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Turn disruptive behavior into learning opportunities

By RAY ARISS - Horsetrader columnist - January 17th, 2013 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: I have a horse that is fairly responsive and soft to my hands until he gets distracted or scared, and then I have nothing but a hard-braced neck, head up, lousy brakes and poor steering. I practice suppling every time I ride but it doesn’t seem to help when he gets distracted. He also seems to look for things to spook at when we are at shows and stares at it as we go by. How can I keep him focused on our work in a snaffle when he feels like a ton of bricks in my hands?

HEY ANONYMOUS: Anyone who’s owned a horse has experienced what you are asking about. This is an excellent question. It doesn’t matter the horse, the discipline, the breed or the age of a horse, they will all continue to experience being heavy under those situations unless you practice being soft and light while under those conditions. Because you have already taught your horse the value of being responsive and giving to the aids under a controlled environment, all that is left is to have your horse remember what he already knows under pressure.

There are many ways to get creative with this challenge in order to help your horse become light. The one likely to bring light to this challenge is for you to simply take your horse out for a trail ride. I suggest you first do what you always do, which is to get him supple and light in the arena. Once you feel you can walk, trot and canter him and do patterns without issue, simply go out the gate and see what develops.

At the first sign of distraction, simply attempt to straighten your horse back. If you feel any resistance at all, continue to gather the rein past the point of straightness into flexion. Anchor the rein to your leg and persuade your horse to continue to move in a small circle or turn on the forehand until he fully relaxes and gives to the rein. At that point, simply give him back his head and continue on your tightrope down the trail. There will be countless opportunities for your horse to observe and look around during his trip away from the stables, so continue to repeat the exercise without exception until he becomes light or stops looking.

The thing that eventually will make a huge impression on your horse is the difference between (A) looking around with his neck and head and (B) simply just using his eyes. The thing for you to remember is to not become uptight or frustrated with your horse every time you feel you have to correct him for being heavy in your hands. The more he forgets and the longer it takes, the better chance you have of impressing on him why this is a bad idea. By the time you get back home, not only will he be more clear about why it is smart to give to the slightest rein, he will be more coordinated, athletic and responsive than if he had not made a mistake at all. Turning the trail or the show grounds into your own personal training arena will soon bring all that you have accomplished with your horse at home to a fun and memorable experience.

Remember to trust your instincts and think safe,

Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco CA, at his bustling StarBrite Riding Academy. Does your “horse-human” relationship leave you with a question for Ray? Just go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Hey Ray!” section, then submit it!

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