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.
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.
Do you have problems with exploding, tension and spookiness? Check out this FREE video series to help you solve these issues!