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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Habit Changing in Horsemanship

I've been riding a lot lately and it's given me plenty of time to reflect. I think about horsemanship frequently because I believe a lot of training is done with a philosophy in mind. By this I mean that to get into a horse's head you can't just run the air out of them. Well you can... And then they get in shape.... Or they get turned out for awhile and the problem is still there when you crack them out again. I like to stick to the mentality of "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult". You must be a problem solver willing to think outside the box and think like a horse. There is no overnight remedy to a lot of horse problems. All you can ask for is a little bit of improvement every day. And most horse problems are created by people anyways. A lot of horse issues aren't really issues at all. They are just habits that need to be changed. Let's say you have a horse that's really bad about walking away when you go to get on them. There's a few drills that can fix that but if you dig deeper into why a horse does it, you can find the solution. Horses walk away when you get on them because most people get on and away they go. If you change that habit by getting on, sitting for a minute or two and relaxing of flexing your horse and do this every single time, they will usually stop walking off. They do that in anticipation and you have just taken away that anticipation with no hassle.

I have a colt in who has a strong flight response. He started bolting when I'd ask for the first few steps and would stiffen up and not respond to a one rein stop. I was at a loss and talking to a trainer staying with us and he said to change the habit. Start by ponying him off another horse for the first few steps and then unhook, or put him in a smaller pen and get his feet moving. I could have kept doing the same thing over and over again (insanity right?), or change the habit. Today when I rode the colt, he didn't bolt. I changed the routine and set myself up for success. It's not giving in or giving up. You have to let go of human thought and create a new routine for the horse.

All horse behavior is habitual. Use your brain, not violence or force, to come to an answer that best benefits the partnership of you and your horse.