emotion leadership learning people trust

A Question Of Trust

Riding Iris in the field
Riding Iris on a summer evening.

At the start of the summer I bought a new horse- Iris is a beautiful grey mare with a bit of dressage in her parentage and a genuinely wonderful nature. She didn’t have much experience, which was good news from my perspective because it is often easier to build training from the ground up, so for most of the summer we have been working on our schooling and learning to understand one another. By the end of the summer I felt she was ready to start going out on the trail and we also made our way to our first horsemanship clinic.

One thing that both of these activities have in common is that they took Iris a long way out of her comfort zone – on the trail she is away from her usual home and her known space, at the clinic we had to pass terrifying donkeys of doom ( no, I’m not really sure what they had said to upset her ) then work in a large indoor arena with ten other horses cantering around.

What I noticed as we worked in these environments was that when I felt Iris’ anxiety pick up, I was taking control more, shortening my reins a little and directing her feet to make it clear where I wanted her to be going. As my horse got more anxious, I would be working harder to direct her and sooner or later we’d get into a dispute about where we should be going and whether or not we were in imminent danger.

During the clinic, Martin talked about how he uses the rein; always keeping in mind his goal of having a light, soft, riding horse he will ride on a long rein, ask with a subtle cue and then back that up with a firm bump and release if the horse chooses to ignore the initial ask. That is essentially the whole process he uses, he never tries to hold the horse in position and he doesn’t pull on the rein, he just teaches them to carry themselves the way he wants them to be going on a soft rein, so he can keep a hand free for roping or working other horses.

As I worked on developing this type of feel I found that all our work got much easier and that Iris was less emotional in situations that had bothered her before. I realised that when I was picking up the rein as she got more concerned I was actually trying to pre-empt something which wasn’t actually happening, but my expectations were making her think that there was something up, resulting in me creating ¬†exactly the kind of problems I wanted to prevent. The whole thing was like the plot of a complicated time travel story.

The outcome has been that since the clinic I have concentrated really hard on not picking up the rein until¬†something has actually happened. If I see something that I think my horse might worry about, I get ready to respond if I need to, but I don’t actually do anything – except maybe to rub on her – and I keep the reins long.

This is difficult for me- I like to feel I am in control – but it turns out that when I stop trying to take over every time I imagine something that might bother my horse, I very rarely need to take over at all. Iris is very green as a trail horse, but she has a great heart and a steady nature so although we do have the odd spook and sometimes she does decide that it might be time to go for an unrequested trot, she comes back to me beautifully when I do pick up the rein.

It is almost as though the more I trust her to do the right thing, the easier it is for her to trust me.

2 replies on “A Question Of Trust”

I too have been practising that a lot these past few weeks – not interfering with the reins at all unless I have a definite need to (change direction or speed, after using all the other cues of head position, body, weight and energy) and then doing so with more of a swift bump. It’s amazing how well it works and now, looking at video of Cody, I can see that when he moves his head it is more often than not probably a response to some involuntary hand movement on my part.He has become very responsive indeed when he is working calmly and happily and I will really have to retrain myself in order to make the most of that. I have also decided that when those problems arise which , on my horses in the past, would have prompted me to shorten the rein and try to ”take control” I will now try to accept the idea of allowing movement to relieve the stress of the moment and just concentrate on sitting calmly and quietly-allow the fuss to run it’s course and then redirect attention to something else. Still in the school and have not yet tried out how this will work on the trail, but that’s the plan!!!!

It’s a very good plan. I think it is so important to allow the horse to make their own mistakes too – that might be my next post…

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