Tension and relaxation – over and over, in teaching lessons and clinics, I’ve seen how these really matter in horse learning.
What is rushing? Any type of rushing, jigging or hurrying is an expression of the horse’s flight response. As a prey animal, your horse’s instinct is to flee from perceived danger. We’ve all known a horse who, after catching his blanket on the stall door latch, begins to rush through doors. Horses hurry through canter transitions, scurry across trail bridges, and back off trailers in a flurry! As a young rider I was told it was “eagerness”. Evidence teaches us it’s the equine endeavour to get the experience over with!
A scary experience is confirmed when running away behaviour results in escaping the object your horse fears. By increasing the amount of distance between the horse and the scary object, he learns that fleeing the scene works! He escaped the clutch of the stall door latch, left the trailer ramp behind and scooted across that bridge before it grabbed his legs!
Here are 4 more tips to SLOW DOWN:
3. Notice each small acceleration and nip it in the bud. Maintain the rhythm. “Self-carriage” describes a horse neither running away (accelerating) nor slowing down. He stays within an imaginary box of the rider’s relaxed aids, without having to be held there. If the horse is hurrying, he will be showing some degree of flight response. I help riders to lengthen, not quicken the stride, keeping the activity or tempo of the legs the same while gradually stretching the stride.
4. Don’t trap a horse with your aids. Conflicting aids create confusion. Confusion breeds tension. Tension makes the horse inclined to escape the stressful situation. The more conflicted the horse becomes, the greater the urge to run or shy away. Opposing signals such as tightly restricting a horse’s head in an upward transition, over jumps or loping poles will make a horse feel claustrophobic.
5. Avoid abrupt cues. Gradually increase pressure, especially in a busy, unfamiliar environment, when the horse is on high alert. As humans, when our adrenaline is elevated we’re prone to overreact. As a judge, I wince when competitors surge into equitation patterns, or spill into transitions in rail classes. They don’t mean to be abrupt. They’re often nervous or just caught up in the moment.
6. Stronger bits are not the answer. When a horse is stressed, he tunes out stimuli. He just switches off. The key is to show the horse what you DO want. Apply the slowing aids, note any shortening in his step and reward by immediately relaxing the pressure.
And what about humans? Does the pace of life have you suffering from “hurry sickness”? Well, slow down and visit previous post 🙂