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Trust Building Exercise
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Trust Building Exercise

There will always be something your horse fears more than you. But when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid.” Horseman Scott Purdum

I try not to put my riding time on the clock, but we all know in the heat and humidity that outdoor exercise should be done early in the morning and be short and sweet. Sportie and I enjoyed a nice ride in a cool breeze first thing this past Saturday, but as the time got later the sun got higher and we were both starting to sweat. As part of the cooldown we usually go from the riding arena into the adjacent turnout pasture and walk the shaded perimeter, taking no more than five minutes. 

Unfortunately, the gate to the pasture is right beside the owner’s house, and she had her sheets out on the clothesline. The breeze picked up which was a welcome coolant but made the sheets look like a ghost to poor Sportie. My normally compliant gelding planted his hooves firmly while still a good 20 feet from the gate I was asking him to approach. His head went high as he snorted. With all my aids telling him to go straight and forward he would only go sideways and backward. The more I insisted the more he resisted. I’m more of a “choose your battles” kind of personality and I really didn’t want to prolong our ride in the summer sun. I was tempted to give in and let Sportie do his

I have more of a “choose your battles” kind of personality and I really didn’t want to prolong our ride in the summer sun. I was tempted to give in and let Sportie do his cool down within the riding arena, but I knew that he's got to learn to trust me no matter what. With a sigh, I jumped off and purposefully led him through the gate and past the ghost, then let him look at it face on. He was stunning to watch as he stood big and tall and alert, eyes and ears completely fixated on the possible ghost, contemplating whether this was a fight or flight moment. “It’s okay, Sportie,” I said softly, gently pulling on the reins and taking another step closer to the sheet, completely showing him I don’t believe in ghosts. At my voice, he blinked and looked at me instead, and took that step with me. We both breathed out a deep sigh and Sportie’s head lowered, knowing if I said it was okay that I hadn’t been proven wrong yet.

We walked back through the gate into the riding arena and regardless of the heat, I knew it was important to finish off this unplanned training event. I remounted, and Sportie walked with his head down past the clothesline like there was nothing there. We then opted for a small circle and it was like our ghost story had never happened. As he walked complacently back to the barn I knew the newly-increased level of trust between us was worth the sweat. 

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  1. jst4horses
    Nice article. Pat Parelli says take the time it takes, so you don't have to take the time it takes (to heal your broken bones, or wait for your horse to heal from injuries). People always think I am strange because I take all the horses I train for walks, and let them have plenty of time to take a look around. I got this habit early as an assistant trainer taking race horses to "school" before they were allowed on the track, even for early morning works. Many a time I have been grateful I took that time as I sat on a calm horse while everyone else was either getting thrown, or clinging to a runaway horse when an ambulance or police helicopter or trash truck went by, or started to load up a dumpster, or trash can....................Although, one horse I had hated hoses, in the thirteen years I owned him before he passed away of an injury caused by a homeless man who cut his gate chain and took him to the park...............he thought he needed a green place to graze.......he NEVER liked hoses....or puddles of water. BUT, one day I was riding on a skinny trail near the edge of a cliff, and a HUGE rat snake came slithering off the mountain right in front of us.....that horse could have cared less........didn't even blink.........just walked on across it and off down the trail. and after years of tantrums over little tiny puddles, he was grazing and saw some men fishing in the lake in the park where his stable was...........that old fool ran out into the lake after the dog that was already pestering the fishermen.............the kids in our riding program ran out to get the horse and dog............we still laugh, twenty something years later when we think of those poor fisthermen.........first a dog, then a horse, than a mob of kids .............put an end to fishing that quiet morning, and no one probably believed them............

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