Being a prey animal, horses are incredibly tuned in to their environment. They have an ability to read situations and intentions that is second to none. Our ability to understand this about our equine companions is valuable information we can use in each and every interaction with our horse.
For example, if you are riding, and your mount is getting more and more excited, or “hot”, there are times when our first instinct is to restrain their forward movement, by applying pressure to the reins. As we do this though, there are many times the horse will get more excited, and more energetic, and we as the rider begin anticipating disastrous results such as bucking, bolting, and being completely out of control.
As our anxiety level increases, the horse becomes more determined to escape. The more determined he is to evade and escape the human on his back, the stronger his behavior becomes to accomplish this goal, the more anxious/scared/worried the rider becomes. It is an increasingly difficult cycle to overcome, often ending with a frustrated horse and a very shaken rider.
How can this be avoided? Put your knowledge of the horse’s ability to read situations and intentions to your benefit. There are several steps that have helped me over the years with a variety of horses. One of the biggest is taking the time to visualize a calm, controlled ride. I see each step of the way—from haltering and grooming a calm horse, tacking up a calm horse, and mounting and riding off calmly. Picturing the entire ride, pre-planning the end result, several times before mounting up builds a level of confidence.
Once I am on the horse, my next favored method is making sure I am breathing deeply and calmly. Maintaining proper posture and keeping a relaxed body is critical. The horse will feel any level of tension—if I lock up my jaw, that transmits to my neck, to my shoulders, hands, and down my back. The horse picks up on the tension and wonders why the predator on his back is getting tense, and maybe he needs to get upset and try to escape the situation. Thus begins the cycle mentioned above, which ends with two upset beings.
Being able to handle our anxiety and nerves is essential in reaching an understanding with the horse. Breathing, pre-planning the ride and seeing a wonderful ride BEFORE you step foot near your horse, and keeping your body soft and relaxed while you ride will go a long, long way towards calming your hot horse. Remember, you have to SEE it happen before you can FEEL it happen. A calm rider will make for a calm horse, and that will increase your confidence and skill level dramatically.