Updated: Jun 1, 2021
I had no idea what was wrong with my mare, but something was wrong cause I had degrees in horse training and experience from taming hundreds of horses. She was obedient and well behaved, she could go backwards, forwards, sideways, stand still while mounted, soft in the reins and responsive to signals, you name it. I could even swing plastic bags and whips around her while she stood like a statue - Why would she suddenly freak out and buck me off?
I was literary on the verge of putting her down. Thinking stuff like; she`s dangerous, something`s wrong with her.... I have tried everything, you can`t tame them all. But another part of me took responsibility, cause although I thought I had tried everything - I had only done stuff I knew how to do - with the mindset of a horse trainer. What if I did something completely different? What if I changed my mindset of controlling her to a mindset of helping her gain self control?
I listened to the better half and took 100% responsibility for how the mare was acting. which was a very uncomfortable thing to do. Blaming the farrier, another trainer, an instructor, the horse or the circumstances is much easier than blaming ourselves. I felt awful but made plans for things I could do that I hadn`t done before.
I bought a horse ball for her to play with, which she was terrified of at first. Slowly and on her own terms she could follow the ball and accepted it touching her legs.
Another thing I did was to teach her to lie down, not with ropes and pressure, but by offering her to lay down. Facilitate for it to happen and then wait. She started to get the hang of this too and I will never forget the day she literary slept in my lap. It was like the poor mare hadn`t slept properly for years. This possibly new knowledge affected how she behaved in the herd too, she became less upset and skittish also on her spare time.
You can learn more about sleep deprivation in horses and how to cure it here: www.ridelikeaviking.com/post/prevent-sleep-deprivation-in-horses
Additionally I spent a while saddling her a liberty by giving choices, not assuming she was okay with the tack just because she was standing still. One day it was like she wanted me to ride her which I did and a few sessions later I could ride her at liberty, without reins. Something I never dreamed possible!
Mare had changed and could be trusted. But I had changed even more, I trusted her. My mare had thought me to listen to horses and make sure to not only focus on what their bodies are doing but first and foremost focus on their mind. Something that has transformed the way I train horses, not necessarily by doing different exercises but by bringing another mindset to the training.
There are however few things I don`t do anymore and a couple things I have added. Here are some examples:
Horses can hold tension while standing still. This can happen at liberty and also after giving a head down cue, making a horse stand still with the head down doesn`t mean the horse is relaxed. We should therefore offer horses to stand still - not make them, and avoid teaching head down cues. When horse is relaxed the head will come down because of relaxation. Horse are not necessarily relaxed because we made them drop their head. If you want relaxation put a bend in the horse`s body and help them cross over behind (do a bend to stop)
Controlling horses makes them anxious and can take away their ability to develop self control. This is because horses are flight animals and therefore don`t like being constricted. The tenser the horse the more likely it is that they will not tolerate it and act out, this behavior is often interpreted as proof the horse needs to be controlled even more, and the viscous cycle is on.
When in trouble do something different and interrupt the pattern, this will give a new start and break the chain of events leading up to the undesired behavior.
Horse training is not about winning battles it`s about making our idea the horse`s idea. Trust horses to figure things out themselves by giving choices and they will learn at a deeper level and start doing amazing stuff from self.
In fact it`s not so much about what we do, but how we do it and why. Which again is determined by the mindset of the trainer, and that`s how beginners can succeed with difficult horses professionals have given up on. Cause when we change our mindset of winning the battle to helping the horse - the horse knows.
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