• Sue Steiner

New Perspectives in Horse Behavior

A Difference in Perspective on Horse Behavior

I hit a bit of a bump with my new gelding a few months ago.  I’ve been riding him out on trails around my home by himself all spring and summer but hit a snag when some ‘behaviors’ began to surface.  Horseback riders are familiar with behavior issues.  Part of the attraction and challenge of riding is the horse has an opinion in being ridden too!  Since horses can’t talk they let their actions speak for them.  That means we have to interpret the behaviors.  Ahhh… another added dimension to riding!  

Someone asked me the other day if horses like to be ridden.  She was coming over to my place to ride my Arab mare Abbey (the chestnut in the above photo) and I could tell her truthfully that Abbey did like it.  I knew Abbey would enjoy the attention and interaction when my friend came over to ride because my friend is a beginner rider and Abbey loves beginner riders!  I told my friend, as long as she did not ask Abbey to anything overly strenuous, was gentle on her mouth (I have new riders use a rope halter on her because she has such a soft mouth) and didn’t kick her, Abbey would enjoy being ridden very much.  Abbey loves to putz around the riding ring and enjoys shy or timid riders.  She loves people.  She becomes very maternal and sweet as a lamb.  Other horses would hate this or become frustrated!  

My personal goal when riding is to find ways to connect with my horse and for them to enjoy our rides as much as I do.  

This brings me back to my gelding.  We were not enjoying our rides because we were out of sync.  Rather than becoming more relaxed as we got to know each other he was getting more tense and anxious.  I admit to engaging in a bit of a power struggle but thankfully saw this was not a lack of ‘obedience’ kind of thing and dropped that course of action.  I like to keep an eye out for the more subtle discomfort issues when things crop up especially since this horse by nature is calm with a quiet temperament and not a naturally nervous, hyper horse.  He has some get-up and go, but that is different than nerves.  He’s a Tennesse Walker and has the breed’s tolerant, docile temperament.  I checked tack, saddle fit, bridle and bit.  He had been showing signs of not liking the bit (pulling, tossing head etc.) so tried a couple I had on hand.  I got a better response, but he wasn’t happy yet.  I bought an Imus comfort gaiting bit from Phoenix Rising Saddles.   Win!  He immediately relaxed, dropped his head and was happier.    The next, equally helpful change I made was to do something completely unexpected (to him) on our rides out.  What I was finding is he got more hot and nervous the more we were out- rather than settling in as we rode on he was becoming more anxious.  So I decided to ride out and find spots to just stop and hang out!  I dismounted, let him graze and just sat and enjoyed the scenery.  My guess is that my walker was used to being ridden at a good speed out on the trail and just kept gaiting away for long stretches of time.  Nothing wrong with that, except I run out of trail too fast if all I do is gait!  I usually ride for only an hour to 2 at a time which I think might of felt short to him.  He has extensive trail experience which is evident.  I have plans to purchase a nicer trailer this coming year and begin to haul him out to group trail rides etc. but we aren’t there yet.  I suspect many trail TW are ridden in a way that doesn’t quite match my environment (crossing roads with traffic, riding on neighboring farms where I have limited access to areas etc.) so we have to adapt to not having miles of trails before us!  Cimmeron wasn’t sure what was expected of him if  it wasn’t to just be a smooth gaiting machine for miles on end!  Stopping to graze and smell the roses worked wonders for him.  He did NOT become disobedient but rather sweet and relaxed.  Stopping became an okay thing to do.  I feel like we made a major step in bonding time too!  He appeared to enjoy our riding time as I did one of HIS favorite activities.  Hmm, a change in perspective!  It isn’t all about me.  The horse is part of the equation.  

I had needed Cimmeron to be okay with walking (preferably on a loose rein) sometimes on our trail rides.  The glitch I was running into is he got upset if he was asked to walk.  He would stop and stand and walk for a few strides, but very quickly wanted to move out again.  I have overcome ‘jigging’ on the trail with my quarter horse years ago by doing circles, bending or going the opposite way whenever he picked up the next gait from what I ask of him, but those same corrections did NOT work with Cimmeron.  He became more confused and upset.  Sometimes trail horses are only ridden straight forward and ‘fast’.  They know go and whoa but less about flexing, bending or circling.  My guess is this was Cimmeron’s background.  He does NOT like arena riding either.  Thinks going around in circles is for the birds!!  We are doing more of bending, flexing kinds of things the longer we ride together because I like riding horses that bend 🙂 and it’s good for him physically, but really my main goal was I wanted him to not always expect to work so hard!  He could be a bit of a slacker and that was okay.  I love his gait and find he is a super fun horse but like to see him walk when I need him to and not just from exhaustion.  I want him to stay sound and healthy for a long time.   It was a good move- step back from the ‘argument’ with my horse and think of what might be going on from his perspective.  Found a couple ‘comfort’ issues and corrected them.  Found a difference in perspective and enlightened Cimmeron to a good work/pleasure balance!  I ride for pleasure and relaxation so want my horses to derive pleasure and relaxation from it too!  Win-win for us both!  

happy trails!   Sue visit http://www.horseartonline.com/ to see or purchase my art!  

#trailriding #paininhorses #horsebehavior #happyhorses #relaxationinhorses #trailhorses #ridingforpleasure #gaitedhorses



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