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August 30, 2022 7 Comments
The little things you do matter to your horse. Small considerations are of great importance!
Below is not a complete list of small things that matter but it's a pretty big bite out of a comprehensive list of small things we can do to ensure our horse knows we care. Put differently, if you don't do these things, you may be riding a puppet, not a partner.
Loosening the cinch at the end of a ride and tightening the cinch in stages in the beginning:
Just think about your own experience, imagine a rope tightening around your belly, would you like it slow and considerate, or sharp and thoughtless? Then, after a while of wearing that rope, would you like it to remain tight, or loosen just enough to add some comfort as we lead those last few steps back to the barn?
Wake up slowly:
Imagine standing at rest, then suddenly being asked to jump the moon without time to get the blood to the muscles required to perform that task. Almost all tasks, big and small, require a bit of warm up. Even stepping off from the tie rail or mounting block involves a few simple suggestions to shift the horses weight before steering away and walking off. Be considerate as you ask your horse to move after resting.
Be athletic, or be patient and prepared to demand less:
If I'm going to ask my horse to jump, I want to know I won't get in the way of his motions. That means I have to have a strong core, great balance, and the athleticism to proactively adjust to macro movements. In other words, don't ask a horse to perform something you, yourself aren't competent to keep up with. Consider his or her balance and longevity as you grow together.
No cell phone unless it's for safety or communication on a trail ride. Don't put your headphones on and listen to audiobooks and music. Instead, tune into the beautiful nature around you. Don't text and ride. Don't untie yourself from the connection you are supposed to have with this magical beast. Be in the moment. Hear the heartbeat. Feel the breath. Feel the muscles warming up and fatiguing. See what he or she can and can't see and offer grace for what he or she misses.
Clean feet and be kind about it:
When you pick up a horse's foot you want to ask politely, then when you give it back you want to set it down kindly, don't drop it. Remember, horses get little pebbles in their feet and it's always nice to check it out before and even during the ride if you notice something feels off. If you're present, you will notice it.
Avoid inconsistent, mixed cues:
It's time to break out your journal. What signal do you use for walking, trotting, and canter on the ground and in the saddle? Are you sure? Are you always the same? Sometimes I catch my students asking for canter with completely different signals than what they used last week. It's one thing to refine your signal through repetition. It's a whole other thing to switch it up daily. Also, your body language plays a huge role in your signal execution. For instance... imagine riding, asking your horse to sidestep to the right... If you lean too far left and push, you'll end up grabbing with your upper right thigh just to keep yourself from falling out of the saddle. Couple your grabbing right thigh with your pushing left leg and you have mixed signals. Be natural, don't exaggerate too much. Be as considerate as possible for their innate ability to get confused and always offer some grace to their learning experience.
Riding in the horse trailer:
Have you ever stood in the back of the horse trailer with your horse while someone else drives the truck down the road? You should try it (on a safe farm road of course). Get in the back and get a full understanding of their experience, from the noises they hear to the stability in your feet or lack of, to the sights and smells. When you do this, you'll realize how important it is to accelerate slowly as the driver and break slowly as well. Walking a mile in their shoes gives you a whole new perspective on the little things that matter and make a great relationship.
Understand they don't respond on their back the same as on the ground:
Don't get frustrated! Pretty much follow the "don't get frustrated" rule and you'll find success with horses regardless of technique or skill. When it comes to their understanding of your communication, understand that they will see you differently when you change positions from ground to saddle. So, if it was easy to canter on the ground, you can expect it WON'T be easy to canter in the saddle until the horse learns the signals from that new position. This simple perspective will help him trust you more because you'll be patient and kind with his learning.
Unnatural smells matter too:
Horses smell like grass and water and sweat. But even their sweat smells a bit like grass and water. People smell like MacDonald's and sweat. And their sweat smells like MacDonald's gone wrong. Eating a more natural diet, believe it or not, is more pleasant to your horse. Strong perfumes can be unpleasant too. Unnatural laundry, deodorant, etc., can all irritate your horse. That doesn't mean they can't learn to accept you like you are. It just means that if you really care, show it from time to time in ways he or she may never expect but most likely always appreciates.
Balance her stall time and free time:
Living in a stall is not cool. Imagine living in your bathroom. It's about the same size ratio. You need to get out. So does your horse. It's okay to be in that small space for a few hours at a time. Sometimes injury recovery requires days and weeks at a time in that small space. It's not life or death you're choosing, it's just sanity you're choosing. If you find a larger space where your horse can be free to move naturally, you should allow them in that space as often as possible. It's a small thing that makes all the difference for their heart and mind.
No preparation or conditioning for long rides:
"It's fall time, so let's go hunting..." But wait, have you ridden this horse all summer long to prepare for those long treks up the mountain? If not, just pause for a second and consider his or her experience. If you aren't willing to, or if you think it doesn't matter. Maybe you should buy a motorcycle instead, because, trust me, it matters. Walk a mile in their shoes and realize how important preparation and conditioning is to health and longevity. Offer your horse the best life you can, and when you want to ride, help him meet you in that space, don't just take him there.
Don't always ride for you:
Every once in a while, plan a ride that isn't about where you want to go, or what you want to see. Plan a ride that's structured to be a great experience for you horse. When I learned about this, I started planning weekly rides that took us to the best grazing areas around. After just a few weeks, my horse, one who used to resent riding away from the barn, showed all the signs of looking forward to our excursions.
Let some things slide:
It's okay to let some minor things slide if it's not a safety issue. This one can be taken the wrong way. I don't mean to let the horse get away with murder. I mean if your horse doesn't like his ears being touched, take your time getting there. If he doesn't like the bit, ride without it. It's okay to adjust to your horse as long as he performs how you like and you know he is respectful if you need him to be. I once had a horse that didn't like being touched between her eyes. She'd let me do it. She was respectful, I made sure of that. But she didn't ever learn to love it. So... I let it go. I stopped making a mountain out of a molehill and I let it just be part of our quirky relationship. Be safe and don't let your horse get away with dangerous stuff just because he doesn't like it, but some small considerations are useful. Don't be uncompromising. Be a friend.
There are a million more. Such as... building up to your jumping, the importance of decent footing, not too many circles, understanding repetitive stress disorder, not disregarding tiny muscle stress in an effort to get the right lead, the right shape, the right attitude, the right response to a cue, etc., do less, end on a good one, give breaks and do it again tomorrow, build the small muscles, celebrate and build on small successes, reward often. It's all important. Just pick a few and focus on them this week. Then pick some more and get better in tune with your amazing equine partner.
Comment below. Share some small things you consider for your horse. I'm sure I've missed some, add them below. God bless, see you soon!
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