THE REQUIREMENTS FOR CORRECT HANDLING ARE BASED ON TRUST AND UNDERSTANDING.
In my long life as an athlete, teacher and observer of the equestrian world there have been too many times that I’ve witnessed riders punishing a horse that, in their opinion, has behaved badly instead of correcting themselves and their mistakes. Sometimes even female riders behave like this, in a more subtle but still harmful way. Not to mention the awful reports of physical and moral violence that come out in press reports every so often. I’ve seen cases of horses refusing to be ridden unless blindfolded. It’s a real shame! Too often us humans offload our incompetencies onto our animals. We know that educating and training a horse in any equestrian discipline is very difficult and requires wisdom, knowledge of the horse, patience, and a good instructor! These qualities are a commodity that cannot be bought but that anyone can conquer so long as they want it enough and have respect for the horse and themselves.
There are certain prerequisites needed to be able to express yourself in the saddle effectively, rationally and respectfully:
1. Having a soft yet firm posture that is in sync with the horse and its movements.
2. Having a gentle and sensitive hand that is always in contact with the mouth.
3. Having the horse’s trust.
Only once you have achieved these three conditions can you start thinking about training your horse effectively and enjoying your time with him. The horse will sense that he’s in the company of a friend and will give you his friendship in return.
Having said that, some horses can tolerate abuse, malice or worse because they have a submissive temperament, but…
>They’ll never give you their full cooperation
>They’ll never make a serious effort for you
>They’ll be unhappy
>They won’t be in good health
>Their sporting career will be shorter
All the opinions expressed are my own and make it clear what I think about the question: “Should I punish a horse? Punishment is always wrong and useless: it is a short cut to achieving a momentary, transient, uncertain, and therefore useless obedience. A healthy horse that understands our demands has no reason not to please us. Instead of tugging at your horse’s mouth, whipping him or letting him drag his feet, it’s more worthwhile to:
- take a break
- consider why your horse is being disobedient
- analyse where and how you went wrong or are going wrong
- correct your behaviour and then repeat your requests
All with calmness and confidence. We must work on ourselves and things will definitely improve for both us and our partner.
CLEAR AND PRECISE SIGNALS
Horses have an excellent memory and their difficult behaviour is often a result of painful past experiences. We must understand what these events were and act accordingly, remembering that animals all have different levels of intelligence and sensitivity. Our actions must therefore take account of their character. We must be clear and use simple language to communicate two basic things to the horse:
1. Where to go and which path to take by using the reins (sparingly) and our body and voice always in the same way to avoid ‘deceiving’ the horse with conflicting commands.
2. How much energy to use and how much effort to make.
Some horses are very energetic by nature, so you need to learn how to manage their energy in a kind way. You must stop your horse often and then take things more slowly, especially when walking, before moving onto a trot to earn their respect. Again, don’t overuse your hands, use your body and voice instead. Sooner or later, depending on the horse, you will be able to keep its energy levels in check and move onto more complex activities. With certain very strong-willed racehorses, a few days of long rides will achieve more than any ‘difficult’ activity.
However, for lazy horses or horses with little determination you’ll need to help them improve their physical condition slowly but surely, with long periods of trotting (in the hills if possible). It is advisable to give them a more energy-rich food: they will feel better and more able to give a better athletic performance. Sometimes we may come across horses that are rowdy, ill-mannered or spoiled. But even in these cases, patience and kindness have more impact than force or violence.
Often, we have to start from square one, as if we’re dealing with a horse that needs to be tamed. This requires a lot of longeing or riderless work in order to gain the horse’s trust. Then, calmly and respectfully, you can start to ride them again, being sure to spend a lot of time walking. You should then have no further issues with the horse.
USING A RIDING CROP
Essentially, in some cases crops can be used to support the action of the leg, but they must be used sparingly and with common sense with a view to encouraging the horse. They must never be used out of malice.
You can often observe the best riders coming into the field with a short whip that they hold without using and which does not prevent them from using their hands in any way. When they feel the need to encourage their horse through a challenging section, they’re ready to take the crop and give the horse two taps just behind the point where their leg is acting. Believe me, treat horses with respect and friendliness and they’ll return the favour ten-fold!