In the last few posts I have redirected my focus onto some often overlooked areas of our horse's lives that dramatically affect the way they respond to our training methods. Many of these things I have discussed might seem elementary in importance, or very much the basic knowledge required for owning a horse, but I am bringing them to mind because they are not often considered as the cause for issues that surface in our training regimes.
Last week I discussed how proper diet (or lack thereof) affects the way your horse will be able to focus, respond, and ultimately perform under saddle (Read the post Here).
Today I want to look at one more aspect of the horse's care: The environment in which the he lives and the tack with which he is trained.
Since the subject of tack is such an enormous topic, I will keep my thoughts on horse housing brief. A horse will have a greater soundness of mind and willingness towards work when they live in an environment that mirrors as closely as possible their natural habitat. When given access to pasture or turnout, a horse will have the opportunity for both physical and mental stimulus that can't be found in stalls.
Horses are, by nature, nomadic animals, which is why life in a stall can cause so many problems with them. Nearly all vices and bad habits stem from boredom and lack of exercise, which is why they are such a common occurrence among horses strictly housed in stalls when not being ridden.
In comparison, a horse with access to turnout or pasture, with the opportunity to roll, graze, and gallop will be a much healthier and content animal.
What does this have to do with training? A horse that is bored and under-exercised will vent much of its frustrations during training or under saddle. Not only will a horse with this attitude be difficult to train, but he will also be very dangerous.
Giving your horse an environment that reflects what he would have in the wild gives him a space to be himself and nurtures his instincts. This greatly improves his outlook, willingness, and even potential towards training because he will not be carrying the stress that comes with being housed in an environment that inhibits his instincts. Basically, he will feel good about himself. And when a horse feels good about himself, he will also be more aware of how he moves and carries his body. This is extremely important. Since he will be that much more attentive to what it was he did at the moment you rewarded him, he will become very teachable. When this happens you will be able to spend more time teaching your horse what you originally set out to and less time trying to retrain him of vices and bad habits.
Now to tack. As a general rule, the least amount of invasive tack and equipment you can use while working with your horse, the better. Think of each piece of tack you use as a line of communication between you and your horse. Too many lines and your words will become distorted or overwhelming. Not only will it become hard for your horse to understand what it is you are asking of him, but it will be difficult for you to understand him as well. This can lead to great frustration on both the horse and rider's behalf.
Things such as tie-downs, martingales, draw-reins, flashes and nose-bands, while undeniably useful and unique in purpose, are all too often responsible for masking symptoms of greater consequence. These should all be used with great caution and understanding.
Vices such as grabbing or mouthing bits, though common for young or inexperienced mounts, can also be caused from rider-error, sensitivity in the mouth, wolf-teeth, improper fit of tack, nervousness, or pain through some other means. But unfortunately, whether by impatience or by inexperience, it is oftentimes too easy to mask habits like that with an extra, readily available piece of tack. Why deal with the annoyance of a mouthy horse when you could close his mouth? This "solving" of problems will only force the horse, once his voice in this area is muted, to begin seeking your attention through other means –often negative because that is the only thing that gets the rider's attention.
Think of it as having a one way phone –you can try telling him how do something in as many ways as you would like, but if you can't hear his feedback you are doing yourself and your horse a great disservice. Removing these communication barriers might seem overwhelming, but in the long-run they inhibit training much more than they help.
When remove excess lines of communication, training will become much simpler because you will find the root of a problem much more quickly. When you respond to an issue your horse is bringing up he will become much more enthusiastic towards training because it is easier for him to learn. More importantly, when your horse knows that and that he will be heard he becomes more forgiving to your training errors because he knows you will listen when he has something to say.
In conclusion, there are many things that can affect the way your horse responds to your training methods -but, this is not something riders should despair over! Rather, it should be an encouragement, because when you come to this understanding it becomes much easier to find the source of the problem since you now know where to look for the cause.
Next week we will delve into the many similarities and differences of natural and conventional training methods.
Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you!
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