When starting your young horse, it’s an excellent moment to give your horse the tools they need to be successful in our human environment, but also to show them how to manage themselves.
A horse that is very laid-back and maybe extremely lazy, often struggles to get himself motivated. How do you get those horses to be in control of themselves, how do they learn to give themselves a feeling of having energy, of being athletic, of being something that is feeling good? That’s where my Groundwork Wednesday comes in!
Leading your horse safely is vital when you have a hot horse or work with a lot of different horses. So I set out and recorded a video to show people how what I do to lead my horses anywhere safely and how to respond when your horse has a lot of energy and wants to run over you.
Does he really know the trailer?
It is a question I often ask myself.
‘He is just missing parts of information that he needs to know how to be relaxed about traveling.’
This is what I think when someone tells me of their trailer loading problem or horse.
Some of you may have seen the Brett Kidding’s trailer loading demonstration from the live TRT event. Where he showed some of the things we can all recognize, ways resorted to without training when we just try to get a horse on.
The simple idea of just thinking you’re going to ‘put’ or ‘make’ your horse go in the trailer is what often leads to failure or problems in loading or traveling later on.
Like everything with horses I like to teach to them before doing to them.
I try to begin with always having the thought of ‘how can I teach my horse everything he needs to know about the trailer?’ And how can I teach him to start to ask if he can please go in the trailer today so I can take him somewhere.
Trailer loading as a training session
Creating the right mindset in myself is easy. I just think that the trailer loading will be today’s lesson and something I will devote time to teach. Just as I would teach an exercise in the riding.
I always leave plenty of time to train so there are no time restraints. It is not necessary to have it perfect in one lesson, for some horses a number of sessions may be necessary to give all the information and to consolidate each stage with the appropriate break down for that horse.
Leaving the lesson until the time you have to really go somewhere with your horse, like a panic situation when he gets a bout of colic and you have to rush to the clinic. Or an already stressful morning before going to a competition, having not trained him before and just hoping he goes in, often sets you up for failure.
And sometimes a long painful loading time to come home, or even maybe a long walk home from the show.
These are all times where you will most often cause issues of anxiety with the trailer for you and your horse and future loading problems.
What does he have to learn?
So when you have planned your trailer loading session and you have enough time, what do you want your horse to know about the trailer?
The learning already begins five to six meters away from the trailer. If you’re approaching the trailer and your horse is already leaning back with his head in the air, looking everywhere except to the trailer, it’s not really a good start.
Your horse needs to know how to take the right confident posture in his body for the right confident approach to the trailer. A confident good approach to the trailer is really important, it creates a positive mindset for being able to think further about the next step.
When your horse has fear or resistance when approaching the trailer, you should solve the approach first before starting to teach your horse to go into the trailer.
Control each step
The next step is to have the horse take the first step on the ramp. It’s important that this step is not a made step, it should not be a step where the horse is pulled on.
The first step should be a step the horse takes for himself and that he takes full responsibility for. It sets the way for the rest of the steps and the lesson that the horse feels from the beginning it’s on his will not on our want.
The next thing I want to teach my horse is to take controlled steps from the beginning of the ramp to the front of the chest bar. I don’t want a horse to jump in or run in, Instead I want to be able to control each step he takes.
So I want to be able to let my horse take as many steps forward as I want to, stop when I want to and be able to ask for as few or as many steps back as I want. So you have the feeling he waits for what the next step might be. For each step forward and back and the stop I use a voice cue, to again avoid the feeling that the horse is being made to make the movements.
This control gives you the option to change your mind at any time to keep your horse safe and to stop your horse from learning to run or rush off.
Horses also need to learn how to move in the trailer. I like to be able to move left and right with the back open so they have the option to go out and don’t feel trapped. The moving left and right gives the horse the feel of the space in the trailer and creates stability and body awareness to be better balanced in the trailer while traveling. It also avoids ‘frozen feet’ and a fear to move.
Closing of the tail gate
The closing of the tail gate, the ramp, is also something I like to train. I like that I can open and close the back and the horse does not think or want to come out until I ask him to. So that he learns to wait and does not press up against the tail bar.
I also do the same with closing the top, if it is a tarp curtain or flap. I train this with the same process as I do with any of the tools in the ground work. The horse must know the sounds both the ramp and the flap makes when opening and closing and what it means. I don’t ever want the meaning to be that he goes in we close him in so he feels trapped and we drive away.
Meaning of the destination
Finally, I also like to train the meaning of a destination. After the loading training is done and he loves to be in the trailer, I take a small trip of maybe 3 minutes and come back to a different parking place but still at home.
I don’t ever go to a new, strange place that becomes a distraction to the meaning of the training the first time.
I open the trailer with still the feeling that he waits for me to ask him to step back. As I want my horse to step back one step at a time, he gets to realize he’s still at home. It is at that moment the horse sees, feels and knows the meaning of travelling in the trailer.
We all want our horses to enjoy their daily work. That each day they are enthusiastic and energetic in their attitude towards their training. We want to create a willing mindset in our horses, but how do we create this?
It of course starts with the right mind set of the rider, which begins with the right focus.
Traditionally riding or training horses for sport begins with a focus on studying or applying a technical aspect of riding, executing a sequence of steps and repeating them to form a certain movement.
I recently had a student come to me with a horse that he was having trouble doing sequence changes with.
The student said: “He starts with the first change okay and then he just ignores my leg. So then I made him really sharp on the leg so I hardly had to touch him for the change. But then he started running off with his head in the air after the second change. So I put the draw rein on him to hold him and now sometimes he’s just stopping and rearing.”
Me: “What is he thinking?”
Student: “He’s just running through the aids.”
Me: “No, I said what does HE think about it?”
Student: “What do mean? You mean him? The Horse? What is he thinking??”
Student: “Well, I don’t know??? I just want him to do it!”
If you ask yourself ‘what is he thinking‘ before you start the changes, you will know what the reaction will be before you enter the movement and you won’t have to force him to make the mistake.
When you know what he is thinking about it, it is only then you will know what you need to train first. You can then change the approach, go back and gain the missing ingredients to be able to be successful in the changes.
‘Who is my horse and what it he thinking’ is what I always try to remind myself of.
Changing the mindset of the rider to think not what is the horse doing but why is he doing it, alters the whole vibe of the training session. It opens the rider’s mind and shows what information the horse really needs at that time to progress easily towards the goal.
Setting the right feeling through the training each day determines how your horse experiences his education. Does he feel it’s an education? Is it something that motivates him? Where he seeks the little rewards and the feeling of accomplishment and that it’s easy?
Or does he feel that it’s just hard work and that the time he spends with you is full of confusion, frustration and fear.
The horse becomes a direct reflection of the rider
Aside from a method of training or steps on how to archive the moments with your horse that seem effortless with a clear confident understanding of the exercise, it is the mindset of the rider to think what is my horse thinking and not what is he doing. And also why is he doing is?
The way the horse experiences his daily training determines the effort and motivation he will willingly put forward the next day, creating a patterned momentum of self-improvement in the horse that generates excitement and energy about his work.