Do you trust your horse?
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm in The American Quarter Horse Journal | July 11, 2011
Problems linked to a rider not trusting a horse show up in a number of ways.
1. Inappropriate reprimands. I have no problem with strongly reprimanding a horse when due. Sometimes you must have a firm or assertive way to work with a horse.
If you reprimand a horse and he comes back and is better, he needed it. If he comes back and is worse, you should look at what you’re doing, because it’s not working.
However, you should never reprimand a horse in his mouth or by neck bending, which instill a dull mouth and are harsh.
2. Erratic performance. Any time you want a horse to perform – whether it’s a competition, exhibition or trail ride – you have to build a rapport and trust with him. Otherwise, he’s often unpredictable. One time he’s OK, the next time he’s not, because there’s no common bond or understanding between the rider and the horse.
Solid fundamentals are the key to success in the saddle. AQHA’s Fundamentals of Horsemanship will give you the inspiration, skills and confidence to create a more rewarding relationship with your horse.
I love this saying, and it relates to trust: When the horse isn’t doing what you want, he’s telling you something. And it’s usually that you need to get better at what you’re doing.
3. Asking too much too soon. One key to building mutual trust between horse and rider is to not ask a horse for something beyond his capability. Mentally, when a horse is not ready, you are only giving him a reason to be frustrated. Physically, you are fatiguing him and giving him a reason to not want to perform.
There are some disciplines that demand you have a high rapport – a mutual trust – with your horse or you can’t be successful. And riding that event can become downright dangerous without that trust.
It happens when he doesn’t trust you as the rider. He is begging you to slow down and give him time to learn. He wants to trust you to give him the tools he needs to have confidence to perform.
What to Do
You have to trust a horse first for the horse to trust you back. Then you’re building toward a win-win situation.
1. Take your time. You must spend time with your horse. That’s how you get a good understanding of his personality, temperament, age, knowledge and experience. Those all give you a formula for knowing what the horse will do in a performance, and how he will respond to learning.
I work on learning those basics first from the ground. From the ground, you can see how your horse responds to your commands. And that gives you an indication of his sensitivity and personality.
2. Plan for a positive performance. When you ask a horse to do what he’s consistently been doing well, you can anticipate a good performance. If you ask a horse to perform and you know that he is green, you have to be even more positive and always try to give him a positive experience.
But if you ask him to do something that you’ve done a little and he’s not consistently doing it well, and you continue asking him to do it without going back to something basic, you should anticipate a bad performance.
Do what’s good for that green horse, perform at his level, and give him a good experience at the show. You’ve already made the decision to go there and pay the entry fee, but if you do that and have a good experience in the class, you’re still building a positive in the horse. You’ve tried something new, working with what the horse already knows, and he still trusts you.
But if you insist he do something that he’s not capable of doing, he’s going to lose his trust in you very fast.
3. Match personalities. A horse and rider must be compatible to build a trust and rapport – their personalities must match.
In general, I have found that a timid rider on a sensitive horse is not a good match, or an assertive person on a shy horse is not a good match. A sensitive horse’s rider has to be very patient and have the time to spend with them, doing things gradually and communicating lightly.
If you have a horse with a stubborn, fighting attitude and you mix that with a person who’s moody, you’ll have a heck of a time bonding together.
I’ve had horses sent to me to train that I just did not get along with. But working with my husband, Cyril, we help each other out. I get along better with some horses and he with others.
4. Sometimes you have to back off. When I had Rugged Lark (the two-time AQHA Superhorse), I’d call his owner, Carol Harris, when he was doing well and when he wasn’t.
You know what she’d always tell me when he wasn’t doing well? Do nothing. Turn him out. Go for a trail ride. Take him out of his stall several times a day and let him just graze. Don’t do any training. And that horse would always come back and perform in what I was trying to get him to do.
Sometimes, if a horse isn’t doing what you want, stop trying to do what you’re doing and think about it. Spend time with the horse. That’s a trusting thing to do, to build a bond and partnership with the horse.
5. Get feedback. It often helps to have someone else ride your horse to give you some feedback. That can help to put pieces together or give you something new to try, and it may be a breakthrough. It also allows you to see the horse from the ground.
Take lessons from a professional who has a good reputation and trains and shows in your discipline. Or have someone video you. You can be your best teacher when you watch yourself and your horse.