Sometimes as an equestrian we put our emotions onto our horses and how we feel impacts on them, although it can work the other way. We can think our horses feel a certain way and this impacts on us.
In this situation how we react is key.
For example, we were out for a hack this week, my daughter was on my fell pony, who decided a particular tree may spring to life and attack him ( as they do ) had she panicked, it would all have escalated quickly, however this time she noted how he felt, reassured him and allowed him to pass the very scary tree in trot to get past it quicker as walk was just making him worse. We passed it and within a minute he was fine and the ride was amazing.
So how can you calm your horse? I want to share my top 5 tips for you to try next time your four legged friend decided life is either very scary or very exciting.
1 – Allow them to get rid of their energy in a safe controlled way. This may be by a canter down a track or in the school, or it might be a trot down the road. Allowing them to place their energy in another place (movement) can shift their mindset as well as getting rid of that initial energy which is causing the reaction. (only do this in a safe space where you are in control)
2 – Ask your horse to lower its head, this automatically cues them to relax. I have walked alongside riders with a lunge line on to encourage their horses to lower their heads at times. If you can teach your horse a cue to do this it is a great skill to have.
3 – Set boundaries. Horses are not like some other animals who will do what you ask because they love you, yes your bond helps as they trust you, but they will do as you ask because they know you have set boundaries in which they are safe. If you have boundaries they are more likely to respond when they are anxious or excited to what you ask.
4 – Let them look, sniff, touch. We are very good as riders at asking our horse to go past scary things or to think they will react in a certain way. By allowing them to explore they build up a reassurance and a knowledge that all is ok and they can remain in a calmer state next time in the same situation.
5 – Consider a dismount. This very much depends on your horses and its personality. Sometimes getting off and leading until they are no longer so anxious or excited works really well, for others this makes it worse. I know for one of mine this makes him worse, so I long rein him when I know he will be going past something scary as he finds this reassuring ( I will chat more about the benefits of this another time)
All horses at times react in ways which we would prefer them not to, no horse is bombproof, however it is our job as equestrians to understand how to support them and build their trust in themselves and in us.