Allowing Opinions

I used to have a Thoroughbred mare called Maddie. Maddie had VERY strong opinions about being saddled and could buck higher and harder than any horse I’ve met since (she once broke a girth from bucking!). There will be more about her in this series but one of the many lessons I learnt from her was to allow her to have an opinion, resist getting stronger to try and stop her and help her find more productive ways to use her energy (she had lots of it!).

Most of us want our horses to behave, we want them to do what we like to do, be calm and not do anything unpredictable.

Having a horse that listens to you and does what you ask is very important especially in safety situations. However, as we all know, we are not riding a motorbike, we are riding an animal that has his own mind and opinions.

For most of my ridden career I have owned mares. I love mares, and if I look at a group of horses I will nearly always pick out a mare as the one I like the most! Why do I always gravitate to mares? Because I love the fact that they will tell you their opinion! It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I consider part of training to be about convincing the horse that my idea is a good one for them as well!

There’s a famous old saying...

Tell a Gelding - Ask a Mare - Bargain with a Stallion!

So how do you train a horse and allow him to give you feedback? The answer is to ask them to do something and see what their reaction is. Take your time, allow them to show you how they feel and then adjust accordingly.

If a horse has strong opinions then (as Maddie taught me) the answer is not to get stronger yourself.

In my experience getting stronger does one of three things...

1️⃣ Causes the horse to get stronger and more extreme in their reactions

2️⃣ Creates tension

3️⃣ Subdues the horse and kills expression - effectively creating more robotic responses

The answer is to calm the situation down, assess what’s going on.

What can this opinion mean?

  • Horse is confused - doesn’t understand what is required 🤷‍♀️

  • Horse is scared 😦

  • Horse is in pain/discomfort 🤕