Is it You, or Your Horse? Examining the cause of good and bad habits.
First Things First
Horses React to We Do
Have you ever seen a good horse go bad? Or a horse develop bad habits as they go along in their training journey. Many horses have people problems. Read that again. Many horses have people problems. Have you ever seen a horse ridden by one person, and they are amazing, and then someone else gets on them and they become unrecognizable? Well lets get one thing straight. Horses are smart and they know the difference between us riders and handlers. Now, each horse definitely has their own personality, and temperament, and we have to deal with each horse individually according to their personality.
Let’s do an example. A horse becomes pushy on the ground. They do not stay with you in the walk, and they are all over the place. They drag you wherever they want to go, and do not pay attention to where you are taking them. They see a patch of grass, and they are going to do whatever they can to get to that patch of grass. This is a bad habit, and there is no sign of respect. So was this habit developed because every time you walk your horse, you let them put their head down and let them eat every chance they get? You think your “Spoiling” them. “Spoiling” means to turn something bad. At this point, the horse feels a sense of entitlement that grazing HAS to happen and it must happen NOW! Now another person is walking your horse and your horse drags them over to a patch of grass and they get hurt. Or someone is riding them, and they disregard the riders queues and goes over to the patch of grass that they eat, instead of remaining engaged with them.
Could this have been avoided? Sure. Only let your horse eat when you allow them to. Switch up the places that you allow them to graze. Don’t let them eat EVERY TIME they see grass. Stand them over grass and don’t let them eat, to teach them grazing is not a MUST. Grazing it a treat after you have done your work for the day. They only graze on some days. Each time they graze its a different spot. Don’t allow them to eat and graze while their is a rider on their back. Now they know, grass is a treat, not a must and it does not become a distraction anytime they see a patch of grass. See how we can teach our horses bad habits, even with good intentions? You just wanted to “spoil” your horse, and in turn they learned bad ground manners.Let’s do an example of how a horse can pick up a bad habit while riding. You are riding your horse, and they start to feel good. They may throw a little buck and start to play a little. With no intentions of getting you off their back, and they remain engaged. They simply just feel good. The first thing you do is pull them up, bring them to a halt, and back them up a few steps to let them know you don’t want them to be that forward. Or, you get off and lunge them, or put them away for the day. You do this every-time they “feel good”. Let’s let some time go by. Your horse feels good while riding again, you pull them up and bring them to a halt, and this time they rear up on you. Why? Because now they are thinking, “If I act like I am going to play, I know I will get stopped, only this time, I’m going to rear up because I will have the chance to do it since I will be stopped anyway!”, or “If I play, I know I will be stopped and my ride will be over, and I can go back to relaxing and eating!”
See how habits can escalate? Could there be a different training technique to help this? Sure, and instead of pulling them up, you say, “Oh you feel good? Ok, let’s get some of that energy out. I’m going to extend your stride out and put you on the bit a little bit. Maybe do some figure 8’s to get your mind back engaged with me, because you may be a little confused with what we are doing. I’m going to give you a job since you have a bit more energy.” If you give them a job, it will allow them to get their energy out in a purposeful way, versus getting it out in ways that may not be beneficial to the ride. Listening to your horse will develop trust and respect.
Now, all of this is listening to what your horse is telling you. If you have a horse that does some things that you don’t like while they are feeling good under saddle. Incorporate into your training program how to get those habits and kinks out of your horse, WITHOUT allowing room for more bad habits to develop.
On the other hand, if your horse does try a new trick, pick up a new trick, or COME WITH a bad habit such as bolting, bucking, rearing etc., you should fix it and school it out of them immediately. But, habits like that develop because they were able to get away with it before. My point? Be aware of what you’re allowing your horse to do. They can learn both good and bad habits, without us even realizing we are the one that is allowing them to do it. .