Every day I receive emails from people who are having problems with their horses. I’m sure lots of people think there’ll be a magic fix for their particular issue.
Here is an example:
“My horse used to be perfect but now he kicks up, bucks, rears, runs home (you name it). How can I overcome this?”
If only it were that simple. If your horse “used to be perfect” and has recently started playing up, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with him. It doesn’t mean that your horse is stupid or has a physical problem or doesn’t “respect” you. It simply means that you’ve taught him to use unwanted behaviours to relieve pressure. By allowing these behaviours, you’ve taught your horse to do things that you don’t want him to do … Yes, it’s your fault.
This is very unpalatable to hear. Most people think it couldn’t possibly be anything that they’ve done. They think there must be something wrong with their horse. If someone could just “fix” the horse, everything would be back to normal.
Maybe a trainer can improve the horse but if the owner doesn’t have the necessary skill, the horse will soon revert to the unwanted behaviour. It’s up to everyone to try to improve their horse handling and riding skills and to blame themselves when things go wrong.
Horses learn very quickly. They can learn to be confident and relaxed or they can learn to be nervous and frightened. They can learn to co-operate and do as you ask or they can learn to use unwanted behaviours to do their own thing.
Here’s another example:
“My new horse has been badly treated by his previous owners. I’m trying to calm him but after six months he’s still nervous and snorting and taking fright. Can you tell me how to re-programme him?”
Most people don’t realise that you need a huge amount of skill and experience to deal with problem horses. And most people don’t realise that they’re putting themselves in danger by attempting to handle and ride horses that are nervous and frightened.
This is especially true when inexperienced people attempt to handle or ride a horse that’s nervous and frightened. Many people write to say that they’re trying to “calm” an older horse that’s been badly handled. A lot of these people are obviously inexperienced and I always advise them to seek professional help.
It’s very difficult to overcome the fears of a frightened four or five year old horse. And the older the horse, the more difficult it is. Regardless of what anyone tells you, no-one can erase a horse’s memory. No-one can make any horse forget bad experiences and no-one can re-programme a horse.
A nervous, worried horse can be improved and may go along fine for months on end. However, when things go wrong, the horse will remember being frightened. His previous bad experiences will immediately come to the forefront of his mind and he’ll react in the manner he’s learned. He’ll kick or strike or buck or rear or rush off.
I know everyone loves their horse but your safety must be the most important factor. If you’re having problems, seek help before it’s too late. If you think you’re out of your depth then you probably are. Never try to handle or ride any horse that’s unreliable or dangerous. And remember, there are no magic fixes for horse problems.
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.