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Overcoming fear plus riding instruction vs. good horsemanship.


Hello, I have had my first pony a 7 year old welsh gelding for about two and a half years now. Altough naturally nervous, he's a lovely pony, obedient, an excellent hack, schooled to a basic level and has competed well in many dressage tests. However last January he unexpectently bolted with me. Due to this being so out of character, we got his back/teeth/tack checked, resulting in his saddle being too small. After replacing it with a correctly fitting saddle, a few weeks rest & regular lunging, I eventually bought him into work again. Despite seeming to be back to his quiet, obedient self, he bolted 2-3 times again despite having frequent training from my riding teacher.

Just a few weeks ago (he'd been going very well throughout the summer), I went to mount & as I did so he ran off in a panic - half mounted I got thrown off. The next day, my riding teacher mounted and although very tense he did not react. Thinking this was a one off spook, I remounted the next week, my mum holding him, again in a blind panic, he bolted throwing both me and her to the ground. I have now lost my confidence, he is fine when ridden by my riding teacher, so we know this behaviour isn't pain related. She now feels I can get back on, but I am very nervous and afraid he will sense this, making him nervous.She feels the problem is me not being firm and tough enough (I am a very slim 16year old and have always handled him quietly). I would appreciate your help and suggestions, as now the only option seems to sell him.

Thank you very much. Joanna

Hi Joanna,

Please know you are not alone. Please also know that most riding instructors I know of only teach riding and not horsemanship (the total horse, psychology, language, training skills and all). Telling a student to "take charge, show him you are the boss, get tougher" and worse, is the instructor showing you he/she is not knowledgeable about horses or how to deal with specific problems that occur. They are task masters expecting obedience from an animal that is supposed to be your partner. Showing him you are the boss is not partnership or good leadership either. They only teach traditional brands of traditional riding. A bit too much tradition for my liking. Your instructor is not helping you with your fear at all. In fact, her saying to get tougher feels aweful to you and makes you more apprehensive as you know it doesn't feel right and perhaps, may not have to be that way.

You need first of all, good knowledge and education about horses which is beyond riding them. The riding should be the icing on the cake of your relationship with any horse. You will not get this from you current instructor. I do suggest you purchase a few training and natural horsemanship dvd's to get a look at that way of relating to horses. 'Natural Horsemanship' is a big bandwagon now with lots of BS on board. But the principles can be very sound depending on who the teacher is. Your riding instructor will probably not like that you are looking into it. You could try asking her to teach you about how to reward the horse for being complaint. Ask her how to reward the horse for staying calm. Ask her how to keep the horse's attention on you when it gets afraid. Ask her how to get really attuned and connected to the horse before you attempt to get on by playing on the ground with the horse for 10 minutes or so (not just simple lungeing for warm up). Ask her for different and fun things to do with the horse on the ground before you ride, so you can develop a real relationship with your horse that is deeper and more than you riding it. See what she says about developing some trust with your horse and how she suggests you go about this. This is what will bring your confidence back. Handling the horse a lot on the ground will open the door to trust again. You will gain back your confidence and sensitivity to ride as well. Knowledge dispels fear and, unfortunately with all your two years of riding lessons, you seem to have little knowledge of horses. Is this true? Does this strike a true note? Get some education beyond what your riding instructor has as an agenda for you. Set your own agenda, one of trust, respect and real connection with a horse. Your rewards will be big and great. You have a voice and can say what you want. Say you want to learn about horses, beyond you riding them. Go for it and do not anyone tell you to do what you know in your own heart is not the right thing. Showing a horse who is boss will only get resentment and discontent back from the animal. You need to be a leader and not a tough boss. its like ballroom dancing with you as the great leader of the dance. Your riding instructor will hate me I am certain. But I think she is not doing right by you or your horse. I have solved so many problems for horses and their human that are just like yours. If your instructor really knew that much about horses (beyond riding them as the boss) she could solve these problems easily and quickly. Any trainer worth his salt could. Please show this email to your parents along with my website. Gain knowledge, gain wisdom and you will become the horse person and equestrian of your dreams. Good Luck.

Best wishes and stay well, Franklin

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