Having and breaking in a (young) horse can be so much fun, if you have the right horse… or the right help with training…..but….. having a (young) horse can be hard work…..
I see them all pass by in my work and yet I agree with: “Having a (young) horse is Fun!!!”
Head over heels
The road to horseriding is really one of the best moments for building the bond with your horse and that really doesn’t always require (a lot of) stress.
We bought a young horse for my daughter last summer, they were head over heels and so it was an obvious thing to do. As a mother, I would have liked a slightly older horse for my daughter (almost 15), but yes, I know better than anyone that sometimes a bond develops that you can’t deny and so this (in my eyes) much too big young man had to come home with us.
In his eyes you could already see that there was quite a strong character behind those beautiful doe eyes and I really trusted in giving him time. I also trusted the fact that I have never come across a horse that really didn’t want to cooperate!
The first few weeks you come across what such an animal has been through. Lunging? Isn’t that the thing where you pull the one on the line over and see how long he or she hangs on? And if that fails then you just jump over the fence (1.50m), right? In order to start cooperating with this horse, it does make sense to start reversing this behaviour.
Uncertain due to large, solid body
To make sure something is not physically hampering him, we have had a therapist come over several times a year. And thus we let her check this young man. He is only 4 years old, but there was already plenty of thightness in his body! He was already hard in his muscles, which sends the wrong signal in work. Right away it was clear that this horse, with his long stilts, had absolutely no confidence in his own body. He was very clumsy and had grown to over 1.75m in four years. It is to be expected that that whole body needs to be given a place!
You can also see it with children in puberty; suddenly the most skillful ones bump into everything. They drop things or are suddenly no longer good at what they used to be good at. This makes adolescents insecure! The feeling in their body is suddenly different. With horses, this works exactly the same. The brain doesn’t grow in a straight line. Parts of the brain are more developed than other parts and this causes total chaos in the whole being. Not just mentally, but also physically!
Without relaxation, a horse can’t learn!
And then the “Understanding” bit comes around the corner in training your horse.
When a horse has been in hands to “learn” things did he really understand the question? Because when there is no relaxation, there is no learning!
But how do you get relaxation then? By giving your horse clarity! Well, easy to say right?
Calmness during work is of course important, but also giving your horse the feeling in his body that rest can and may come. The moment your horse can start learning in relaxation, you can also start seeing the steps forward.
And then harmony will come! The body starts to relax and the head gets the rest it needs to learn and understand. Sometimes this needs a lot of repetition because there has been too much tension. Repetition, repetition and more repetition!!!
Attack is the best defence for some horses
We currently have two young horses, one is young and does not know much yet, is scared and then reacts by running away and jumping over the fence. The other chooses to act obstinate and if he finds it necessary, he’ll come at you with his ears on his neck.
The one that comes at you is a huge cuddler with a very small heart! The moment he chooses to “attack” I have him do an exercise that he already knows at rest. As soon as he performs this exercise you immediately see him change into the cuddler he actually is. You can see his behaviour as “over-shouting” or as “attack is the best defence”. So to get rid of the defence, the “attack” (in his eyes) has to be redirected. Something that he may see as an attack may be the most normal thing in the world for you as a companion.
Is your horse overreacting? Then make it less so by distracting in relaxation. It doesn’t have to be that what you asked was wrong, but that your horse has a trigger on it. Then it is useful to still ask the same thing, but make sure you help your horse with his trigger. When you do that in a clear but helpful way to break the circle.
Because this horse has been treated absolutely unkindly, he has taught himself that attack is the best defence. So this has to be changed, because if you, as a human, would respond to this, all kinds of communication would go wrong. This could result in your horse moving even further away from who he really is. It then goes hard against hard! If that happens then I bet on the horse winning. Physically, we cannot beat them, we have to rely on feeling and interaction. On trust.
Give the horse clarity from your HEART!
The other horse is mostly fearful of himself, he is unsure of his big body. He is a bit lanky and clumsy in his movements and you can tell he has already learned the “trick”. He can jump super and knows exactly what is expected of him when he is loose; he has to go over hurdles. But when you directly ask him something he almost panics. He has no idea what is expected of him and then uses everything he has against you. And that is quite a lot! He’ll turn around while rearing, mows with his long front legs. Jumps over the fence with two hoofs in his nose. But then his heart rate is through the roof! He is stressed, in other words and not because he likes reacting like that.
Such a horse especially needs clarity and how best to use his body in situations that are exciting for him because he doesn’t understand. With this horse, it is especially important that he can trust his body. That he understands how to use his body, how to create peace. This, again, is doing exercises where he can let his body get into a flow. Tranquillity in the body and letting him experience that he can use his body to come into tranquillity. His heart rate goes down and he comes to rest! Here he can learn again, have new experiences with good outcome and assurance! Surely that is what you want with your horse
You can use these relaxation exercises very far into your training. It is absolutely unnecessary to ride or saddle a horse with a lot of stress!
So let’s make sure we understand our horses and they understand us.
From HARD to HEART!
Written by Miranda Hoogenberg of HOPE for horses