Does your horse really know the trailer?

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.

Happy travels!

Click here to learn more about my training method.

Create a willing mindset in our horses

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??”

Me: “Yeah”

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.

meaningful-words

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.

If you want to learn more about my training method, watch my free training video.

The biggest myth about preparing your horse for competitions uncovered

Imagine that your horse gives you an amazing feeling in the training. You feel him rising underneath you and it feels like your horse can read your mind by responding to the smallest aids. Wow!

After practicing the dressage test at home and being convinced that you would for sure get a standing ovation from the judge, you decide to sign up for a show.

So there you are at the show, all excited to get started and show off your hard work at home. But as soon as you get your ‘Valegro’ off the trailer, you see that his posture and behavior has changed. His head is up, looking around and impatiently going back and forth while calling for his friends. All of a sudden it becomes a struggle to saddle up your horse, not to mention getting on.

Then the next challenge arises. While riding your horse in the warm-up arena, it feels like you have a completely different horse and you can’t seem to get that same feeling like you had at home. It’s like your aids aren’t getting through like it normally would and that your horse is in his own bubble.

You can probably imagine that the dressage test doesn’t go as well as planned and you definitely don’t get that standing ovation from the judge. Sure, the scores weren’t that awful, but still, it feels like a complete disaster, because you know the potential of your horse.


“Horses have changed and the competition environment has changed”


Sounds familiar? Well, I think we’ve all been there. It’s a common problem that happens to a lot of dressage riders. As a matter of fact, with the modern sport horse it seems to be happening a lot more often than it used to do in the past. Can you even imagine how on earth you were able to do all the things with your horse years ago without ending up in the hospital? But horses have changed and the competition environment has changed.

The bad advice you get
No matter who you speak to, the most commonly heard advice that so many dressage riders fall victim to, is the ‘just go to more shows’-advice. Just go more often and your horse will get used to the environment. You just have to get in the ‘competition rhythm.’ Well, that’s a myth and I will explain why.

The single one most important thing for a horse is survival. Through survival they are always looking for a position of comfort. When they are put in an environment or situation that reflects danger, the horse reacts from instinct with a certain flight or fight behavior.

As soon as the horse then feels any slight increase in comfort or when the pressure decreases, a horse will then associate that behavior to that situation and a new pattern of behavior is formed.

For example, your horse gets tense at the show and becomes really tight in his body, bracing himself in a state of heightened readiness to flee if necessary. Once you leave the ring, put him back in the trailer or once he gets home to his own stable, the horse will feel a release of pressure and gets comfortable. At that moment, the physical action the horse took to go into the tension state in the ring is then rewarded.

The horse goes into a situation or environment he had no knowledge of, he reacted with a level of flight instinct to protect himself and it worked. He survived! The association behavioral pattern for the shows to survive is formed and next time he will be ready!

You can imagine that when this behavior after a first experience is being repeated, the behavior gets reinforced. The problem is that this will become the associated behavior tot survive at the shows.

Of course, a pattern like this is easily formed on a highly sensitive horse with a high natural level of flight instinct. Horses that have a generally quiet disposition and that are a bit nervous at their first show, this is normal. After a few shows they will probably get used to it and find a level of comfort to be able to do the job. But even then, when you have an incident at the show that causes the horse to lose confidence, this can be a pattern set for long term recurring problems.

A show is like an exam
So what should we do instead? We have to think of every new situating or a situation you want to change as being an exam. To do good in an exam you need to have all the information you need to be able to answer all the questions that will be thrown at you.


“Don’t leave your horse with only the knowledge to survive”


Don’t send your horse into the exam with no knowledge about the things he will experience and no knowledge about what he should do or how he should answer questions that are asked of him, like what to do when you hear a loud applause? Don’t leave him with only the knowledge to survive.

Focusing on the technical skills is an aspect that often gets all of the attention. Preparing your horse for a show means for most riders making sure he knows all of the exercises that are being asked in the test. But that’s only half of the exam!

Most of the things in our human environment when put into a horse’s natural environment would seem life threatening. It’s something the herd should be suspicious of until it’s being investigated. The applause, the plants around the arena, the judge’s box. All those things can be a threat and can trigger the horse’s flight instinct for survival.

Therefore, we shouldn’t forget to mentally prepare a horse for a competition. Your horse will be faced with a lot of things he’s not familiar with and it’s our job to prepare him for that. When you don’t do that and you only focus on the technical aspect, you have 50% covered and you can only hope that the other 50% will turn out right.

The four main things a horse has to know how to respond to are the general pressures of 1. movement, 2. touch, 3. sound and 4. approach (objects approaching the horse and the horse being able to approach strange objects).

Unfortunately, just going to a show over and over will not teach your horse how to respond to these pressures. In the worst case scenario, it only leads to a reinforced pattern of bad behavior, especially when you have a sensitive horse with a natural high level of flight instinct. It’s our responsibility and obligation that we teach our horse the right answers and prepare him for a show. Don’t go to an exam if you’re not prepared.

Click here to learn more about the online program TRT method which teaches you how to prepare your horse for competitions.

3 mistakes we make when there’s a scary corner

The other day someone came up to me and asked for advice about her horse spooking in one particular corner of the arena. It didn’t happen every day, but most of the times riding past the corner involved increased tension.

You can imagine that when you have this problem for a while, not only your horse, but you also start to feel more nervous and alert when riding in that particular corner. That’s basically an automatic response in your body for survival. If your body isn’t in a state of alertness, you won’t be able to respond quickly when your horse spooks and you will be left behind in the sand. And of course, that’s not something we want to happen.

What we do want to happen, is that we don’t have to worry anymore about that scary corner. That we can just walk past the corner with a loose rein and be totally relaxed. That we can focus on actually training our horse instead of just getting past all the scary things and trying to reduce the stress level and the tension in our horse’s body.

The good news is that this is possible for every horse. In all the years of training horses, I’ve never encountered a horse that didn’t learn to get relaxed and feel more confident. However, some horses do need more training and will need more reinforcement of their new improved behavior than other horses.


“In all the years of training horses, I’ve never encountered a horse that didn’t learn to get relaxed and feel more confident.”


Even though you need to apply an extensive training program to really solve a problem like this, I can explain my approach and give three quick tips on what you want to prevent from doing when there’s a scary corner.

scary-corner

Scary corner becomes the nicest place to be
First of all, I don’t perceive my horse as being stubborn or unwilling when he doesn’t want to go past a certain area or object. For your horse, that scary corner can be life-threatening and we shouldn’t punish him for relying on his natural instinct for survival.

What I try to accomplish is that the scary corner becomes the nicest place to be and actually becomes the place where your horse gets the rest. So when you’re training your horse, away from the scary corner becomes the place where your horse has to work and once you approach the scary corner, you release the pressure and give him the reward. Once past the scary corner, you increase the level of training again.

Very quickly, your horse will understand that being in the scary corner isn’t that bad anymore. It’s the place where he will feel most comfortable. When you’re very consistent in this approach, you’ll soon notice a change in your horse’s behavior. You may even notice that your horse wants to stay in the scary corner as opposed to running away from it.

The mistakes we make
When you take this approach, you will realize that we often do exactly the opposite. We often increase the level of training in that specific area to distract our horse and force our horse to go into the corner. I do have to admit that this can work for some horses. Some horses need just a little bit of encouragement and they will be fine once they have gone past it a few times.

However, this approach often doesn’t work with more sensitive horses. So, if a problem with a certain scary corner or object keeps coming back, you know that forcing your horse will not help and perhaps make it even worse.

You’re basically adding pressure to a situation where he already feels a lot of pressure. Your horse’s association with the corner becomes only worse, because not only is it life-threatening, as a rider you also add pressure with your leg and perhaps also with the rein.

Secondly, we can also give our horse the wrong signal when we badly time our aids. Imagine that you walk up to the scary corner, or something else that your horse is afraid of, and you feel that your horse gets more uncomfortable and tense. He starts to slow down and hesitates to go forward. Just as he wants to take a small step forward, you give the leg aid to convince your horse a bit more. To give him that extra push to go forward.

Big mistake! You just ‘punished’ your horse for giving the right response. He stepped forward and you gave pressure, while you should have released pressure and not do anything at all.

A third approach we often take, is not letting our horse see the scary corner by bending his neck to one side or taking your horse shoulder-in. In my opinion, this is just a temporary fix and doesn’t solve the underlying problem. Often, the next time your horse sees the corner again, he will spook again.


“Understand that some things in our human environment can seem life-threatening to our horse.”


It’s of importance that we teach our horse how to deal with the pressures he will encounter. Understand that some things in our human environment can seem life-threatening to our horse. Try to change your horse’s behavior in a positive way and don’t punish him for relying on his natural instinct of flight. If we haven’t taught our horse there’s another, better way to respond, we don’t leave him with any other choice than to rely on his natural instinct.

 

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‘My horse explodes all of a sudden.’ Are you sure? [video]

I often get the question what to do when a horse all of a sudden ‘explodes’. Before the explosion it seemed as if everything was under control, but then you get a burst of tension that you didn’t expect and it felt like it came out of nothing.

It’s a very unpleasant situation, because how can you prepare yourself and your horse for a situation that you don’t feel coming?

Protection through a state of readiness
Even though it seems as if your horse explodes out of nothing and has gone from a pressure level of 2 to 10 in a split second, there’s often something else going on. Very often, the pressure has been slowly building up in your horse through his posture.

Tension builds up in the body as a means of protecting himself. A tension or posture gives a heightened state of alertness or readiness to flee. When the pressure or threat in the environment becomes higher than the horse coping level, it’s then that the explosion comes.

Some horses can become almost comfortable in this heightened state or readiness in their body through a feeling that they are protecting themselves to a certain level and therefore seem relaxed and normal while under there’s a pressure level barrier.

Often the biggest contributor to this pressure barrier being created is desensitizing where the horse becomes desensitive or numb, ignoring the pressure in his surroundings up to the level he was desensitized to or gotten used to. Everything will be fine until the pressure in the environment passes that level.

It can be difficult to notice that building up of pressure when riding. Because it’s not easy to ask all the right questions in a safe position from the saddle, we go to the groundwork. On the ground you can see more clearly all the signs from the horse.

If he is acknowledging all the questions being asked of him and making good, positive decisions in the reactions in his body. Or if he is mentally going to another place in the back of his mind, ignoring or blocking out the pressures in his surrounding.

Staying present
As soon as I start to present the horse with an object to begin to ask a question I want to see that the horse is present and gives an answer even if it’s the wrong one. At least then I can continue teaching him what is right and what is wrong. What we don’t want to see is the horse standing like a statue, staring into space hoping that if he ignores the pressure that it will go away.

You can see this happening in the video below, filmed at a demonstration I gave recently. The problem with this horse is that he’s afraid of other horses and is used to blocking out the pressures in his environment to being able to cope.

It’s of importance that a horse stays present and that he doesn’t shut down and ignores the situation. I often find that the longer a horse shuts down, the more intensive the response will be once he can’t ignore it any longer.

You want a horse to be looking for the right answer and looking for the right way to handle the situation. It’s alright when it’s not the right answer straight away. It’s alright if a horse first tries to move away from the pressure. You then have the opportunity to tell him that’s not the right answer and teach your horse what a better response would be.

You don’t want it to be like someone who’s in the classroom thinking to himself: ‘don’t pick me, don’t pick me. When this question gets any harder, I’ll run out of the classroom!’ I often say that not giving an answer is not the right answer.

Find that switch
When you have a horse that explodes all of a sudden, try finding a way that you build up the pressure in such a way that he has to give a reaction, but not too much of a reaction that he runs off. So carefully look how much pressure you should give for him not to be able to ignore it any longer, but also not that it becomes too overwhelming and that you get the explosion.

With the TRT method I first teach a horse how to relax himself in the body giving him good body awareness and how he can find that relaxed place in his physical state. Then I start asking questions to the horse of how he would respond to each individual pressure he will face in our human environment. I’m teaching him the right physical action in his body that gives him the ability to control himself which gives him an empowering feeling of stability and control in his mind.

Even though you might only have the problem while riding, try fixing the problem first on the ground. You might say: ‘well, he doesn’t explode on the ground. I can wave a flag all day and nothing happens.’ Make sure you’re then applying the right type of pressure for that horse and the right amount of pressure to try and encourage active participation in the horse.

It has no use to wave a flag all day and not get a response. Get a different tool or use it in a different way so that you find that pressure level that creates the switch in his body. Invite your horse to go from not wanting to give an answer to giving the wrong answer. You can then show him what the right answer looks like.

Good luck!

Want to learn more about the three steps of the method that I apply when dealing with these problems? Sign up here for free and you will receive 2 free videos on how to get started yourself in your inbox straight away!

 

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Training a young horse: when to start?

A horse’s learning begins the moment their feet hit the ground. The learning of how they should perceive the world they are born into, listening to their instincts and following the behavior of their mother. They are being shaped by their environment and their experiences.

Left in this process to grow up with other horses in the field or in a free stable with other young horses, they will develop perfectly with the natural instincts that a horse will need for nature. All knowledge and skills that would suit perfectly for a horse who’s future was just to be a horse in the wild.

groep

But through this common process it becomes a huge disadvantage for the horse and the human when the time comes that the horse is plucked out of the safety of the group and introduced into the real world he was born into. That is being the human world as a riding horse and not the instinctive horse he has been working so hard on mastering.

Usually this happens at the age of 2.5 or 3 as the horse is leaving the free stable and the herd to begin the “real” training to become a riding horse.

So when should the real training ‘really’ begin?

Normally at 2 days old the horse is old enough to stand and when he’s old enough to stand, he’s old enough to learn. Horses are learning from the beginning instinctively. They do not need time to develop a part of the brain for learning. Teaching the foals a state of relaxation and trust around humans from the beginning is the perfect foundation for setting a positive mindset for the future.

3 key things to teach a foal
There are 3 key things I always start with when working with the foals in the early training.

First is the ‘approach’ that the horse can approach you confidently and you can approach him confidently. Start with touching the foal from all angles and all over the body. When the foal moves, move with him. When he stands still, move away from him. In the stable together with the mare is a good place to start the approach and touch.

The second step I like them to learn is to move away from pressure this is where I start the first pattern from the TRT Method, giving the foal the understanding of the when, how and why he should move from pressure. It is the beginning of a greater body awareness for the horse and better coordination. The third step is following pressure and the beginning of leading, to follow the rein or a rope.

Movement, touch and sound
After a few weeks when these controls are well understood and established, I then introduce the 3 main elements that trigger the flight reaction in the horse, which are movement, touch and sound. Introducing these elements at an early age gives them the knowledge from the beginning of what things they will encounter later in life.

From this point on the young horse will go into the field together with the knowledge of the basics, what not to be afraid of and with a good level of trust and understanding around humans. This makes all the necessary routine care of the young horses before riding, like the farrier, worming and maybe a visit from the vet, an easy and stress-free experience.

The basics of understanding body control and groundwork, how to respond to pressures for guidance and how to respond to pressures in the environment are repeated through the years 1 and 2. This way you’re giving them the information that they will need leading up to the day that they are strong enough physically for the riding. They are prepared for their future.

foal-series

Take time to save time
Taking the time in the early years to prepare the horse and give him an understanding that there is nothing life-threatening in a human world and relieving them of the fears of survival imbedded in their natural instinct, is in preparation for when the riding process begins.

Taking short amounts of time to teach the horse in the years before the age of 3 means they have all the information of how to respond to the steps necessary for the riding when they are 3. When the horse has the knowledge of what to do, he is not forced to use his instincts of flight. And the process of starting a horse under saddle will a smooth, stress-free process for both horse and rider, giving the best possible outcome for the horse to be successful.

If a horse is left to “be a horse” with little to no training until he is 3, you will have to deal with all the flight survival ‘natural’ reactions the horse will give when trying to ‘break him in.’ You’ll be spending a large amount of time struggling with a much more mature animal that is fighting his 3 year developed flight survival instinct.

Breaking in
The process of breaking in will then take a lot longer with greater risks of injury for the horse and trainer. There’s also a greater risk of a bad incident or experience that could leave the horse difficult with problems or totally unrideable.

Often in this process we fall into the pattern of lunging, putting unnecessary km’s on a young horses’ muscles and joints. Some horses in this process can have 2 to 3 months on the lunge to tire the natural flight instinct or to suppress it by a process of getting used to the situation and environments.

Just breeding a good horse does not, of course, mean he is naturally going to be a good riding horse. A horse to be comfortable in our human world will need to learn more than just to wear a saddle and have a rider on his back.

If we want a horse to reach his full potential to be well-mannered and happy in his work, it is our job to prepare them and teach them all the things they need to know before they ae faced with these tasks.

Want to learn more about the three steps of the method that I apply when dealing with these problems? Sign up here for free and you will receive 2 free videos on how to get started yourself in your inbox straight away!

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