• Sue Steiner

Horse Questions…. What is Your Horse Asking You?

When my kids were little I always told them and they would ask the often incessant questions, ‘It doesn’t hurt to ask’ before I said no.   I told that to my then 3 yr old son when he asked to have pop to drink at breakfast.  He never drank pop at home and certainly never drank it at breakfast but that didn’t stop him from asking numerous times on different mornings.  I don’t know where he got the idea of asking but I think he thought if he kept asking, I might forget and say yes one of those days!   So he would ask, “Mom, can I have some pop?” I would tell him it doesn’t hurt to ask before I said no and smile at him.  He would accept the no and we would go along with starting our day.  No power struggle.  No yelling.  It worked well and I got a laugh out of his asking without teaching him to badger me with pleads for things we both knew were off limits.

Riding my trail horse, Cimarron the other day reminded me of my son and his requests for pop for breakfast.  I wrote in another blog post about some soreness and possibly saddle issues that delayed the start of our riding season.  We got those straightened out and so am working on getting him back to being trail ready.  The first few rides on him, like many horses after a long rest, are a bit more ~ exciting ~ then I strive for.  🙂  I’m old.  LOL I don’t want that kind of excitement when I ride.  Yeah, he can be a bit of a hot mess when fresh so I take my time in getting him out on a trail until I get a few rides under our belt out and about around my place.  I think often, it is actually harder when you ride around your barn alone, like I do, then haul out because the barn and other horses are a huge draw and distraction.

I also took these next actions to confirm Cim’s soundness and separate it from freshness, naughtiness, hotness or disobedience.   Sometimes those things can be hard to decipher.  Is his behavior ‘behavioral’ or physical?  Is it the usual testing a horse will do or it something else?

There are certain trigger points around our usual routes around the barn which I am sure we all have. One of our trigger spots is my lane and the barn driveway.  I rode Cim down the lane and he was his usual well behaved, experienced trail horse self…. until we get to the point he thinks we should turn to the barn.  I got some sideways stepping and attempts to dart down the driveway.  I persisted in asking him to continue walking and in a matter of 2 or 3 steps, he dropped his head, took a big sigh, and relaxed.  I take note of that and then ride by another trigger point with a similar reaction.  I can confirm he is just doing his asking- turn here, right??  I say No.  Turn here then?  No.  Here???  No.  You can ask Cim but I decide.  Setting a boundary.

 Can you see the asking?  And the repeated telling ‘No, not here.’  And the resuming of what is at hand.  Cim is doing his toddler-like asking to see if I am paying attention.  Or maybe I forgot we go to the barn when I decide, not him.   Just asking.  But I have to see it and be ready for it to set that boundary.  The more consistent I set that boundary the less of a pout I will get from him.  Plus I need to be fair.  Which I am.  I don’t ride him hard and do take into consideration what he may be telling me.  Just this time, in this instance, this boundary needed to be re-established.  Not unlike kids.

I try to use the same approach with Cim as I did with my son- calmly but firmly say No and then get back to our ride.  Sometimes the fight and power struggle is what the horse (or child) is used to receiving.  I find that only causes everyone to dig in their heels and resist more.  And I am too old to think I can out power a horse.  I can’t out power him but I CAN out think him.

After doing this a few times in different spots I could see my horse visibly relax into the ride and become less hot and irritable.  🙂  So I know his issues are NOT discomfort or pain related (among other signs and info).  He is looking for the boundaries to feel the security of knowing I am taking care of things– not unlike my young son.  Yes, he probably would of very much liked pop for breakfast, just like Cim would very much like to only hang out in the pasture, but finding and reinforcing these boundaries makes for a happier toddler and a well-mannered horse!  I also believe Cim ENJOYS our trail rides just as kids thrive on structure and healthy food! Cim lets me know he is happy too as I can see it in his demeanor and attitude once we get these first few rides of the season out of the way.  

Today will be day 3 this week of riding him.  Yeah!  I think next week we will haul out if the weather and my schedule hold. 

PS.  I do not profess to be a horse trainer….anymore than any other horse owner who knows we are always training or untraining our horses every time we are around them.  I get some help from Carson James .  He IS a horse trainer.  A good one too.   

Happy Trails to you! 

Sue Steiner

Horse and Pet Portrait artist

Some new artwork…..

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Pet Portraits and Custom Horse paintings in watercolor, oils and mixed media



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