The Hyper Horse:
Redirecting A Horse's Energy For Control
Your horse is nervous;
his neck is high, ears pricked forward, and he refuses to stop moving
his feet. Maybe he's afraid of something or maybe he's full
of energy because he hasn't been ridden in awhile. He feels like
a wound spring ready to explode. As his rider, you must get
him under control. What do you do?
When a horse begins to prance around, refusing to stand, or pull in an attempt to go faster, the rider's first response is often to try to force the movement to stop. To pull against whatever the horse is doing. Who hasn't been at a horse event and seen a nevous horse prancing with its owner pulling the reins in, yelling 'whoa, whoa!" as the owner desperately tries to get the horse to stand?
The horse pulls forward; your instinctual reaction is to pull back.
Some owners resort to cruel, long-shanked bits or metal chinstraps thinking this will give them more force to stop a hyper horse. None of these methods treat the problem, but instead make it worse by "forcing" your way upon the horse instead of training the horse.
Instead of trying to use your strength to stop the horse's energy, you must learn to redirect the energy to your advantage.
Trying to halt the movement simply makes the horse more nervous; If he is wanting to go, and he feels you pulling in, that energy is going to go somewhere-- he is going to either pull back against you, dance to the side, or fidget in place. His anxiety level is going to raise even more when he feels you fighting with him-- you fight, he wants to fight right back. He is not listening to you, he is focused on figuring out how he win the fight.
You, as the intelligent herd leader, must gain control of the horse's respect and attention. This is not done by yanking, yelling, or cruel long bits. It is done by remaining calm and using your head (not your strength) to control the horse.
Instead of halting the movement, allow the horse to move forward. Begin to direct that forward movement where you want it to go. I find it useful to gently use my little fingers on each hand to "see-saw" the reins (think half-halt) to center the horse and make them tip their nose in. When the horse is going forward and begins to bring his nose in and round his back, suddenly instead of just tromping off, he's having to listen to you. He is no longer anxious that you are going to yank back on the reins and stop him; Instead, he will begin to listen.
Instead of trying to halt the movement and make the horse think "how can I pull and get away", you redirect his movement and energy so he begins to realize that you are in control; even if he's nervous or scared, you are still in control of his energy.
Use the horse's energy to your advantage. If he wants to move, let him move forward-- but guide his movement. Make him do circles, figure 8's, or go around the rail and work on getting him to bend at the poll and smooth his gait.
If he won't stand still, then let him move. In fact, keep him moving until he begins to get very tired of your exercises-- and soon he will submit and realize that standing still is a good option.
If a horse won't whoa, then make him trot. Make him trot figure eights, circles. Make him do haunch turns. Keep his feet moving until his mind is so focused on listening to your subtle cues that when you finally ask for a whoa, he does it.
Yelling "whoa, whoa" while yanking makes a nervous horse think "how can I get away from this crazy person?" -- while redirecting his energy into exercises makes his mind calm down and think "what are they going to ask me to do now?".
Tugging on a horse that is fighting to go forward only makes matters worse because the horse begins to feel more nervous. Ignorant people may tell you you must yank on the horse, make him stop when he's acting that way -- in reality, to control a horse you must use your mind first.
Controling the horse's attitude is just as important as controling their body. When they are excited or angry, they are not in the right frame of mind to learn. When you, as the herd leader, can begin to calm and focus them, they will respect and listen to you. They will begin to associate you with being calm and focused.
I was working with an appaloosa that wanted to back up. He refused to go forward in the arena. Rather than fighting or beating him (both of which I watched someone do, and it didn't work, he just became more stubborn), I backed him up. I backed him up around the arena, and around and around, and around until he realized backing up wasn't so fun after all. When I asked, he happily walked forward.
When you make the horse's idea a lot of work and your ideas are easier, the horse is going to start to listen to your ideas more often.
When you redirect the hyper horse's energy into doing work, you will begin to calm him by having him burn his excess energy, and make him realize that you are always in control and he must listen to you, even when he's nervous or excited.
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