“I have a Hanoverian mare that is well past super sensitive. I bred her, foaled her out, and handled her extensively beginning at birth. She is always trying to hide behind other horses, when she is groomed she twitches as though she is hurting (even with a hand or a soft brush), she always needs to know there is an escape open to her. Never ever has she been abused in any way, not from birth. A good description of her is “trying to hold a soap bubble”! What can I do with her to make her useful under saddle, to try and eliminate some of her fear/flightiness? She is an international caliber horse physically, however mentally she is not. I appreciate your input and suggestions.”
Fear, tension, insecurity or any form of feeling or emotion always has to be released in some form whether it is through running away, pushing out, biting, striking, and even nervous shaking. Think of it this way; when humans are angry some may yell to release the frustration or when people are grieving or upset they may cry. So too do horses express what they are feeling only they cannot hide it and will never lie to us. Meaning there is always a reason for whatever their reaction. Every horse needs to know that they are safe and that there is a leader that will ensure that safety; it is my goal to always establish that trust early and to never betray it.
In establishing trust I want to teach the horse to always look to me for guidance and in order to do this I have to have connection with their mind. Wherever the mind is so too will the feet be along with whatever emotion the horse is feeling. I talked about pressure in the last article and using your body and emotion to own the space around you, a good exercise is to turn your horse loose in the pen or on a long line and allow him to move around freely. Your goal is to have a conversation with your horses mind and when having a conversation the individual is generally focused on you. As your horse moves around generate some pressure be it a step toward your horse, a slap of your hand on your leg, a shake of the flag or a wave in the long line anything that is going to create your horse to look and engage with you. At first your horse may be all over the place like my two-year-old daughter checking in and then off to another place filled with energy. The important thing is that you use as little pressure as you can to open the conversation and to not be afraid to use more pressure if there is no response. Remember that the release of the pressure is where your horse is going to learn, so when she engages with you by looking at you or facing up to you, that you remove that pressure and let her know that a conversation with you in the right answer. We want her to want to be with us meaning we are not disciplining her for looking around but more so rewarding her for checking in with us. Play with this exercise and experiment with how much pressure you need to generate a connection with your horse; it is a fun way to have your horse respect you and look to you for guidance. In time as your horse moves from you they will be connected and not just leaving the conversation. This will also help when you go to catch your horse because she has learned to check in with you instead of checking out and hiding or walking away.
By communicating to the mind you are able to channel the emotions and energy of your horse to you rather then your horse fleeing, pushing out, fighting or being nervous, thus creating trust and a partnership. I find that too often people speak to the feet first or use pressure in a predator fashion and the horses mind is completely absent and only looking for a way to survive. We can not create leadership if we use pressure in a fearful way this will only create a horse that is only doing what it must to release the pressure.
In conclusion we do not want that soap bubble to burst in your hands and have you or your horse get hurt. We want that bubble to reflect a willingness to trust and to allow you to be the leader, most horses do not want the task of being the leader but they have to feel secure in our ability to guide them.
I will go over the next step to this process in the next issue and how to remove more of that fear in your horse and gain a better connection with their mind.