In daily life, assuming different personalities might be frowned upon. However, if you can can channel several different personas while riding, you might actually be doing your horse a favor!
Horses, just like people, have different personalities and needs. If you are lucky enough to ride multiple horses, you will quickly realize that what you do for one horse may not be useful for another. If you have the ability to respond quickly and effectively to each horse, you will be well on your way to achieving riding success!
Even if you ride just one horse, you know that you may not meet the same horse every ride. Just like the rest of us, horses have good days and bad days. They have excited days, lazy days, scaredy-cat days and even not-feeling-well days. In order to be the best riding partner you can be, you might need to alter your feel and mood to meet your horse's needs.
The best riders cultivate their ability to switch from one riding "personality" to another, in order to meet their horse's requirements, each time they ride.
The Sensitive Horse
Be gentle and kind to the horse that works hard and tries his best all the time. This is the horse that can hear you whisper if you can be quiet enough. In time, you might even be lucky enough to develop your communication skills so well that it feels like the horse can read your mind. You can use the lightest of aids and he will respond with enthusiasm and internal motivation.
However, his perfectionist nature might cause some difficulties. This horse will likely be the overachiever - you put your leg on, and he explodes into the next gait. You lean a little to the left, and he leans even farther and cuts the corner. You ask for a canter, and although he isn't balanced in the trot, he scrambles, hollows his back and still changes his legs to the three-beat gait. Over time, this horse might be the one that becomes resistant, reluctant and anxious.
Meet this horse with light and gentle aids, and you will develop a lasting friendship. Be kind, release your aids quickly and give this horse the benefit of the doubt. Assume that his "misbehaviours" are not caused by a lack of desire, but from trying too hard. This horse may need you to wait for a response rather than reinforce immediately. Let this horse take the initiative at times and help him develop his confidence by accepting his attempts even if they are not exactly what you wanted. Ideally, you should always be calm, quiet and poised.
The Uninspired Horse
At the other end of the spectrum, you might come across a horse that is simply not inspired to work. This horse might present as being quiet and calm, and might even be the horse that you would choose for a beginner rider. He likely won't be particularly spooky, and he would be the horse that seems content to stand around in the riding ring while you chat enthusiastically with your friends.
Unfortunately, his laid-back nature could lead this horse to regularly resist responding to aids. He might be the one that meets your forward request with pinned ears and swishing tail. He could feel like he's stuck in quicksand, moving only after several nagging aids. You might feel exhausted within the first ten minutes of the ride because you really are doing more work than he is!
To be an effective rider for this horse, you would have to do a complete turn-around compared to the last horse. You might need to be assertive, black and white in your aids, and be prepared to follow-up instantly. It could be fine to challenge this horse more than you would with the last horse, because he will need more external motivation to be responsible for his part of the work.
Go Ahead - Switch Personalities!
Of course, we all know that there are as many variations in personality as there are horses (ain't it the same with people?). In our examples above, riding the "lazy" horse the way you would ride the "sensitive" horse might lead to more problems that you can imagine. The key to riding effectively (and keeping the horses working correctly and happily) lies in your ability to discern the horse's needs.
Then, if you can be prepared to meet those needs, you are well on your way to developing a wonderful riding partnership!
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
If you enjoyed the above article, you will find many more relevant tips and concepts in Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding
Available as an eBook or paperback.
Dark Room Doors and Dressage: A metaphor for the learning process.
Horseback Riding the Yoga Way – Practice! Find a balance between achieving and letting go. How to include the concept of “practicing” in your riding.
Riding is Simple, But Not Easy! Let’s face it – all we want is for the horse to do what we want, when we want, where we want, with suppleness and strength!