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Unruly Horse, New Rider

Hi Franklin

I have a Dutch warmblood. He is a 14 year old horse, with a lot of experience and a new rider who does not have to much. When I start to ride him, just doing the walk, and trot he is fine. When I start to do some serious training, he will not listen as good for me. Then a try to get him to listen and do what I ask him to do, then he will start to take off on me into a canter and will not stop. It is like he is trying to scare me. When I am also working him around the area he will keep trying to go to the center to stop, it is like he is saying we are done and I have to keep pulling him out to keep him working. When I working him hard, I do give him breaks at the walk and then start again. If he hears the owner of the stables were I board banging buckets while I am in the arena he will not listen to me, he will start to hurry his work and get excided to go out of the arena. One minute I can't get him to work and when I keep after him to get him working then the next minute he is taking off. What should I do??

When my instructor rides him he listens great and she has another student ride him and he listened to her but with me he tries to put it all over me. At least that is what I think he is doing. I am not ruff with him, I talk to him a lot and groom him. but when I ask him to do something outside of the arena I make him listen to me. But when I am in the arena he know that I am a bit scared because I am new at the game. I am having trouble getting the canter down because he is also a hard horse to keep his head down and when he goes into the canter his head is in the air which makes it hard for me to get the hang of it. It is hard to put him on the bit, he is hollow in the back. But then again my instructor can get him on the bit, with some work. Maybe he knows I am up tight and scared when I am going into the canter and it makes him the same way? When I walk around the arena he will follow me and when I lung him he is fine, well sometimes I have to push him but he is fine. When I come to the barn to see him he can't wait to see me, he is right at his stall door. So I know that there is a bond. What should I do??

fearful rider

Hello Margaret,

Sorry it has taken a few days to get back to you. I seem to be getting more and more questions these days from wonderful horse lovers as yourself. It is gratifying and a bit overwhelming all at once.

Yes, the horse knows your fear and takes advantage of your vulnerability. It is nature's way for the horse that if it senses a lack of confidence (fear) in any individual, horse or human, it immediately begins to fend for itself. That is how the horse survives. It is nothing personal. The horse is not doing anything to you. It is just being a normal horse. He complies with your instructor and other more skilled and confident horse people. With you, because of your lack of experience, knowledge and confidence he fends for himself which is normal for a horse that many people ride (school and lesson horses). One thing I would suggest right from the start is for you to learn very good ground skills. Don't be concerned with riding, riding and more riding until you have mastered and gained experience with a lot of ground play and schooling on the ground. I do not mean just lunging to warm a horse up. Your bond and relationship with any horse begins on the ground. If you are not getting training in ground work, your instructor is doing you a dis-service. You will gain confidence, knowledge, skill and more if you concentrate on ground play and schooling for a while. Most places only teach riding and nothing about the horse itself. This puts people in the situation that you are in right now. You know little about the psychology, language, needs and motivation of horses. This information along with hands-on experience in ground play will provide you with a lot of confidence and a real experience of horses as they are naturally. This will translate into more confidence as a rider. Riding is technique, feel, balance and much more. Also, when you are riding you are more concerned with staying on the horse and keeping safe. As a novice rider and horse person you will develop your leadership of the horse itself much more easily on the ground first. Most riding instructors know little of the horse itself. They consider themselves trainers, but usually go to 'force' and dominance quickly when a behavioral problem arises. "Show them who is boss!", "Take charge and control him." is something you hear all the time. This is inappropriate and the wrong way to deal with horses. Do you know how to ask a horse to lower his head on the ground or from the saddle? This is a basic skill any horse trainer should know. Ask your instructor if they know. If they do not, tell me or call me and I will describe the process to you. If you practice and get good at it, it will serve you very well. It is more than merely asking for 'collection' and bringing the horse on to the bit.

You do have a bond with this horse, it is true. But you can go way beyond this. Please consider doing much more on the ground. That is where you will come to really know the horse first. That is where you will become the leader of the 'dance' first. Usually, the ground play is mostly ignored (save a little lunging) and ridng, riding, riding is the main focus. Please consider having the horse itself be the main focus for a time. Your knowledge, skill with the horse, leadership and confidence will rise immediately once your focus is not so much on the human activity of riding, but rather on the horse itself. Most riding instructors get offended and defensive if their knowledge of horses is questioned. Be tactful with your instructor so no feathers get ruffled. I seem to threaten many riding instructors as they like to control their environment (and their horses). Anyway, this is what I would suggest for now. Oh yes, consider this...perhaps you are a bit over matched with this particular horse. There is nothing wrong with asking for a horse that is more tolerant of a novice rider than this one. Some horses are more tolerant than others (just like humans). Consider that a more tolerant horse might be easier for you to learn on. You can always go up to more challenging horses as you progress. Good luck and keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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