Keeping Your Cool
Keep the "Thinking" Side of Your Horse's Brain Engaged
Anybody who has competed, trained, or just ridden occasionally for enjoyment will be able to relate to this topic. Any time you are dealing with a horse there is going to be situations where you might get frustrated and not understand what has caused this animal to behave or react the way they do. This is the time when you need to take a deep breath and go back to our fundamental definition of Horsemanship which is “Communicating with your horse in a way that helps them understand the response you are looking for." For example; I was bringing a recipient mare in from the pasture last week, on a two year old colt that I have had in training. We have had a lot of rain and there are areas in our pastures that are covered in water that are normally dry. The first body of water that I came to that I needed to cross triggered a reactive response in this colt and triggered this colt's flight instinct, he is a really nice colt and rides really well but this particular situation made him very scared, insecure, and he acted terrified of that small body of water that we had to cross. I had to remind myself that he is just a baby and to give him some time to regain his confidence. I stood him close to the water and just started doing some level one flexing exercises so that I could get him back in the habit of using the “thinking” side of his brain, which will in turn get him back into a state of mind where he is “trainable”. Then I walked him back over to the water and let him rest and just stand there for 30 seconds or so. After that I walked him back and forth in front of the water, always turning him towards the water when I changed directions. Before long he had a hoof in the water and it wasn't long after that that he had his front feet in the water and soon after that we we're crossing this small body of water. One thing that you have to remember about crossing water is that you usually have an idea of the depth but the horse does not, this is one of the reasons their flight response can get triggered. It would be similar to asking them to jump off a cliff. Their God-given instincts tell them not to do it or to be very cautious, those are the instincts that God gave them to help them survive in the wild. When we encounter a situation that triggers a negative response in your horse it is real easy for their response to trigger a negative response in us. This is when your horsemanship skills and knowledge need to override your normal emotional responses of reacting negatively when we receive a reactive response from our horse. Being a good Horseman or Horsewoman is a thinking game. We always have to be thinking about how we can help our horse to better understand what responses we are asking for and we always need to be thinking about how we can help them to build confidence in us. The more confidence we build in our horse the less you'll see your horse using the reacting side of his brain in situations like this.
Best wishes and safe riding!