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April 11, 2023 1 Comment
In my career with horses, I've been bucked off, ran away with, bitten, stepped on, squished, kicked, and whatever else you can think of. I wish none of those things happened, but... because they did happen, I'm more aware than the average horse person. I'm aware of the signs a horse gives before any one of those things happens. I see the tightness in the tiniest muscles. I see the misalignment in their posture. I see that spike in energy that indicates tension and disconnection. I see the hardness in the eye. The holding and shortening of breathing. I can see when it's okay to put my foot in the stirrup and climb on and when it's a very bad idea to ride.
Now, at least in the northern hemisphere, it's turning spring. What that means is horses are about to start interacting with their humans more. It's the absence of frozen ground and minus temperatures that allow for it. The challenge is these same horses are fresh. They are renewed with energy and that new energy brings out all the signs I described before. Lesser focus from the horse, tight muscles, spiking energy, misalignment and posturing to play rather than remain calm. So, what is a horse owner to do? Should we assume our horse is as good as last year? Should we hop on and carry on like everything is ready?
Short answer... no.
If I'm gonna ride, I'm going to be certain my horse is "rideable." But how would I know? How can I test and train away the spring gitters or new energy in a horse due to changes in environment? It's a good question, right?
Over the years I've developed a series of "absolute must, no exception" tests for my horse before I ride. It helps me trust the horse. If you've been doing horses for as long as I have, I'm sure you have your own list of small tests that prove your horse is rideable, as you should.
Here are mine. Remember. No exceptions, no matter what. Especially with a horse that's fresh or unknown to me.
My list is simple.
1. In the groundwork, my horse must demonstrate rideable gaits, (walking, trotting, and cantering), especially cantering, and if cantering is not possible, then jumping. The reason is obvious, I hope. If I don't ask him to move out on the ground, how am I certain about what he's likely to do under saddle? Plus... cantering or jumping simulates more realistic behavior under pressure. Avoiding the canter doesn't tell you a deeper truth about rideability.
2. My horse must demonstrate the ability to walk after cantering. Also, in the groundwork. This shows emotional fitness like no other tests. Typically, horses stop abruptly or keep on moving with tension. Walking after shows a calmness needed for riding.
3. My horse must demonstrate non reactivity to outside stimulus (sound, motion) while in motion. Still on the ground. I like to randomly flash my whip or flag to test foe reactivity. If he doesn't react, I'm happy. If he jumps at the sight or noise of a sudden flashy stimuli, I know he's not ready.
4. My horse must stand still for mounting. This one's self explanatory. Won't stand... doesn't want you on his back. It's a simple truth.
5. My horse must demonstrate the ability to back off my hands. Specifically, off my hands. This one shows me, in an emergency, my reins will work as brakes. If I don't test for this, I'm guessing. It's so worth testing for positive responses to the reins before going anywhere.
Only at this point, is it truly safe for me to ride because I know his mind is right and ready. It doesn't mean he'll be perfect at steering or transitions, those I can work on in my riding warmup. What it does mean... is I have a fallback system if he begins to get excited. And that's really the key issue. If you don't have a basic understanding of who's in charge before you mount, or you're relying on what you had months ago and assuming it's still there, you'll get yourself in trouble.
These exercises don't just work on my horse, they work on every horse. If you want to see a video of these. Comment below to let me know.
Be careful. Establish your own list of must do's and enjoy the springtime or any other transition knowing you can interact with your horse like a leader, causing a safe, happy, fun relationship forever.
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