November 06, 2017
Teach your horse to relax
In Australia our show- or competition season is about to come to an end, with many horses being spelled during the hot summer days. After attending another busy event last weekend, I thought I’d share with you one of my favourite lessons from one of my favourite horse trainers. Neil Davies is known for his method of Fear Free horse training. He has great insight in how the horse interacts with us humans and with their environment. This particular lesson is all about how to relax your horse when attending an event.
Neil explains how a horse’s world needs to be predictable for him to relax; they must always know what the outcome of their actions will be. If you start a lesson by rubbing a horse’s head, he will soon learn to relax when his head is with you. It becomes a pleasant experience. When you tap a horse’s rump, he learns to relieve that pressure by moving forwards. This becomes predictable as well. The horse will know what to expect so he can relax. With a few simple lessons, every horse can predict what will happen when his head is with you, or when you raise a stick to his rump. It is logical and consistent so it makes sense to a horse. If you are not consistent, for example when you chase his head away when he comes to you, or keep tapping his rump with your whip when he moves forward, your horse won’t know what to expect. Every horse must understand how to relieve any pressure that you apply before he can relax.
You must always have a definite plan of what you want your horse to do – a definite speed or a definite circle for him to walk. Go to any equestrian event and you’ll see someone with a nervous, worried horse. Often the handler will lead the horse around, stroke his neck and let him carry on moving nervously, thinking he will settle down eventually. However, in this situation he horse can’t settle down because there is no definite plan. If the horse learns to stand still and keep his head with his handler, both horse and handler will have a place to relax in times of stress. The horse must also be taught to walk in a definite circle at a definite speed. A horse can only relax when he learns to concentrate and do what he’s asked to do. This makes his world become more consistent and predictable.
If you have a nervous and worried horse, teach him these simple lessons during your summer break. Your horse will learn to relax and you can focus on getting those results you’re after without the stress of a nervous horse. Your horse will thank you for it.