Confidence issues can cause unrest between a horse and its owner whether it starts on the ground or or under saddle. I have a few tips that can help you (these can help with under saddle issues as well):
1. Breathe! Remember to breathe! A lot of people forget to do this simple thing and it just gets you in more trouble. If you are so tense that you keep forgetting then try singing. If nothing else, bring someone with you enjoy talking to while you are with your horse and ask them to distract you.
2. Let go of the past. Horses are living in the moment; take a lesson from them and try the same. No matter what your past experiences were with a particular horse that is making you nervous, or with any horse, do your best to let it go.
3. Release your tension. For me, I imagine blowing out bees - they make me tense. I envision blowing them out and away from me so I can relax as best I can. Try envisioning the release of something that causes you tension and just feel it lift or fall away.
4. Have fun! Yes, that's right, I said it, have fun! Whatever you are doing, whether it be grooming your horse and getting all of those loose winter hairs off or racing a friend through an open field, live a little and have some fun. We are blessed enough to be here now and should really enjoy it.
Oh boy, I said it. I know, I know. Natural horsemanship is not for everyone, but even if you think you are not doing "groundwork" per say, you really are. The moment you put your hands on your horse as you halter them, you are engaging with them. If your horse respects your space as you walk and is always well mannered for lunging and other things, you are pretty darn lucky if you do not purposefully do groundwork.
For those of you who believe in and do groundwork, let's get down to it. If you are having issues with your horse properly backing, yielding their hindquarters, or lunging follow the step above. If you are still having trouble, try videoing yourself to see if your body language is correct. If so, it is time to amp up your intentions and follow through or seek advise and assistance from a professional. Emphasis is on 'professional' because while many friends have lots to offer they often do not have the same timing as a professional trainer.
I tell people to build up their energy for asking for groundwork maneuvers by using the racing example. If I put a million dollars cash in the middle of the arena and told you all to race towards it, the energy built up during "on your mark, get set, go" would be what you need when doing groundwork and asking for the horse to yield.
Horses learn from the release of pressure, so look for the release. Even if you can only reward them for a small try, then do it.
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Take your time with it. Horses are better off if you are smoother and methodical with your movements, so go slower, be smoother and your horse will often be less reactive and more respectful.
Sometimes you have to let the horse make a mistake, or mistakes, to teach them what is correct.
Remember to have some fun with it. If you and your horse are bored, try learning a new technique or working on "free time" where you remove your halter and allow your horse to work with you without anything encumbering them. This can really build on your foundation. You can also gain confidence for yourself and with your horse using obstacles on the ground. Being with them rather than "pushing" them via riding.
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