Having issues working through bad habits with your horse? A few weeks ago, trainer and horse behavior expert Tik Maynard brought his decades of knowledge to our Masterclass webinar to answer questions from some of our subscribers.
Read along for a couple of the tips and tricks Tik Mayard shared with them!
Q: “I just moved to a new barn and I am struggling with getting my horse to calm down and relax. When I try to walk her around, she will try and trot past me. When they turn her out she will run around the field. When we get on her to ride, she’s so tense. I’ve had her for 9 years and have been to so many barns and shows, but this time she just won’t calm down. She's never acted like this! What can I do to get her to calm down on the ground and then calm down when we get on her?"
A: There are two principles that I want people to try and understand. The first one is to deal with a horse’s anxiety. When I used to start a lesson, I would ask, “Is your horse relaxed and ready to start jumping?” Nowadays, I’ve got a really clear idea that a horse isn’t just relaxed or anxious; there is a whole scale. Your horse could be at a zero, which would be eyes drooping and ready to sleep, or they could be at a ten, which would be extreme fear. At some point, your horse can get so anxious that they are not capable of learning. On the scale I have in my mind, that is when they go over a three or four out of ten. For me, a three is when the horse is trotting around on the buckle with a loose rein and keeps breaking into the canter. That’s a horse that I can control, but that’s a horse that is too anxious to learn.
With a horse that is above a three, I might be able to do a lot of things, but they are probably just 'doing it'/going through the motions and not really learning. [At a three], they are probably just reacting and you’re controlling them because they are not in a frame of mind that is relaxed enough to learn. For my horses, if they aren’t able to trot on the buckle without breaking into the canter, I won’t try and put them on the bit or jump them because I won’t be improving. They will be doing it, sure, but they won’t actually be learning it.
That’s why you’ll see horses that are constantly working at a three or four or five out of ten stay at the same level for years - they haven’t been relaxed enough to learn. Sometimes, I’ll work on taming a horse before training a horse for months. It can take being really aware of your horse’s level of anxiety and being able to say, “Hey, I shouldn’t be working on this today because my horse isn’t relaxed enough.”
Q: “Are riding problems always an issue of the horse's confidence, or are there ever times when it is just bad behavior?”
A: The problem that I have with anthropomorphism, or when we use human words for horses or objects, is that we use words like 'like, love, trust, respect, greedy' to describe horse behavior. You could write a whole book on what horse behavior means to other horses versus what it means to us and how we have different definitions for it.
I’ll give you one example: the word 'respect'. If you ask different horse people what respect means to them or what respect means to a horse, you’ll get different answers. If I’m going to use the word 'respect' with a horse or in a lesson or a clinic or a webinar like this, I want to have a working definition that I can share with you about what that word means. For me, respect means that a horse gives an appropriate response to pressure. If I ask a horse to trot, they don’t overreact and canter. They also don’t underreact and walk faster or disregard my leg. Respect means that they don’t underreact or overreact. Also, horses don’t give us respect. We have to earn respect. The way that we earn respect is by using an appropriate amount of pressure for every situation.