The only way you can control any horse is for him to think it’s more important to do what you want than whatever he wants. If you’re trotting along and your horse slows to look at a rug on the fence, then the rug has become more important to him than trotting along as you ask. The horse has stopped thinking about the rider and is concentrating on the rug.
Many times I’ve seen someone take the rug off their horse and leave it on the arena fence when they ride. When they trot their horse past the rug, the horse takes fright and shies at his own rug. Trainers often say ‘just let him stop and look at it. Let him walk up and sniff it. He’s gotta get used to it.’ Surely if that horse wore that same rug every night, he’d be ‘used to’ it. Surely he’d be ‘desensitised’ to his own rug.
In the horse’s mind the rug on the fence is something different. It’s new to him so he makes it an issue. As soon as the horse slows to look at the rug the rider becomes apprehensive and stops pushing the horse forward. The rider allows the horse to slow down and move off line. So the rug has become more important to the horse than the rider.
The rider doesn’t have to get the horse used to the rug, after all the horse wears it every night. Instead, the rider has to make his lesson more important to the horse than the rug hanging on the fence.
I often read if you’re riding down the road and your horse is scared of something just stop and let him sniff it. If he runs away don’t worry, just let him go where he wants. He’ll eventually get used to the item and walk up to it. He’ll then see that it’s nothing to worry about and he won’t be scared of it any more.
If you subscribe to this theory, every time you ride your horse somewhere new you’d have to take him around and show him every new item. And every time he was ‘worried’ by something you’d have to let him stop and have a look at it to show him it won’t hurt him.
If you do this your horse will soon learn that every time he stops or snorts, you’ll stop riding him forward. You’ll let him take control and move where he wants, when he wants at the speed he wants and it won’t be long before your horse takes you for a ride.
If you ask your horse to trot a circle, then that’s what you want to do. Your horse may decide he’d rather stop and look at the rug on the fence or he may want to shy away from a barrel or an umbrella. By allowing your horse to stop and look at things or move off line you’ve effectively told him that every time he’s worried your rules no longer apply. It won’t take long for the horse to work out that all he has to do is slow down and look at things and you’ll stop driving him on and he can then do as he pleases.
If you never confront your horse with things that frighten him and always build up to difficult tasks your horse will learn that you don’t put him in frightening situations. Your horse will become confident with you and when he does become worried you’ll be able to make him concentrate on you instead of “stop, look and shy”.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]
He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.
Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.