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Hello Bob,

I enjoyed reading your web page. You have some sound advice.

I am wondering how to move forward with my riding and learning how to relax and remain calm around horses. I have been riding English for only a short time, six months. I can do a sitting trot, posting trot and have cantered a little simply by accident. I realize that does not tell you very much, because you would have to see me ride in order to get an idea of what I am like. However, I feel comfortable around most of the horses at the stable due to the fact that I know what to expect from them.

Before I started riding I had no contact with horses, therefore, it has taken a little while for me to learn how to handle them. Once a week I clean the stalls and bring the horses in from pasture. I know that just being around them helps to get to know them. However, I was going to co-board a horse at another stable. I was thinking of co-boarding in order to get more time riding time and feeling more comfortable with horses. I rode this owner's horse twice. The first time it would stop on me and cut in on the circle, etc. I know enough to make the horse keep going and bring it out to the outer ring, otherwise it will continue doing this to me. Nevertheless, he would spook while I was in the saddle - for no apparent reason. The next time I took "Blue" out I didn't even get his saddle on before he spooked three times while grooming him. When the owner came back into the barn, he stopped spooking altogether.

By this time I am nervous and I am timid and hesitant to even pick his feet. I didn't yell, hit or do anything to hurt him. The only thing that I can think of is that he senses my fear. I chose not to co-board him because I don't feel confident enough to handle him. I wonder if I should look for a horse that has a calm disposition, but maybe I will never learn anything with a push button horse. I love to ride and I want to be a good, calm, confident rider. I appreciate your suggestions!

Thank you

- C. S.


First of all, let me say that only a bona fide fool isn't afraid around horses. I mean, we're talking about creatures that for millennia were the most awesome killing machines on any battlefield! Their teeth, hooves, and sheer mass can make mince-meat of a puny human being in a matter of seconds! According to insurance company statistics, you are 4.5 times more likely to suffer a serious injury while riding a horse than while riding a motorcycle!

I've spent a lot of time around horses, and ol' Willy and I have about the best relationship a horse and rider can have. Yet every time I set foot in the pasture I'm as alert to danger as I would be if every critter were out to get me! If I'm perched on Willy's flight deck, I ride as if a half-ton of dynamite were set to go off underneath me at any moment.

Does that mean that I don't enjoy horses, or that I'm not confident when I'm around horses? No way! What it does mean is that I'm constantly alert to everything around me and to the horses. Is that wasp about to bite the horse I'm riding? If that hawk circling overhead suddenly dives, will Willy spook? Is there a possibility of a ruffed grouse suddenly exploding out of that bush to my right? (Yep, it's happened to me.) Being aware of potential dangers prepares me to deal with them if and when they erupt.

As I've pointed out several times elsewhere, the horse has to think of you as the lead brood mare in the herd. What does the lead brood mare do? Yeh, she's the boss, but it goes far beyond that. She's also the one who is first to detect danger and it's her job to lead the herd away from that danger.

Go ahead, be afraid - you'll live longer - but also be confident that you will spot the danger and handle the situation. You will communicate that confidence to your mount, and he will relax because he knows that you are up to the task of protecting him from any danger.

This may explain why Blue settled down as soon as the owner arrived. He knew that he could relax with the owner around. You - he didn't know. If you tried to pick up his foot, were you gonna try to bite him on the ankle? (Silly, yes, but a horse's brain is only the size of a large walnut! Don't give him credit for being too bright!)

It's possible that - in your desire to quickly become a good rider - you are rushing your relationship with the horse. Perhaps several sessions of ground work in the round pen will help establish your leadership position over Blue. [You may also want to read the Q&A about the biting horse for some suggestions relating to grooming and saddling.}

When a horse spooks or acts nervous, let him tell you why he's scared. Then give him time to explore the "hazard" and satisfy himself that there's nothing for him to be afraid of.

Maybe a situation that happened to me will help illustrate the point:

It was a gray, drizzily day, and we were riding along a road we had traveled dozens of times without incident. We came to a corner we had turned as many times - and Willy suddenly went nuts!He spun around and was in real danger of losing his footing on the slick pavement. When I turned him around, he'd be okay until he got to the corner- then he'd explode again!

After the third try, I dismounted, petted him, and talked calmly to him until he settled down. Walking ahead of him, I led him to the corner and stopped. His ears were back, the whites of his eyes showed, and he kept snorting like he does when he smells a bear. I just stood there and talked calmly to him while I tried to see the world through his eyes. (Remember, to a horse, everything looks kinda fuzzy - its daytime vision isn't as sharp as a human's.)

All of a sudden it hit me! He was afraid that I was going to make him swim a river - lengthways! (Did I mention that a horse doesn't have a very large brain?) When he looked at the wet pavement of that side road, all he could see was the bright reflection of the cloud-diffused sun on a lot of water -- and he couldn't tell that the road wasn't under ten feet of water! And here I was, trying to make him go up that thing!

We just stood there a minute while I talked calmly to him for a while, then I took a couple of steps ahead of him onto that "river." Willy snorted once more, then followed me. Once he saw that he wasn't going to drown, he let me saddle up and we were off on another pleasant ride.

Was I afraid when he freaked out at the corner? You bet! Did I let him know it? No way! I took the time to let him tell me what he was afraid of, then - like the good brood mare that I am - showed him that it was safe for our little herd of two to mosey off in that direction.

I've said it many times before: a horse will tend to behave toward you like you behave toward it. If you are nervous, you'll end up with a spooky horse. If you have the confidence that you can handle whatever comes along, your mount will have the same confidence. Stay alert and on your guard at all times, use good judgement (have I pointed out that your brain is quite a bit bigger than a horse's?) and be a good lead brood mare... and you'll have a wonderful time with our four-legged friends for years to come.

Happy Riding!

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