September 7, 2015
Cultivating Confidence for Horseback Riding, Part 2
Learn how to help an unsure horse find fearlessness with these tips from Clinton Anderson.
Using the “circle-turn, circle-turn” exercise, a nervous horse can gain confidence to walk into water. Photo courtesy of Downunder Horsemanship
By Clinton Anderson with Holly Clanahan in America’s Horse
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series on increasing confidence. Here, learn how experienced riders can help unconfident horses. Last week, Clinton offered tips for riders who need a confidence boost.
A lot of horses have a lack of confidence, especially outside the arena. But many of us want to enjoy our horses on the trails, so it’s important to help them over their fears.
Every time a horse is scared, he’s using the reactive side of his brain. That’s the instinct he gets from Mother Nature that keeps him from becoming a predator’s meal. But I want to teach him to use the thinking side of his brain. The only way I know to get him to go from the reactive side to the thinking side is to redirect his feet.
Let’s say my horse is scared of a puddle on the ground. I’m going to ride in a circle around that puddle, and every one and a half circles, I’m going to turn him toward the puddle and go the other direction. Circle-turn, circle-turn, circle-turn. By turning the horse into the puddle, I’m gradually getting him closer to the water every time I turn him. And eventually, he’ll step into the water without even knowing it. Every time he steps into the water and doesn’t get killed, he gains a little confidence. The next time I turn him, he might take two steps in the puddle and so on. I might have to do that for five to 10 minutes, but eventually he’ll use the thinking side of his brain and will just go through the puddle, like a figure 8.
I’ll keep going through that puddle like a figure 8, and when my horse is totally relaxed and listening to me, I’ll let him rest inside the puddle. If he wants to paw or sniff the puddle, I let him. Allowing a horse to perform his own “safety check” is a great way to build his confidence.
Basically, every time my horse spooks or gets nervous, I’ll redirect that negative energy to do something constructive. In this example, it’s like I’m saying to the horse: “We’re just practicing circles and turns around this puddle. What are the odds of that?” A horse can only think about one thing at a time – he’s either concentrating on how you’re asking him to move his feet or he’s focusing on his fear. If he’s focusing on you, he doesn’t have time to be worried about whatever he’s scared of.
Another exercise would be using rollbacks, a 180-degree turn over the hocks. Let’s say there is a sign on the fence, and the horse is scared of this sign. Instead of walking straight up to it and forcing the horse to confront it like a predator would, I’ll ride in a circle, and every time I come around to the fence, to the sign, I’ll roll him back toward the sign. Circle-rollback, circle-rollback. Now in the beginning, depending on how frightened my horse is of the sign, I might start out farther away from it. But as my horse gets calmer, and he starts using the thinking side of his brain, the rollbacks get closer to the sign. Eventually, I’ll be able to roll him back right beside the sign.
Remember to always roll toward the scary object. Circle right, turn left. Never turn away from the scary object, because when you turn away from it, the scariness of the object drives the horse farther away. When you turn into it, it helps them roll back. The fear of that object makes the horse move his front end.
Read on at America’s Horse Daily to learn more confidence-building exercises for your horse!