As horsemen, we understand that no two horses fit in the same mold. Each horse has his own presence, mental capacity, and physical capability. This simple fact is extraordinarily important to remember when we deal with those who test our horsemanship. So often our patience and abilities are tested when a horse won’t cooperate. Maybe he is heavy on the aids, rushes, refuses fences, spooks, or is rude on the ground. The key to managing these horses is not necessarily to correct the behavior, but to understand why the horse exhibits it.
Most often, horses who choose to preserve themselves or react to physical pain are mistaken for ‘naughty’ horses. More likely than not, problems under saddle are related to physical pain or lack of fitness. Lameness in a limb or arthritis in a joint can help pinpoint a horse’s unwillingness to preform. More commonly, discomfort in the GI tract can lead to all sorts of problems involving athletic performance and willingness to work.
So we all need to do our horses a favor, before writing him off as being naughty or difficult, scope him, put him on a GI lubricant, have his teeth floated, look at his palmar angles, check the saddle fit, do a lameness exam, or consult with someone who wants to help the horse.
If we have exhausted options involving physical limitations and come up blank, we can consider a ‘problem’ horse’s stability and confidence in the herd we’ve given him. Does he look to me for leadership and peace of mind, or does he go right brain and stop thinking when encountering pressure. Moreover, do I hold my position of leadership when pressure is applied? Or do I become frustrated/ inconsistent/ fearful/ inaccurate.
For a horse to be respectful, trusting, and obedient with a handler, there must be a fundamental herd dynamic in place between horse and handler, this doesn’t mean that the handler must dominate the horse, as in herds that is not the case, but the lead mare (you & me) needs to have consistent expectations, hold her ground, and have a relaxed confidence independent of the subordinate horse’s mentality. Maintaining this standard of horsemanship should soften any worry, tension, or rigidity between horse and handler.
After addressing a ‘problem’ horse’s physical limitations and his stability in the herd relationship, we really have to consider a horse’s individual personality, needs, and quirks. Sometimes, a mare will need a moment, a green bean will take time to grow, and a placid school horse will have his limits. As much as we try to work around this fact, a horse is a lot more person than machine, so we have to treat them as such.
If jumping causes a horse anxiety, help him overcome the stress, or find him a different job. If a lovely little mare has no patience for a child’s energy, she won’t be the first, or the last- find her someone that makes her happy. And for the hot and spicy personalities, there are jobs and people who want a horse with some extra zest- they are what they are.
By learning to appreciate the individual nature of each horse, we can better understand them, protect them, and provide them with purpose.