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Presenting familiar scenarios to horse while creating a new experience
Whenever I'm working with a new horse, I offer them a "clean slate" and assume nothing, irrelevant of their age or supposed training and riding background. My initial assessment through perhaps presenting scenarios is not with the goal of seeing "what the horse knows," but rather to hone in on interactions that create a potential concern or defensiveness in his mindset, emotions, and behavior. For example such as when saddling. With a new horse, I want them to express any concern they may have. I don't tie them initially as I want them to have space and the option to express themselves without feeling that they have to be obedient. For most horses that have been "trained" through containment (either physically or of their emotions,) just the act of having a saddle nearby or the lifting of a saddle pad (without it even being close,) can show a total shift in their emotions. Moving away backward or sideways, getting tall in their posture, changes in their breathing, wide eyes, wrinkles in their muzzle, peaks over their eyes, locked knees and hocks, rigidity in their body, statuesque stance, high head all can be indicators that there is an anticipation of either the act of saddling and/or defensiveness towards expecting to be ridden. So the goal isn't about making them stand or tolerate "quietly" being tacked. Instead, I want to help redirect their thought, drain their emotions, and help them remain mentally present rather than anticipative of what might happen next. The more the horse can hear me and stay mentally engaged in the spatial pressure of me moving around both sides of him, the spatial energy of the pad coming towards and away from him, the less defensive to physical touch whether with my hand, pad, saddle, girth/cinch, the softer he will be in his mind and body. If I only focus on the act of getting him saddled, and the entire time there is a building concern and stress in him, what happens when I go to ride? All that emotion will come out in his physical behavior. So rather than waiting and see "if he can handle it," which is challenging a horse to get something right, I will support him through each of his concerns, to help him find a different outcome and experience. This mindfulness in the horse allows changes in his patterned responses, that lead to him feeling confident and soft about the act of being saddle transitioning to the start of a quality ride. As I remind folks, just because a horse isn't moving his feet, doesn't mean he is okay. There is a difference between a physically "light" horse and a mentally "soft" one.