“When a man is wrong and won’t admit it, he always gets angry.”
It’s all too easy to get angry and take that anger out on others. With horses, we often find ourselves at a loss as to what to do. That loss can often turn into frustration or anger. I have become unreasonably angry with my horse and done things I regret. I need to admit when I’m wrong or need help and make sure I never make those angry decisions again. The anger I feel isn’t always at the horse specifically. It could be directed at myself, the situation, life in general, or just my reaction to fear of what the horse’s doing.
No one starts the day trying to be angry. I never intend to be harsh with my horse. I never intend to lash out.
“As an emotion, anger is rarely productive. It releases stress hormones and neurochemicals that disrupt your ability to evaluate and properly respond to situations and it blinds you to the fact that you’re angry in the first place. And it gives you a false sense of confidence.” Chris Voss
One way I can see around the anger is to admit that I don’t have all the answers, to see if I can find options, discover more tools, or look deeper into the cause. It could be something in myself that I need to fix or it might be that my horse is trying to tell me something.
“Anger is extraordinarily easy. It’s our default setting. Love is very difficult. Love is a miracle.”
― Brant Hansen Page, Unoffendable:
In place of anger, I want to feel love. I want to show love. I want my acceptance of the horse to take precedence over my instinctive reaction to lash out.
“Choosing to be unoffendable, or relinquishing my right to anger, does not mean accepting injustice. It means actively seeking justice, and loving mercy, while walking humbly with God. And that means remembering I’m not Him. What a relief.”
― Brant Hansen, Unoffendable
I don’t have to know everything. I don’t have to have all the answers. I will never be the best there is. All I need to do is:
How do I even start this article? I have so many ideas floating around in my head right now. What is love? Is it a feeling? Is it an act of the will? Can it apply to horses? Are there parallels between God’s love for us and my love for a horse?
What is love?
“Love is an act of the will accompanied by emotion that leads to action on behalf of its object.” ~Voddie Baucham
I have a tendency to try to overpower things and to dictate. I try not to let my feelings get involved. Yet this tendency is not always helpful.
I had this mare for training. I started by “explaining” to her how things were going to be. She promptly showed me that she was a lot bigger and did not like my agenda. I tried to “tell” her to be calm, and she showed me she had more patience than I did. I tried to show her that the rope wasn’t scary; she showed me she didn’t believe me.
Here I was, trying to force my will, my thoughts, on her and she wasn’t agreeing. I needed to take a step back. Why was she distancing herself from me? It took a while, but I think I figured it out. I did not love her; she was not my horse and I wasn’t even trying communicate that I cared for her, that she was more to me, more than just something to tame.
I realized I had to change that.
I started by just going to her, rubbing her forehead and being content. I would rub her gently and firmly. Then I began endotapping her, with the intention of feeling and being calm and relaxed myself. There was progress. Where before, she would stare off into the distance and hold herself aloof, now she would look back at me. She would allow me to rub her forehead and allow me to help her to relax.
Then while I was down in the round pen with her, as I was thinking about love, and God’s unconditional love toward us, I realized that I needed to love this horse that God had given me stewardship over (just for a little while). This horse had not done anything for me, but I was to show her compassion and understanding, just as God does for us.
I went down to her and prayed that God would give me a love for this horse. That it wouldn’t just be an action or a choice, but that it would be a feeling, a state of being. In that moment, I felt God’s love for me and how much He has forgiven me. After that, I felt an affection for this horse and I think it really helped us to connect. I left her halter and lead rope off. I endotapped her and worked with her (and myself) to just relax.
Then I was able to throw the rope over her, without her moving, and then saddle her up, with her staying calm and relaxed. She could have left whenever she wanted, but she was much happier to be with me today. I felt such a joy just being with her. Me being me and her being her. No agenda and no set plan. Just living.
We had a nice day of training and relaxing. What a difference attitude and thoughts can make. A lot of the “training” took place doing nothing other than thinking about being relaxed. I would look away from her, listen to the birds, feel the wind on my face, and try to really feel my weight on my feet. It seems to have a lot to do with being in the moment and living in the here and now (Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling).
I wanted to love this horse. I can’t just tell the horse I love you or do something for the horse so that she will know. I wanted to see if my feelings toward a horse could influence how the horse reacted. There was a change, but I can’t say how the change came about.
I think of how God loves us. We don’t seek Him. He must first seek us. We are resistant, sinful, rebellious, and unknowing of what can be a beautiful relationship. Is that not what we do with horses? We take horses who would rather have nothing to do with us and try to show them the joy of a horse/human bond, but they resist, they run away, and they are fearful of anything we try to do with them. We must be patient and lovingly seek them and allow them to come to us. Sure, we could throw a rope around them, tie them to a post, and jump on, but this will not give them a chance to love back.
So my prayer is that God would teach me to love as He loves.
Thanks for putting up with my ramblings. ❤
”It would be easier to count all the stars in the heavens or each grain of sand on the earth, than to measure or even seek to describe the love of God” Paul Washer
Tip #1: How to tell when a horse is gaiting
When observing a gaited horse, to tell what kind of gait he is in, it helps to look only at two legs on one side, usually the inside pair of legs. You will be able to tell if he is pacing, doing a stepping pace, or a smooth gait. Practice watching only one side and it will become easier to see what gait they are in. Tip #2: Uphill, Downhill
One of the easiest ways to work on your horse’s gait is to use hills. Some horses gait really well going downhill, while others gait well going uphill. You can’t be sure which it is going to be with your horse. There are ways to make and educated guess, though. If your horse’s gait is toward the pace, then he will likely gait better going uphill. If your horse’s gait is toward the trot, then he will likely gait more easily going downhill. Keep in mind that there are lots of exceptions to this idea and to try going both uphill and downhill with your horse.
A good way to utilize a hill is to use the bottom of a hill. Start walking your horse going down a hill, not too steep, though, and when you get to the last fifty feet at the bottom of the hill, ask your horse to gait. If he gaits when you do this, ease up off the reins and let him go until he gets bumpy, then slow him down right away. Often, though, when you first try this, your horse won’t gait and just gets bumpy. If that happens, slow your horse down right away, and try again.
If a horse has not been gaiting well, or at all, for some time, it may take a couple of weeks to get him doing a smooth gait well. Don’t lose patience, just be consistent. Keep trying different things and your horse should get it eventually.
4 tips for training gaited horses to gait!
“If what you’re doing doesn’t work, try something else.”
Don’t canter your horse until you have a very good gait with him.
If it’s bumpy, it’s not a gait. SLOW HIM DOWN NOW!
Always walk him for the first 5 minutes of every ride.
Tip # 3: Slow walk, fast walk
I have found something that has really helped me train pacey and trotty horses to gait. If your horse is pacey, then slow the walk way down before asking the horse to gait. If your horse is trotty, then speed the walk up before asking for gait.
Tip # 4: No quick fixes!
Most of the time, with gaited horses, the trick is getting them to gait. Sure, they are naturally gaited, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will gait. Many people buy a gaited horse and they find out their horse won’t gait well, or won’t gait well for them. This brings us to the question of how to get a horse to gait. To find out whether you want to attempt to get him to gait on your own, see the article “Can You Get Your Horse To Gait?”
There are no “quick fixes” or “buttons” that will make your horse gait. Some, a very few, horses just gait as soon as you get on them. If you own one of these wonderful horses, hurray for you! Unfortunately most horses need work and consistency to get them to gait and to keep them gaiting well. Sometimes they need a lot of time and work. It just depends on the horse. I have had people come to me hoping for me to tell them what I did to get their horse to gait. They were hoping that I used a certain bit or used my legs a certain way to get their horse to gait, but rarely is that the solution. It is almost always through time and thought that the horse understand what you want.
Wyatte is a Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse gelding. He used to gait very well, but has learned to do a dead pace instead. Our first session was 2 months ago in September. In that training session, we worked for quite a while training him to softly give his nose. Mostly we were working on vertical flexion. He was used to going forward only at a fast speed and with his head up way too high.
In our second session, we worked a lot at trying to get him to stretch down and helping him break up the pace he was so used to doing. As the training went on, it was becoming clearer that he had lots of tension in his neck and back and wasn’t able to release it. We then tried to help him do lots of stretching.
It was only after we had done lots of forward stretching that he finally began to relax, lift his back, lift the base of his neck occasionally, and go forward with his head and neck low.
Train your horse to give his nose vertically (vertical flexion) to the bit (or hackamore).
If you can safely ride your horse, work on this right away. I do this first thing on all the horses I ride.
This is often easier for the horse to learn while moving forward and on a slight bend. Check out Mike Schaffer’s dvd “Right from the Start”.
Train the horse to go forward with his head low, rather than up
Check your hands and then check the bit. Are you pulling on him and making him put his head up in pain?
Low doesn’t mean on the ground, but it might mean that he holds his head and neck level with his withers.
Use ground poles to help him stretch down.
Train the horse to lift the base of his neck
Look at photos and live horses to learn what this looks like. The underside of the horse’s neck, especially where it meets the shoulder should look like the first photo and not the second photo.
Use exercises like moving the shoulder over while walking to help encourage the base of the neck to lift.
Make sure your horse is going FORWARD as you do this exercise. It doesn’t mean rushing, but he shouldn’t be pokey.
Any horse, but especially a high-headed one, has to learn to stretch down and out, telescoping the neck.
This should be done at the halt, at the walk, and in the rein back.
The rein back was where I first got the clue that Wyatte couldn’t stretch his head down.
He would back up, but only if his head and neck were straight up. If he put his head down, he could figure out how to back up. Slowly, we used this to train him to stretch down against light pressure on the reins. When he pushed, I allowed the reins to slide through my fingers.
Check for muscle knots in your horse’s neck if he likes to carry his head much higher than level.
Try to massage these out a little at a time.
Train the horse to back up with a low head
Head should be level with or lower than the withers.
Take as much time as needed here
How the horse backs up is much more important than how many steps he takes
Use individual ground poles to help break up a pace or pacey horse.
Once the horse has learned to relax and stretch down, walk up to the ground pole and then ask the horse to go forward into gait just as you get to it.
Give the horse a lot of rein over the pole and as you ask for a gait.
As soon as it gets pacey, slow your horse back down to the walk.
Do a lot more walking and stretching/giving exercises than you do gaiting at the beginning
If your horse gaits better in one particular spot, use that spot to help him understand that he should gait smoothly.
Repeat, repeat, repeat!
All horses are different and need different training techniques at different times.
Training a good gait is rarely a matter of “cueing” or “asking” correctly; it is about training the horse to give the correct response.
Keep calm and go forward.
Forward doesn’t just mean not standing still. Forward implies that the horse has an attitude of going forward as soon as you ask and with impulsion.
Ideally, I would love to see all this work done in a snaffle bit or a hackamore, but you work with your horse where he is. As I continue to help Wyatte’s owner, transitioning to a snaffle will be one of our goals.
Quote from Wyatte’s owner:
[Ivy] was such a good teacher and I learned so much from her that day. Now Wyatte and I work on the exercises she gave us and I now I can also get him to gait a little and I am sure it will increase. As soon as he paces, back to the circle work he goes.