Horse Training: Helping the Equine that Bucks & Bolts Build Confidence...

Despite a horse going through the motions of exposure and learning, does not mean that his confidence is increasing, irrelevant of all of his new experiences.

 Many horses will seemingly "quietly" tolerate participating in a situation. Because the equine's behavior does not yet feel "scary," the initial subtle signs of avoidance (mental or physical), tension, or fear may be ignored by the handler/rider who is under the impression things are "fine." Until "all of a sudden" they aren't. 

A great example is the famous "wet saddle blankets" theory in training young horses. For those unfamiliar, the idea is to take a young horse and ride him for many, many hours and that he'll "figure things out" with enough hours under saddle, and that eventually, he will become a "broke" and reliable horse. 

The question is: Does a horse learn better through repetition, irrelevant of the quality offered by the rider, or does he learn and build confidence if less is initially asked of him, with the rider's focus more on quality and clarity during shorter sessions? 

My approach is to first create clear communication, with the horse. Without the "tools" to help the horse learn to think through a scenario, let go of distracting thoughts, or offer a variety of responses, putting him in unnatural situations without support, is unfair, diminishes his trust in the human, and increases his defensiveness towards any unfamiliar scenario. 

After being able to think through, be adaptable, and mentally available towards my input, then I'll ride out and put the "miles" on the horse because I've established a common language that can help diffuse any fear or insecurity, and build his confidence, rather than forcing him to tolerate potentially overwhelming scenarios. 

I'm sharing a short video of a young mare. She was sent from Arizona to my summer facility in Idaho for a re-start. She'd been ridden out numerous times but started having bucking tantrums when overwhelmed by the chaos of desert activities. 

When she first arrived, everything about mountain life was overwhelming for the horse who'd never left the desert. She'd never seen trees, wildlife, hills, etc. She was highly, highly, anticipative of everything. She'd learned to be "contained" and obedient, but not adaptable. So she'd internalize her emotions, and then explode. Though none of her previous experiences had aggressive or ill-intention from the human, she is typical of a horse that was never believed when displaying her initial concerns, and so had to resort to dramatic behaviors. 

I started at the very beginning as if she knew nothing. Here is a quick video a few months in, of her learning to see the world, process, not fixate, stay physically relaxed, and still be available to my input. These are the skills that help the insecure horse evolve into a confident one.
Sam Harvey's equestrian and horse training strategies apply to both competitive and pleasure riders. Her adaptable format can be used to supplement a rider's current horse training program or used by itself. She has had proven success in working with a variety of students, irrelevant of their chosen riding discipline or years of horse experience. Her students vary on a wide spectrum from those facing equine-related trauma or fear to those needing the mental edge when competing at the international level. 

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