What happens when you head out for a training session or a ride and your horse says NO? It’s a common thing among many riders, even myself, as a trainer. Some days I expect the ride to go smoothly, with a finished head nod from my horse thanking me for providing a further education for him. LOL Right. I am a horse trainer because the horse needs instruction.
From my point of view as a trainer, what do I do when a horse says NO to learning what is on my agenda list for him? A fine example is just from this week. I took ol’ Willie Nelson out for a leisurely ride and was going to use some natural elements to get him to follow my lead and give a little better. He said NO. He saw the barn; he wanted to back at the barn; the ride turned from a pleasant “let’s hang out” to a “dang it, now I need to fix this issue”. What was the issue? Listen to the rider.
Horses are too big and too strong to make the decisions. Riders can get hurt in a hurry with selfish, unaware horses beneath them. I spent the rest of that ride turning and working on getting Willie to acknowledge me as the pilot. It took a good, long while. As the rider, I can’t let the horse be the one making the decisions of where they want to be. They want to be back at the hay feeder or in the pasture grazing.
When a horse gets to misbehaving, I use small circles and turns to get them to focus back on me. I will turn the horse either direction, both directions, or use a mix of straight lines with turning, then give them another chance to listen and wait for me. If they start acting “lookie”, again, I repeat the process. Sometimes this fixes the situation, quickly, but other times, horses can have days like Willie did and need refocusing exercises for much longer.
The horse has to get to a point where they go “oh, yeah, I’m with the rider”, not the other way around. The small circles take away the outside distractions. I use small circles in my training program from the very beginning, and that circle is a familiar place for the horse to go, as he understands it as a training method. It’s an application that reminds the horse to focus on the rider and their requests. The horse must respect the rider.
As a trainer the horses I work with must respect, not just me, but every rider. However, everyone may go through the testing phase with their horses. Riders must be strong, use methods to get the horse to focus back on them, reminding the horse that they are the leader, and get through it. Each time a horse can do something wrong, or act selfish and unaware of the rider, they're learning, and will try to get away with those things, again.
Remember, horses are always learning – good or bad.
It’s our job as the riders to reinforce the good by providing options for refocusing the horse and giving them the chance to do it right.