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My horse is unhappy going into an arena.

Hi Franklin,

Lately I can feel that my horse is not pleased at all when we are about to enter the arena. As soon as we come close to the gate he tries to avoid the entrance, although not in any big dramatic way. Since we've been together a long time, I understand his moods. He seems to enjoy hacking out and I am really sad at the way he approaches these other activities. We only work for 2-3 times per week and we do not attend that many competitions. So, I don't understand why he seems so unwilling and lazy. Could it be he has turned out to be too lazy, due to lack of exercise? Should I leave him to rest for a while, just going to the paddock? He already is diagnosed with navicular on the front leg so we do not jump too much. Any ideas?

Thank you, Freda

Hi Freda,

Horses are similar to humans in a number of ways. They have definite "feelings" about things. If they have a good experience doing something, they will generally continue to want to do it. If the experience is unpleasant for any reason, they will resist doing it. This is to be expected. Please do not judge your horse as being "bad." This is not the case. Your horse is always innocent, no matter what. The problem is always with the human somehow. Something has been overlooked.

Here are several things for you to consider: First, as the horse has navicular, "working" him in the way you are may be uncomfortable for him. Any pain will prompt the horse not to want to do the activity. Take a close look at what you do when "working" him. Perhaps the action or activity is unpleasant because you are expecting too much of him, too fast. As you have had the horse for a while and I assume you have a decent relationship with him, his unwillingness to go to work for you in the arena would have to do with something negative that happens in the arena specifically. There is no pressure on the horse when hacking out. Look at how much pressure you put on the horse when "working" in the arena. Can you take the pressure off him somewhat and make it a more fun experience? "Work" and "play" for a horse are essentially the same activity as they both involve movement. Hacking out involves movement too. The difference is mostly in how we humans think about the activity and this dictates the energy we put around the activity and how it "feels." The words we use to describe the things we do dictate the energy behind what we are doing and how we view them. Please understand a horse is naturally 'lazy.' This is so they do not tire themselves too much to be able to escape the 'predator.' We need to understand this about the horse and not push beyond it levels of 'safe feelings.' Horses can be trained to win in competition and still maintain their feelings of being 'safe.' We do this through conditioning the horse, practice, getting the horse familiar with what we want and doing it one step at a time. Our skill level and attitiude is also extremely important. We need to take responsibility for both of these as well as all outcomes of what we do.

Do you play on the ground with your horse before you ride him? This is to re-establish your connection each time you get with your horse, as well as to set you up as the "leader of the dance." It also has the benefit of "warming" up and gently stretching the bodies of both horse and human. Consider everything you do with your horse is a dance. You are leading this dance. You are either a very skilled leader with a great attitude, a leader who themselves is a great dancer and understands the dance and their partner very well. Or, you are a relatively novice dancer, skipping steps of the dance for the sake of time, trying to force your partner to dance with you and overlooking how the dance really "feels" to the both of you. To become the great leader of the dance, do not skip the warm-up (ground play 15-20 minutes), become as skilled a rider (dancer) as possible as the horse will only perform as good as their rider and never blame your horse or judge him as bad for any behavior. "Judgment" and judging others as being something "negative" is always the path to being unsuccessful in relationships with horses and humans as well. Horses always willingly follow the good leader. This is how they survive in the wild and as domesticated horses as well. If there is no pain involved (look at the navicular as a good potential source of pain for any work as well as appropriate saddle and tack fit) and the horse is not asked to do anything that frustrates, confuses or causes it to feel pain, then its unwillingness probably has to do with a negative attitude prompted by the handler/rider"s lack of skill in being with the horse successfully when doing specific activities. It is never so much about the horse as it is the human. Something has been overlooked or ignored.

As I am not there to observe the behavior and there are numerous possibilities for what you are experiencing with your horse, I am merely suggesting possibilities. Please keep an open mind and take a look at what I am offering as possible sources for the problem (the human). The attitude you have towards the horse and your experiences with him will dictate the outcomes as much as your skill level. "Attitude is everything" is a well- founded statement about how our life experiences feel to us. This includes our experiences with out horses as well.

Good luck and please keep me posted.

Sincerely yours, Franklin

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