Progress Email (you can let me know how things are going and ask specific questions)
  • Resources From The Blog (so you don't have to go searching yourself)
  • Downloadable Cheat Sheets For The Practice Sessions (so you can print them off and take them with you to the barn for easy reference)
  • Groundwork Sessions (twice a month to add that all-important groundwork dimension to your regular riding routine)
  • Q & A Audios (for when we have a bunch of questions so they can be answered clearly and for everyone's benefit)

Two More Bonuses

The Private Facebook group allows all of us to stay connected through one platform. We have an active, encouraging and supportive group of riders who share successes and ask questions. I share ongoing tips, comments, goal setting exercises, and much more through the group, as well as answer specific questions.

Then there's a Remote Coaching feature (at extra cost) that you can use if you want detailed, specific feedback on you and your horse. You can share videos and pictures, and we can chat live through Facebook Messenger or even do a phone or video call through WhatsApp.

OK.

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

The Practice Sessions registration is now open!

To thank you for your readership, I wanted to let you know right here on the blog so you can have first access to the limited-time Introductory pricing, which will be available for two weeks only (until July 15th). Even if prices go up, you will keep your price point so long as you stay a member.

Finally, thank you for your readership, and for the years of encouragement through the Horse Listening blog and now onto the new pastures of the Practice Sessions!

Wishing you years and years of happy Horse Listening!

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Kathy

When Your Horse Is Heavy In The Bridle

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Phtotgraphy

You've probably been in this situation at some point in your riding career. No matter what you do, it seems like you simply can't lighten the pressure on your reins.

If you pull, your horse pulls. And as they say, the horse (no matter how small) can eventually out-pull the rider. Some horses (saints) get used to the amount of pressure on the bit and will carry you around even with relatively heavy pressure on the bit.

So what can you do about it? Even if you can re-educate your body to stop pulling on the reins, you might still need to help change your horse's balance to the hind end. Here are some ideas to try.

1.Go "Under"-Power

If your horse has a tendency to grab the bit and go, this one might help a lot.

When your horse wants to power up, you ask for a power down. If you're in trot, make it more of a jog. If you're in canter, make it a slower, smaller strided canter - or just go to trot if that doesn't work.

When you power down, your horse has a much better chance of taking all that energy and using it in the hind end. The slowness and the reduction of pushing power will help the horse maintain better balance. The hind legs will have a chance to slow down and therefore go more underneath the body. The front end will have less energy coming to it and therefore won't HAVE to be on the forehand as much.

You might suddenly feel a lightening of pressure on the reins. As long as you still have some connection, you want the lightness and so now your job is to maintain it through the rest of the movement.

One word of caution - don't stay in under power. Once your horse has better balance, and you feel the lightness, start to slowly allow the energy level to come "through" again. Make sure you're not just blocking the horse in the front end, because that will result in disengagement of the hind end and then you'll have the same problem, just from the opposite cause!

2. Get Better Impulsion

So we'll talk about that scenario next. Many horses become heavy on the bit because the rider isn't asking for enough impulsion or power. So in this case, you need to "Power Up"!

If there isn't enough energy, chances are that the horse is long in the body, and the hind legs are not underneath the body. This is what we call "strung out". The problem with the hind legs being out behind is that the horse then HAS to balance on the front legs. All the movements begin in the front than the hind, and therefore, you feel the weight in your hands.

So in this case, you have to create more energy, and then learn to contain it.

I have written a lot about impulsion here on the blog, but this is the best one for this purpose. If you want to read more, take a look at the links at the end of this article.

2. Move the Shoulders

One of the best ways to get weight off the forehand and onto the hind end (to work toward your goal of better balance) is to move the shoulders. Lateral movements help the horse to shift his weight back naturally and by doing so, he will invariably have to take the weight off the front end.

So you would do lots of shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, leg yields and half-passes if you are at that level. Walk and canter pirouettes will also help build the muscles needed for better balance to the hind end. By adding in the lateral work, you might notice that your horse becomes lighter and lighter, especially as he becomes better able to get off the front legs.

3. Give to Half-Halt

This is more of a standard re-balancing technique. It's a great way to set your horse up for any transition or change within a movement. But because of its effect on balance, it might also be helpful in getting your horse off the forehand and lighter in the bridle.

The key, aside from the half-halt, is the give at the beginning.  It's not a throw away rein, because if you do a sudden release while the horse is heavy on the reins, the  horse will fall to the forehand (can't help it). Just give a tiny amount, say an inch. Enough for the horse to not be restricted and to be able to power out of the first half-halt.

Then use the half-halt to contain the energy forward and help in re-balancing the horse's weight to the hind end. I've written about the aids in much more detail here.



4. Many Down Transitions

If you find your horse sort of running away with you, down transitions can be extremely helpful in redirecting the energy. In trot, do walk transitions ideally before the horse gets too heavy. In canter, do trot transitions. 

Then transition up to the original gait again and be ready to ask for the down transition again. Practice until your horse relaxes and the down transitions become easier.

5. Leg Yield Out/Transition

Finally, you can use the leg yield out to a transition up to help engage the inside hind leg. 

So at the walk, head down the quarter line. Leg yield out to the rail, and then pick up the trot. 

In trot, leg yield out and then pick up the canter. 

The leg yield is an excellent way to get the horse to begin to respond to leg aids, move the body sideways and forward, and have the inside hind leg positioned for the transition. Combined, they might help to get the weight more to the hind end.

Well! That was a lot of information. 

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

Click here to read more and to join one of the most complete programs on the Internet!

Horse Listening
Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published! Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Horse Listening Book Collection - beautiful paperbacks with all the excellence of the blog - in your hands! Click on the image for more information.

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If you like this article, read more here:

12 Riding Quick Tips – #6: Developing Impulsion

How You Know You Don’t Have Impulsion (Yet)

4 Steps To Better Movement

What To Do When Your Horse Loses Balance

7 Errors To Avoid After You Ask For More Energy – And Solutions

4 Steps To Better Movement

Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

Improving the horse's movement is one of the first things we should attempt to work on from the minute we get on the horse's back. We should always aim to keep the horse happy, healthy and strong into his old age. 

While there are actually other ways to improve the horse's movement, I've distilled it down to four basic steps so you can get started with your own horse. Even if you and your horse are farther along, coming back to these basics might be helpful for you at times.

1. Free Moving Gait

Elsewhere, I've called this "impulsion." But I also like to think of it as moving "freely" - strong, bold, not fast. When the horse moves freely with impulsion, you can see the horse stepping out at will, looking ahead, using the hind legs deeply underneath the body, covering ground effortlessly.

The opposite is the horse that takes short, stilted steps. The legs move but the back is tight and rigid (and maybe it feels like the gait is smooth because of lack of movement). The horse might be looking around, not focused and quick to break stride.

The thing is, many horses aren't inclined to moving freely under saddle. It's tough work to carry the rider and propel through space energetically. As the rider, you have to learn how to get your horse to move better in each gait, how to be more responsive to the leg aids, and then YOU have to be able to ride that gait and not get left behind in the movement!

But with practice, most horses will move forward freely. It can be done.

In general, you always need this sort of forward energy in order to even begin to balance the horse. So it's the first step toward better movement.

2. Rib Cage and the Shoulders "In" The Body

After you have energy, you need to do something with it!

First off, let's consider the rib cage and the shoulders of the horse. If either is "bulging" (or not aligned with the body), there is a blockage of energy that results in falling in, drifting out, slowing down or even spooking. All of these problems are rooted in one cause: lack of straightness through the body.

So now that you've got some energy to work with, you can pay attention to the straightness of the horse's body. Do you feel the rib cage pushing on one leg? It could be either the inside or outside leg. If so, squeeze with the leg to "push" that side of the horse back into alignment.

Can you feel a shoulder stepping outward from the body? It could be either the inside shoulder reaching even more to the inside than the rest of the body ("falling in"). Or it could be the outside shoulder stepping farther out ("drifting out"). In each case, use a rein aid (open, direct or neck rein) to, in effect, "put" that shoulder back into the body. You want to feel each front leg reach straight forward into the next step, not sideways. 

You will know you're on the right track if your horse suddenly feels like he's having an easier time moving on his own. When a horse straightens up, his balance improves and he becomes lighter on his feet. You'll feel that energy created by the hind end travel through the horse's body.

3. Straight Neck

This one is fairly easy to recognize and happens all the time! If your horse has his neck turned far into the direction of travel (called "neck bend"), or turned far outside the direction of travel, you will notice a significant change in his ability to maintain balance. He will likely bulge through the opposite shoulder and end up traveling in that direction. 

While there are possibly times when we might want to bring the neck "around" to soften the neck muscles or get better access to the jaw and poll, we should always be seeking to allow the horse to have a straight neck specifically to help with balance. Sometimes, riders might have to work at keeping the neck straight if the horse has developed a habit of holding the neck farther to one side. 

But if the rib cage and shoulders are kept straight, it shouldn't take much to keep the neck straight at this point.



4. Flexion/Soft Poll

The horse should have flexion (the corner of the horse's eye) into the direction he is moving. So if you're going right, you should be able to see the corner of the horse's right eye. It is generally important for the horse to look where he is going. Also, by flexing the jaw a little to the side, the horse often relaxes and softens just a bit more through the head and neck.

You also want to teach your horse to move with a soft poll. Rather than moving along with the head braced and the nose pointing up and out (try it yourself to see how it tightens your neck, shoulders and upper back), you want the horse to respond lightly to your rein aids. When he feels pressure from the reins, he should soften and "give," bringing his nose to a "more" vertical position. The nose can stay slightly above the vertical. The key is that the horse will respond to the rein aids and soften when needed.

A soft poll will allow the horse to release the whole connected muscle structure over the neck and to the back under the saddle. This release will help allow the shoulders to work better and the back to swing more. 

Put It All Together

Well, it can get complicated to try to do all four steps in succession in movement.

So if you find it difficult, start with one step at a time. Go for the energetic gait first. When you can get a consistently strong gait, try to straighten through the rib cage and shoulders (this step may take some time to understand and master). Make sure you still have that energetic gait and straightness.

Try to straighten the neck soon after you're getting straightness through the body. You still should have the energetic gait and the straight rib cage and shoulders.

Finally, work on the flexion and poll. You still should have the energetic gait, the straight rib cage and shoulders, and straight neck! 

You see how it builds together. 

Take your time, try and try again, and feel for improvements as you go along. 

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

Click here to read more  and to join one of the most complete programs on the Internet!

Horse Listening
Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published! Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Horse Listening Book Collection - beautiful paperbacks with all the excellence of the blog - in your hands! Click on the image for more information.

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1

If you like this article, read more here:

12 Riding Quick Tips – #6: Developing Impulsion

 

How You Know You Don’t Have Impulsion (Yet)

 

Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding Problem

#1 Rider Problem of 2017: Riding “Disconnected”

What To Do When Your Horse Loses Balance

 

 

Partnership With Your Horse: The Essential Ingredient (And How To Get There)

At Horse Listening, we are emphatic life-long learners of all things horsey. You will be reminded time and again about how there is so much to be learned from horses and other horse people, if only we listened.

This guest post is written by Lindsey Rains, who is an equestrian blogger and creator of Alta Mira Horsemanship. She focuses on communication between horse and rider, with an emphasis in kind training tactics.  She resides in Auburn, WA, USA, with her husband, and daylights as a non-profit administrator. Visit her blog.  You can also follow her on Pinterest,  Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

 

 

One of my favorite movies as a young girl was My Friend Flicka: A misunderstood girl reaches out to an equally misunderstood mare from the wild.  Together, they both transform through the deep bond they create. I am convinced this is every horse-crazy girl’s dream.  It certainly was mine! This is what many of our friends think that their first trip to the barn with us will be like, also.  

But we all find out pretty quickly that most interactions with equines are not a magical encounter.  Most of our time with horses involves work, persistence, and routines--not quite what the movies would characterize as the essential elements of the equine-human relationship.

And yet, these movies still tug at our heartstrings.  Sea Biscuit, Hidalgo, and The Black Stallion speak to a deep truth about humankind’s relationship with horses: that it all comes down to partnership.  

Partnership: Is it Just for the Movies?

I think the reason why we are drawn to these movies is because we know that we can bond with these strong, sensitive, and intelligent creatures.  The experience of that partnership is indescribable until you have experienced it. But is that partnership an anomaly?

The drama of storytelling aside, I think all of us can experience partnership with every horse we encounter, even if we haven’t gone through a harrowing event or a mighty quest with that horse.

To Be the Leader is to Be the Friend

If you’ve studied a herd structure with any handful of horses, the central question is always “Who is the leader?” Every single horse is unsettled until that question is resolved. Once an order is established, the entire group is at peace.  

The same can be said for your horse when you first interact with him.  When I was a youngster, all the barn girls used to joke about how every new horse would push your buttons in the first lesson.  Could it be because every horse needs to find out who is the leader in that initial encounter?

I have found that most horses, with very few exceptions, ultimately want their handler to be their leader.  Though we have dominance struggles with our horses periodically, knowing that they don’t have to make the tough decisions in a life-and-death situation is a huge relief for the horse.  

Of course, we don’t have to face life-and-death situations to show them that.  All we need is to show that we are trustworthy and willing to stand our ground.  This, in turn, will make our horse feel that they are both cared for and protected.  Given this trust, their best talents will be able to rise to the surface when you ride them.  

How to Gain A Partnership with Any Horse:

Maybe you don’t own a horse and are taking lessons or riding a friend’s horse.  Perhaps you own several horses, and trying to bond with each and every one of them feels daunting.  Here is a way to quickly lay down the foundation for a partnership with any horse at any time. Upon this foundation you can continue to build trust and a positive history with that given horse, and cause all your work together to be spectacular.  



The Five Key Ingredients for Partnership Are:

  1. Boundaries: Every horse is more settled knowing exactly what you expect of them.  Beyond the basics of no biting, kicking, or invading your personal space, be firm when their attitude is aggressive, pushy, or wild.  Then soften when they are obedient, inquisitive, and calm. Horses settle and work their hardest to please you when they know what is expected of them.
  2. Consistency: As you make your boundaries clear, be consistent with them.  A horse will get confused when you allow bad behavior in one moment, then punish him the next.  By keeping your responses consistent, the horse will be able to rely on you. Consistency is vital to have in your composure, as well.  By remaining as relaxed as possible in every situation, the horse’s baseline temperament will be calmer also.
  3. Kindness: Do not be harsh or over-reactive in your correction.  The source of all your guidance should be kindness. Take a little extra time to hang out with the horse when you’re not “working”.  Bring them an apple, spend a few minutes lightly massaging them in their stall, or even talk to them as they graze. Small moments are more than enough to reinforce trust.  
  4. Communication: Just like consistency, clear communication is integral to riding a relaxed horse.  If you send your horses several signals at once (or over or under-communicate), they will be confused and either get fidgety, spooky, or withdrawn.  Being really clear about your riding aids will deepen their trust in you and reinforce your leadership.
  5. Reward: This last step is the most important: always look for ways to reward the horse.  Let him walk, pat his neck, give him a treat, or put him away for the day when you see good behavior, breakthroughs, and accomplishments.  You can provide all the structure and guidance you want in order to be the leader. But with reward, the horse’s respect will transform into loyalty.  

How Partnership Will Revolutionize Your Riding

In all reality, bonding with a horse is not just for the movies.  Partnership makes all the difference when we handle, rehabilitate, ride, and train any given horse.  Having grown up riding lesson horse after lesson horse, I know how it feels to try to figure out how to bond with a horse that you may never ride again.  When I finally discovered that a horse’s trust was simply anchored in kind leadership, every encounter with a new horse involved that beautiful element of partnership--and it can for you, too.

What comes to mind when you think about partnership with a horse?  What has been your best bonding moment?

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If you enjoyed this article, you might like these other guest posts as well:
The Mental Game Of Riding: by Bora Zivcovitch: If technical perfection is essential for success, what explains the success of riders whose technique leaves a lot to be desired? Thoughts on muscle memory, practice, the mental part of riding, finding courage, and one simple thing you can do to improve all of the above. 
Choosing Appropriate Western Dressage Goals: by Cathy Drumm: The understanding that horses need to be properly developed and conditioned in order to perform ANY significant physical activity with a rider on board doesn’t seem to be standard knowledge.
Get In Rhythm, Stay In Rhythm: by Patricia Pitt: Here’s some food for thought, like your heartbeat is the ‘rhythm of life’ so rhythm is to your horse’s gymnastic development.  Without it … not gonna happen!
Getting "In Touch" With Your Horse's Body: by Lindsay Day: You don’t have to know the names and function of every muscle, bone and joint in your horse’s body to garner benefit from, well, quite simply, feeling your horse.
Little Known Qualities of Great Farriers, by K. Arbuckle, professional farrier: The farrier, though required to scientifically balance and shoe a horse, is an artist working with a living canvas.
Scoring the Hunter Round, by L. Kelland-May, senior judge: Have you always wondered how the hunter class is judged? Read it here straight from the judge’s perspective!

Why Do We Post At The Trot & What’s The Fuss About Being On The Correct Diagonal?

Back in the days of yore, when the only mode of transportation had a mane, a tail and four hooves, people would spend much of their travelling time upon a horse's back. When you stop to consider that towns were few and land was plenty, you can imagine that people would spend a whole lot of time upon a horse's back.

And so the rising trot was invented - mainly to save the poor horse's back from repeated rider bounces and conversely, to save the rider's back from repeated jarring. It makes sense, no?

At least, that's what I was told way back when I was first learning to ride. I have no idea if this theory is true at all - but after several years of endurance riding (over distances up to 55 miles) I can vouch for the relief that rising trot gives when you are considering horses as a means of long distance travel. In fact, rising at the trot can also invigorate your legs that have probably gone numb from sitting the whole time, even if you were moving at just the walk!
OK. Rather than pontificate on what I don't know, here's a cute video that is probably much more accurate and describes how the word "post" was adopted into the horse riding dictionary.

Let's face it. Many horses have bumpy trots and sitting the trot immediately may be an insurmountable task for the average beginner rider. It might actually be difficult for even the experienced rider who might have enough physical difficulties or pain to ever sit a trot correctly.

And so, one of the first things we learn to do as horse riders is to "rise to the trot" - that is, we get off the horse's back in one moment of the trot stride, and then we sit in the saddle the next moment. Over and over again, we rise and sit.

Diagonals
The second thing we learn is that we HAVE to coordinate the rise moment with the moment that the horse's outside front shoulder swings forward. So when that leg is off the ground, we are off the horse's back. We call this "posting on the outside diagonal" because the legs move in diagonal pairs in trot.

So we spend months - and for some of us, years and years (!!) - learning to post on the "correct" diagonal in effort to do what is right for the horse.

But do we know WHY?

There is a perfectly rational, bio-mechanical answer to why we insist that riders rise when the outside front leg begins to lift off the ground. But first, we should discuss a little theory.

How Do The Horse's Legs Move In The Trot?
If you slow down the horse's footfalls, you can see that the horse trots in diagonal pairs (unless the horse is gaited, which means that there is no trot and therefore little reason to post!!).

The above video clearly shows the right front leg moving in tandem with the left hind. Then the left front moves with the right hind. This is why we hear a two-beat rhythm of the footfalls at the trot.
When we're first learning to ride, it's fairly easy to actually see the outside shoulder as it moves. But we're not really interested in the front leg at all.

If you're told to rise when the outside front leg is coming off the ground, what is happening to the inside hind leg? Take a look at the picture below.

Rising Trot Moment. Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Clearly, the inside hind leg is off the ground.

This is a very important moment in the stride.

Because this is the only moment - out of all of the other trot stride moments - that we can influence the inside hind leg.

Why Do We Want To Influence The Inside Hind Leg?
When we rise at this moment, we are in fact encouraging the inside hind leg to step deeper underneath the body. We want that deeper step to:

  • provide better overall balance on turns (less leaning in)
  • carry more weight on the hind end (rather than the forehand)
  • have more pushing power into the next phase of the stride
  • support the horse's back through the movement

Wrong Diagonal!
Then we learn that there is such thing as a "wrong" diagonal. Because if you rise when the inside shoulder is reaching forward, what is happening to the inside hind leg?

It's on the ground. Bearing weight. Unmovable.

Therefore, you can't influence that leg at all. You might be using leg aids for more energy, but that inside hind leg is immobile, weighted down. You might want better bend, but that leg is stuck on the ground.

Timing is everything, my friend!

However...
(you knew there would be a "but..." didn't you?)

There are indeed times when you want to post on the inside diagonal. (Did I just say that??!!)

There are absolutely instances when you might want to influence the outside hind leg while travelling in a direction.

Maybe you feel that the horse needs more encouragement to use that leg deeper underneath the body. Maybe you just want to strengthen that leg for some time. Maybe you want to improve the horse's outside balance.

When we rode on our long endurance rides, we were taught to be very diligent about our diagonals. Because we spent much of the time riding straight lines on the trails, we would be strengthening (or resting) one leg at the expense of the other leg. And so we would consciously change diagonals at regular intervals in order to evenly develop and use the hind legs.

OK. Go out there and play around with the diagonals. See if you can feel the increased thrust of the inside hind leg when you are in the forward phase of your post. See what it feels like when you post on the outside diagonal. How does it change your horse's balance? Can your horse bend better on a turn or circle if you time your aids to match the timing of the diagonal? Most importantly, have fun!

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

Click here to read more  and to join one of the most complete programs on the Internet!

Horse Listening
Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published! Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Horse Listening Book Collection - beautiful paperbacks with all the excellence of the blog - in your hands! Click on the image for more information.

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1

If you like this article, read more here:

How to Fine Tune Your Canter-Trot Transitions

How To “Flow” from the Trot to the Walk

How to Improve the Sewing-Machine Trot

Use the “Canter-Trot” to Truly Engage the Hind End

3 Steps To A Quieter Leg Position