“My horse won’t stand still.”
“My horse seems nervous.”
“I’m constantly fighting my horse.”
These are all common things that I hear from a lot of my clients that are struggling with their horse. They’re frustrated because they feel like they’re constantly fighting with their horse to accomplish a task or maneuver, and just want their horse to be more relaxed. Some of the most common reasons for this “anxious/nervous” behavior are:
Anticipation of pain: When a behavioral problem arises with any horse, it is very important to rule out pain first. The horse could be trying to avoid certain pressure because it is painful. Always consult with your vet if you feel that your horse may be in pain. Once pain can be ruled out, we can look into other causes of the behavior.
Anticipation of the next maneuver: Horses are creatures of habit. If your routine consists of the same maneuvers, in the same order, every session, then your horse can catch onto the schedule and anticipate the next maneuver. This can cause them to seem “squirrely,” because they know what is coming next. Try to mix up your routine to keep your horse on their toes. Additionally, it is very beneficial to pause for at least a few seconds between maneuvers when training to teach your horse to pause, relax, and wait for your next cue.
Too much force/pressure: Sometimes as riders/ handlers we try to micromanage our horse, or use too much pressure or force to try to get the desired behavior. The horse can begin to get resistant and act out, trying to communicate to you that they don’t need that much pressure. Light hands make a light horse. Always ask lightly first, and only increase the pressure if necessary.
Lack of Confidence: When training, it is important to build a horse’s confidence and expose them to as many situations as possible. When faced with new situations, it is natural for a horse to want to avoid a “scary” object or scenario, and even want to flee back to the herd where they feel safe. From the very beginning of training, it is crucial to desensitize horses to different obstacles and objects, and also teach them to be independent from other horses. Whether you use natural horsemanship, positive reinforcement, or a combination of both, make sure to always reward the horse for relaxing and trying, especially away from their friends and the barn. The more confident the horse, the smoother and more relaxed maneuvers will become. This can take time and a lot of wet saddle pads, but will be worth it in the end.
Previously rewarding the horse for bad behavior: “Barn sour,” “buddy sour,” refusing, etc. These behaviors and habits can form even with well meaning owners. At one point or another a rider can reward their horse for a bad behavior without even realizing it, and it spirals from there. A common problem I see is a horse pushing through the bit trying to race back to the barn, where the rider dismounts, unsaddles, and puts the horse away. The horse has learned that the faster it gets to the barn, the faster it can be done working. To change this mindset, you can spend some time working the horse around the barn and relaxing away from the barn. When you return to the barn from a ride, don’t immediately dismount if the horse has been pushy. Continue to work until the horse is relaxed and focused. Then reward. The horse will quickly realize that only relaxation and attention to the rider/handler will be rewarded.
**Each horse and situation are different. Training methods needed can vary. This is based off of my experiences.**