Ever hear the old adage “wet saddle blankets make good horses?” How much time a week do you spend with your horse? The only substitute to you riding your horse is to find someone else to ride your horse for you (and Lord only knows what they will teach them). The only way to get a “GOOD HORSE” for you is to ride them. The partnership that forms between horse and rider is a product of experience.
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word experience as “living through an event, thing one has done or lived through, skill gotten by training, work, etc.”
As a trainer, I have many different experiences with a variety of horses so it is usually pretty easy for me to get on and just ride. This is good for the horse because they are exposed to new or different experiences in a calm manner but does very little for the owner of the horse in gaining that same experience. Many times, horses that have been very relaxed and willing for me may become tense and fearful for the owner in the same situation. When this happens, I realize my client needs to be doing more of the work with the horse. They need to develop confidence which will give them control, and the ability to keep from over reacting. It is always important to remember horses are herd animals. The rider is part of the herd. Either the rider is leading the herd or the horse is leading the rider. If the horse is in charge, they will revert back to their instinct which is to flee from any perceived danger. This is where most people stop, get off and hand their horse over to someone else.
Recently, in talking with a client about this very subject, he related a story to me. He called me because I was referred to him by a mutual horse friend who runs a tack shop. He had purchased a new horse. He was told by the person he purchased the horse from that this new horse (a 12 year old Missouri Fox Trotter) was a fine gentle trail horse (I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that story). When he attempted to ride this nice, gentle trail horse, guess what happened? You got it, he found out quickly the horse was a bucker and seemed rather experienced at bucking! His first horse had been a great partner that would carry him anywhere. The new horse seemed to know exactly how to push my client’s buttons. The first time he rode the horse at home (after an hour of trying to catch the animal) he finally got him, put the saddle on and climbed aboard. What happened next is what ended up getting me involved. The horse showed off his bucking skills and took off running and bucking across a five acre field. Fortunately my client (a 60+ year old man with a bad back) was able to hang on for the ride. When the show ended, he got off and called me.
As we talked about this incident he related to me his bewilderment! He couldn’t understand what had happened. He explained to me his previous experience with his last horse. How he used to ride for hours, from downtown Chandler to Williams Air force base (a 20 mile round trip). He smiled as he described galloping straight for 20 minutes to cover a large amount of ground in a short time. This horse would run through puddles, cross traffic and never spooked at the airplanes taking off from the air field. At one point he kind of looked off and then asked me, “When did horses get so smart, I used to be able to just get on and ride”? He thought maybe horses have been watching too much RFD-TV so now he has do all this stuff just to control his horse.
Amazed by his story, I listened, all the while thinking, wow, that must have been a really great horse. I asked how long ago was this, to which he replied, “I was about 18 at the time!” It was all I could do not to laugh. But that explained a lot to me.
This story is one I hear often. Many people have memories of the “GREAT HORSE” they had when they were young. Now that they are a bit older they just can’t seem to find a horse like that. What has happened to those darn horses? News flash!!!! It is not the horse! As we get older (and more experienced in life) our defenses grow to where we sometimes overreact. Why?
Because experience has taught us to…
So now you have this new horse or a horse that has you scared. What’s the best way to get started on creating the relationship you want? First, find a GOOD trainer. Get references and make sure you have someone who will understand where you are in life as well as understanding where your horse is in his life. A good trainer can guide you in understanding how to handle your fear as well as your horse’s instincts. Take a few lessons. Your horse may benefit from the more experienced hands of your trainer for awhile but in the end you need to be able to get the same results. That means you have to develop the skill that comes only through experience.
Secondly, don’t get right on. Get to know your new horse from the ground. Allow him to get to know and trust you. Again, a professional will guide you in exercises which develop that bond you are looking for. One of my favorite quotes from John Lyons is “You ride the horse you lead.” When I am having a serious riding issue, I know it is time to do more groundwork with a horse because I am much safer on the ground. There is an excess of information out there on groundwork. Sometimes it may be hard to follow or understand exactly what you are looking for in the horse. Having an expert work with you to develop the eyes to see correct versus incorrect is invaluable.
When you do get on “Just walk!” Take your time! Owning a horse is hopefully a long term partnership. When you find something that causes your horse to be fearful, there is actually an opportunity for relationship building. Take your time and set up the experience in a safe controlled setting. Help him experience the event with your reassurance getting him through it alive. Ever ride a rollercoaster? Wow, how scary! Yet when you survive it, something makes you want to do it again. Same thing with your horse. Once he survives the threat he may be willing to try it again. You will begin to see less and less resistance. Be sure to praise him each time he overcomes his fear. Soon your relationship will shift from one of frustration and fear to looking for new opportunities to grow. Then it becomes easier to make your horse one of your top time priorities. So the old adage about “wet saddle blankets” does not mean you have to ride your horse into the ground to get it to be good. It means you have to take the time to work with your horse so it will be good.