Everyone’s looking for the happy place. This is where life is beautiful, there are no pressures on us and no stress, this is where we can relax and enjoy what the world has to offer. Horses also look for the happy place. When horses are in the happy place they can relax and unwind their muscles, their minds are open to learning, as there is no stress, and they are much more open to their human.
Far too frequently when I’m out and about training horses and their humans, I find situations where there is no happy place. Sometimes people are so controlling, they micro-manage every moment, constantly applying aids and constantly communicating with their horse. After a while horses tire of this and start exhibiting escapist behaviours, which the humans perceive as being ‘naughty’ or ‘resistant’. In reality all they’re saying is ‘hey, give us a break’.
When riding or doing ground-work with a horse, you apply a signal (the aid) wait for the response and then release the aid. It’s a good idea then to just go along as you are and let your horse have a moment to digest the idea, fulfill the job that you were asking for and just be a horse. For example, if you are lunging your horse and you ask for more speed. When the horse goes faster, just relax in the center and let the horse go around, that is after all what you asked for. Instead I see people constantly moving the whip, giving voice aids and generally driving along a horse that’s already going!
The result of this is that the horse has to tune out the human, it’s necessary for survival. If the human is constantly yabbering away by constantly using aids (this is language to a horse) when it doesn’t mean anything, the horse must tune you out or go crazy. So after a while the horse isn’t responding to the whip anymore, or the voice or the body language, and has effectively been de-trained. At this point most humans blame the horse. Instead of looking at what they’re doing and changing that, they employ more aggressive methods to get the result they want.
Whenever you’re riding or doing ground-work or lunging or anything with your horse there must be more happy places than pressured places. Heaps more. Make a point when you’re working your horse to find places where you can remove ALL pressure. Develop a headspace where this is what you’re looking for. Often people become fixated with applying aids but forget the much more important place of removing all aids and allowing your horse to be. This is after all the reason horses respond to us, not because we’re applying an aid but because they know we’re going to remove it. If you do not remove the aids regularly your horse will stop responding.
Every horse everywhere is always looking for the happy place, give it to them, give them lots of it and your horse will become more and more willing and softer. It’s much nicer for you too; you can spend more time just enjoying being with your horse in the happy place together.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles