People often describe how their horse feels when they’re riding. Some say their horse is soft in the mouth and light and supple. Some say their horse is stiff and hard and they need to flex him to one side to soften his neck and poll. Others say their horse is hard in the mouth and they need to soften his jaw.
By thinking in this way, you’ve forgotten that every part of your horse’s body is connected to his mind. Every horse has a mind of his own and every horse’s mind tells him what to do with every part of his body. You can’t teach your horse’s mouth or neck or poll or ribs anything. The only part of any horse you can teach is his mind. And every part of every horse is connected to his mind.
When your horse feels light and supple, it’s the physical result of him being confident and relaxed and trying his hardest for you. A horse that’s light and supple feels the slightest signal and always tries to work out what’s wanted.
When your horse feels stiff and hard, he’s telling you that he’s nervous and worried and not relaxed. Though he still feels your slightest signal, he fights against his rider because he doesn’t understand what’s wanted. In this case, the horse doesn’t need certain body parts worked on. He doesn’t need to be “softened” or “flexed”. He needs to be taught to be confident and relaxed –one step at a time.
Horses never stop thinking and they constantly try to work out how to make life easy for themselves. They constantly try to work out how to stop people pulling against them and annoying them. When a horse can’t find a way to stop the rider annoying them, they’ll resist and fight and feel stiff and hard.
Remember, both a “soft” horse and a “hard” horse can feel the slightest signal you give. The difference is that one horse understands and is happy to try his best for you. The other horse doesn’t understand, so he fights and resists.
The problem with thinking that your horse needs his neck flexed or his mouth softened or his poll bent is that you forget that your horse is a living, breathing creature with a mind of his own.
Always remember, you can’t teach your horse’s neck, mouth, poll, ribs or any other body part. The only part of any horse you can teach is his mind.
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.