If you have been a rider for quite a while, you get to the stage where you can ride pretty well and stick on quite good when most people would be ejected out of the saddle. Now, this isn’t always a good thing as the stats show it is the experienced rider that is most likely to have an accident. Why? Because they can ride an unprepared horse and they often do and think they will fix it once on board. Now none of us would do that, would we?
I had a situation just like this recently at a 5 day horse training camp. We were studying impulsion which is all about getting your horse traveling well and calm. There was a rider (let’s call her Jill) who couldn’t bring her horse due to it being unwell, which was very disappointing for her, so her friend offered her a horse so she could do the camp. Well, the problem was the horse had been given to her friend as it was a rescue horse, an ex racehorse that hadn’t been ridden in a year and had bucked the last rider off! Err things weren’t looking good to say the least. Jill was still keen to do the clinic but we were both a bit skeptical about riding this horse especially when we were going to be riding in a large open area of about 5 acres with another 9 horses all running around doing the same thing.
On the first morning, when the students came out with their horses, we were on the ground first up and standing in a circle chatting about how to prepare our horses and balance them up before we get on. While we were trying to have a chat, our ex racehorse was missing its friend (another rescue racehorse) and running around screaming out very loudly. We persevered and chatted in between screams but after about 10 minutes this got a bit too nerve-racking for Jill who said she didn’t think she wanted to ride this horse. Good choice, I said, but how about we see if we can learn something about horsemanship from this horse. Could I borrow your horse please?
I asked everyone and we all agreed not to hop on a horse that was like this; a pretty easy decision you would think but people still do for some reason. Anyway, instead of telling the horse off for running around and screaming, I gave it a few constructive things to do with all its nervous energy, giving myself a chance to get it balanced up for possibly riding so long as we could just get it calm. After a few minutes, (well the rumor goes I just held the rope, but I think it was after a few minutes) I asked the horse to stand in the circle so we could continue our chat. The horse stood relaxed with a low head alongside me as I got my first chance to give it a rub on the head and connect. After a few minutes of hanging out, I gave the horse back to Jill and asked everyone again, would you ride that horse? They all had to agree that the horse now looked a lot smaller than it had done just a few minutes before – now he actually looked like a nice, calm horse that you would ride.
Well, the camp was only just beginning and Jill couldn’t get the image of that screaming horse out of her head. Now the screaming horse didn’t reappear during the camp but the scared, insecure horse did and, every time it did, we gave it constructive things to do with its nervous energy until we got back to the calm horse. Jill saddled a calm horse; then it became nervous with the saddle on so we worked with it until it was relaxed again with the saddle on. Jill got on the calm horse, but it got nervous when it started to move so we didn’t move too much until we had our calm horse back. Jill trotted the calm horse but yes it got scared so we only trotted little bits till it became the calm horse. And yes, Jill cantered the calm horse and now knew how to help it be calm again. We all agreed we would only ever ride that calm horse even if we could ride the nervous one. Why would you when you can ride the calm one?
In case you are still wondering how we helped the horse calm down so quickly, we used the Release Method which you can find out more about in my other articles and my blog.
This ex racehorse gave us an amazing demonstration of how a horse can overcome its fear in a very short time, but an even better example of being able to move ahead very quickly and safely if we make sure our foundations are good before we move forward.