We all know the situation:
You try to teach your horse to do side pass, to jump, to stand still when saddling (etc etc. the list is long...) but it just seems to be stubborn, is distracted or resisting to do anything.
The short answer to that is: WE must change the way of teaching our horses. WE must provide an environment our horses need to be able to learn and WE have to question ourselves before we blame the horse. Horses are willing to please to cooperate, they are prey animals who try to save energy in case they need to run away. ( Hardly no tigers in New Zealand but your horse does not know that....)
The question is:
How do horses learn? Which role do we play? What can we provide to help our horses to learn what we want them to?
Horses are very good learner. They absorb every information, they look for cues, they remember certain sounds ( of your car or the food bucket....).
In an equine environment, horses remember the source of fresh water, good grazing areas, where to find shelter etc..
They learn the hierarchy of the herd, they remember which horse is their friend, they remember the smell of each animal ( dog, sheep, cows,....) within their environment. They learn what situations to avoid and they remember events that caused them fear.
In a human environment they learn to associate certain verbal commands with specific behaviours, they know their own rugs and tack and they also remember the meaning of almost 10000 body aids we apply ( more or less successful...).
So, horses are definitely capable of learning a lot of things, that's for sure!!!
It is also a fact that the animal needs help to learn when it comes to human/horse interaction and performance.
Our horses are begging us ( in their silent way): Please help me to understand what you want, teach me what I need to know.
By nature, they use their sensitivity for body language and energy around them to find clues of what we want them to do.
The issue is, we are not as precisely with our cues and demands we ask our horses to do. We send mixed messages, or reward unwanted behaviour because we are not clear and present within ourselves, or haven't learned the language of the horses yet.
How horses learn:
Horses don't do categorisation like humans. They learn each cue and respond to it with exacting detail. To horses, little differences have a big impact in their learning. People often think they have to change course completely if a horse does not respond in a correct way the first time. But more and different cues do not really solve the problem. Stick to the cue you gave your horse and give it time to figure out the "correct answer", trial and error. The cleanest and consistent cues work best. Ask in the same way you have asked before. You horse will figure it out what you want.
If it does not work even if you have given ( or think you have) the same signal for the expected task, something is wrong. ITS NOT THE HORSE!!!!! Its either the teacher, the body awareness of the rider/trainer, the environment is not suitable for your horse to learn (stress triggers, distraction....), or your horse is physically not able to perform the task (yet).
It is always helpful to check certain factors and the learning environment and mental state of your horse when the training is not progressing as you expect.
An example of a problem: If you do pole work on the ground and you want your horse to walk or trot over them, but your horses fails and stumbles within or always touches the poles. You get inpatient or frustrated, your horse becomes helpless because it cannot understand what you want him to do.
Solution: A solution here can be to check the distance of the poles! If the poles are too close, it is physically impossible for your horse to do this task. Measurement aids for pole work are available on the web, or your trainer might be able to provide the information too.
Basic requirements for learning:
What is happening in their brain when horses learn?
Such as human learning, learning means built new connections/pathways within the braincells.
Horses gain knowledge by:
Humans add to them the ability cognition, planning, reasoning, forethought and judgement. And the " baggage" of doubt, arrogance and fear of embarrassment. As we all know, this baggage is not helpful for learning. Actually it prevents us from learning and causes stress.
Horses are fast learner as they do not have these " baggage" abilities within their learning process.
A horses behaviour is a mirror of the past as you know, if you own a horse that did not have a nice previous life before it met you....A lot of bad experiences you have to deal with. But as we know, learning never stops. You can still train a horse with bad experience, it just takes longer, needs more patience and a lot of practise. Like humans, horses with a bad past have a lot of triggers that you need to find out within time and " override" them with new, more positive behaviour. That takes time and needs lots of repetitions over time .( not in the same training lesson)
The good thing about horses is, they never lie. They are honest about who they are. They do not wear a second face or play a second role to be accepted by others.
That is probably the reason why so many people see their horse as their personal coach for personal development. As we know, horses are very useful partners within Equine assisted therapy to work with PTSD clients, young people who suffer from anxiety and even the Riding for the disabled. Horses help us in many many ways.
Its our duty to learn as much as we can to improve management, training, handling and dealing with possible health issues.
We are all on a good way already, but there is still lots more to learn.
For the horses....!
As always, if you have any questions, comments or requests for a Blog topic YOU are interested in, please let me know.
Enjoy your horse and stay curious!
We all want to be able to ride with applying " invisible" aids. We all dream of total harmony with our horse, no misunderstandings, no bucking, no resistance....
The good new is: we can achieve this! The bad news: it wont happen overnight and we need to do something for it.
We all book riding lessons, trainer advise, buy a better bridle, a better saddle, feed supplements for muscle and joint health, invest in bodywork for the soundness of the horse etc. the list is long what we do for our horses.
How about the list what we do for ourselves?
We are part of the team and we need to look after our own body as well.
Horses notice a tiny fly landing on their body, so what do you think?
Will your horse notice if you have a sore back? Tensed shoulders? looking to the right side because something is distracting you? The answer is: YES it does.
Horses compensate all the the time the " disbalance" of the rider, as no one is born with the perfect body alignment, straightness and body awareness to notice all the time what our arms, legs, shoulders etc are doing or if they are relaxed or not. Nobody is perfect, but we all working on it right?
Example of your horse noticing what your body is doing ( without you noticing it yourself)
Horses can pick up many bodily cue, the smallest one is when you are moving your head. If you turn your head to the left, your body generates automatic reactions so that your whole weight shifts to the left side. Minimal, but it does. that means, you are putting more weight on your left sit bone, have more weight in the left stirrup etc. Your horse will walk under your weight, so it will walk left. You wanted the horse walk straight and have to correct it with the reigns or legs, although your horse just followed the signal of your body. This is just one example of how often misunderstanding between horse and rider happens.
You can try this example when sitting on your chair. It will probably not happen now, because you pay attention that you do not shift your weight to the left when turning your head. And that is the idea about improving your body awareness!!!!
If you are more aware what your body is doing and be present when riding, you can avoid these little misunderstanding.
Simple but very effective.
Better body awareness enables the connection from the riders brain ( body perception) to the horses brain (body perception) and results in performance at its best.
You can achieve that, in working on your own body perception and invest in your health and mobility. Your horse will thank you for it!!!!
From my experience with coaching riders in body awareness it makes a huge difference to the better. Not just improves it the understanding of horse and rider, it results in better performance and more effective riding lessons too.
Try this simple exercise next time you start riding or even at home in your chair:
You sit on your horse and your horse stands still.
You close your eyes ( if safe to do so) and do a little body scan ( means you put your attention in every part of the body bit by bit, starting at your feet), starting with your feet. How are your feet feeling? Is there any pain or discomfort in your feet, ankle, toes? do you notice a difference between your right foot to your left foot?
This is just about scanning your body, not about answering questions or judging it.
You do this bit by bit up to the top of your head.
You can find examples of body scans on YouTube, Spotify or here as an example:
As soon as you pay attention to the areas of your body you are scanning you will relax them. this happens almost automatically as it is the response of your nervous system.
What a good and simple idea ey?
If you want to know more about body awareness, equestrian yoga and Mindfulness for equestrians, please contact me.
I am your coach for Harmony in motion and mindful Horsemanship.
Happy to help you improve your body awareness and riding posture and be more present with your horse.
For healthy horses and a good performance,
You find answers here, why a good sense of feel or body perception of your horses body BUT also your own body is essential for the quality of your riding and the health of your horse.
The sense of feel is called proprioception and is the sense of body awareness.
This sense gives us the feedback of where our bodies are in space (e.g. if we are standing, moving, laying down, having our arms straightened or bended, if we are standing on one leg or two etc.).
Our horses have that sense too. It is interacting with our sense of feel when we are riding.
In riding , the sense of feel is very important as ( within practise) we are able to feel where our horses legs are, whether their back is relaxed or tensed up, how their movements change if we are moving in the saddle or when we apply our aids with the legs, just to give a few examples.
For the horse it is important too, to feel our "communication" with our body , to respond to our aids with the manoeuvre we asked them to. They have learned to canter, stop, walk, turn etc. on certain amounts of pressure with the leg, signals with the reigns or shifting weight of our body when in the saddle.
We are constantly demanding body control of our horses, means we are demanding him to control the speed, walking over pools on the ground, jumping, doing side pass etc. These are very complex tasks for the sense of proprioception. It involves contractions and release of muscles, balancing, coordination of the legs, staying soft on the reigns, and staying focused. All at the same time. Often the horse needs to compensate, if the rider is not balanced and centred in the saddle yet. And this is probably the normal case, as nobody is perfectly balanced or aligned within their body without doing constantly exercises or stretching in a Gym or by doing Yoga or Pilates once a week.
So, the horse needs to work hard but also the rider.
We need to FEEL our own movements very good to be able to balance our aids we apply with legs and hands and the centre of our body, all at the same time. Just if we are balanced and have a good body perception we can achieve good performance, not inhibiting our horses movements and balance and also helping him to become stronger, more balanced, coordinated and easier to ride each time.
Everyone knows, the horse needs to be warmed up, doing stretching and strengthening exercises to prepare the body for the work and to become the "athlete" we need or want. Within training he needs to built up the right muscles to carry the rider and himself balanced without developing soreness or injuries.
BUT what about the riders body? It is as essential as the horses body, for healthy and sound performance.
So, ask yourself:
Riders learn how to strengthening and stretching the horses body, how to jump properly or do certain dressage movements.
BUT riders normally do not learn how to warm up and prepare their own bodies before getting in the saddle. That is not part of a riding lesson.
So, riders hear all the time " straighten up", " sit deeper in the saddle", " move your heels down" etc etc. So, everyone is trying hard to follow these instructions, but what if the body is not capable of doing that? What if there a restrictions in the mobility due an old injurie or present mobility issues?
Due to our " modern" world we are sitting much more and moving less. The modern society is developing all sorts of musculoskeletal diseases such as chronic backpain, high tensed shoulders, neck pain, knee pain, restricted hip mobility due to long sitting etc. The list is long.
The good news: Riders can train their body perception and learn an easy way to warm up their bodies and prepare them for riding! There is a lot available on video like Yoga, Pilates, tai chi, ground exercises etc.
Look for equestrian yoga and Pilates as these address the specific needs of the rider.
If you improve your own sense of feel you can improve your communication with your horse and achieve a better performance. The sense of feel of your horse and your own sense of feel are connected and interacting in a better balance.
The result: Better performance, healthy and mobile horse AND rider, happier riding experience.
If you have questions about yoga or mindfulness practise to improve YOUR body perception, please contact me. I am able to practise Equestrian yoga with you to address YOUR mobility issues and help you to improve your mobility for riding.
Contact Britta on email@example.com or on Facebook :BB HORSE CARE