Of Horse

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Treating the Symptom vs the Root of the Problem
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Treating the Symptom vs the Root of the Problem

I often see riders dealing with issues that have an underlying cause. And if the cause of the problem is not addressed, the symptom will keep coming back over and over again. Much like when a person is ill with a fever and an infection - treating the fever with drugs that don't address the infection will only bring a temporary relief of the superficial problem. If the infection is still there when the drugs wear off, the fever will return. In order to knock out the whole illness, the cause of the fever must be addressed.

Here are some common examples of symptoms that are tempting to address when riding: 

When your horse is hollow, with his head way up in the air, it is because he is either not straight or properly balanced over his hind legs. When the horse is crooked or unbalanced while carrying a rider on his back, he will tighten his back muscles, and either hollow or brace against the rider's hand. The symptom is the heaviness in the hand, and/or the hollow, high headed position.

The root of the problem is the hind legs not coming underneath the body evenly or sufficiently to balance the horse. Riders who attempt to fix this problem by jiggling the reins to get the heavy horse to "lighten" on the bit are only addressing the symptom of the horse bracing against the bit. Even if they succeed in making the horse feel lighter in their hands, it will only be temporary. As the horse will likely go right back against the hand at his first opportunity. 

The only way to create true lightness is to engage the hind legs to the point that you change the way the horse carries his body. And riders who use the reins to put the horse's head back down when he is hollow are only affecting the head and neck, rather than addressing the hollow back and the hind legs that are not underneath the body. Again, this will be a temporary and very incomplete fix. The rider who focuses on the front end in this situation is only setting themselves up for frustration, as their problem will keep coming back again and again until they focus on the cause of the inverted frame or heaviness. 

Sometimes it is more painfully clear that you are not addressing the root of the problem - as when you are trying to fix the symptom, you find that you cannot correct it. Like in the case of the horse who is popping its outside shoulder, and falling out in the turns. No amount of outside leg is likely to work to fix this problem if you haven't addressed the fact that the horse is overbending its neck to the inside. 

Another example is the horse that is rushing... going faster and faster because it is out of balance like a wheelbarrow going downhill. If you don't correct the balance problems, it will be very hard to address the speed issue. No matter how much you yank on your horse's mouth, he is not likely to slow down very easily - because he cannot help it, he is running to catch his balance. And if you do temporarily succeed in slowing him down, he will soon be rushing again.

And what about the horse that is balky or gate sour? If you think you are going to fix that problem while the horse is still unresponsive or disrespectful of basic leg aids, you won't get very far. Same thing with the horse that spooks at every little thing because of tension. Correcting each spook will not help. You will need to address the underlying tension issue to change that behavior.

You will find that just about every single problem that your horse presents to you has a fundamental cause behind it. And you will be much more successful in fixing the problem if you figure out how to correct it at its core. You will also save yourself and your horse lots of frustration in the process.

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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