The Science of how Horses Think & Learn Responding to pressure – horses and humans Part 2

the ground or in the saddle, catching those little resistances and using them as training opportunities, rather than letting them slip under the radar. Try to interrupt the resistance as it starts, each time,

until it’s finally erased. If not, it will undoubtedly show up later under a pressure situation like a horse show. One trainer calls them unauthorized decisions – I like that!

By Lindsay Grice. Equestrian Canada coach, horse show judge, specialist in equine behaviour.

Responding to Pressure – horse and humans Part 2 Sure, ground manners don’t affect the score on

the judge’s card or change a barrel run time, so natu- rally many don’t devote riding time to teaching skills in hand. Until a horse’s ground manners start to be- come a bigger problem. When I hear someone describe their horse as a

“real personality”, affectionate or “in your pocket”, I hear code words for pushy. If your horse is annoying to work around or hang onto while you’re having a conversation with someone, he may benefit from a per- sonality makeover! If your horse ever: • Turns bridling into a wrestling match • Circles around you to face something else that grabs his attention • Dives for grass when your latching a gate • Bites on the lead shank • Swings his hip away or walks off when you’re mounting Some ground schooling just might make him

more pleasant to be around! It’s worth noting that terms such as respect or

dominance are misleading because the horse doesn’t equate a human to another horse. Those descriptions also unfairly apply human motives and goals to our horses. But the concept of deferring space is familiar to a horse. Perhaps yielding to pressure is a better de- scription. A horse uses pressure to move a herdmate away from the round bale. That herdmate steps back. Horses understand that physical language.

Yielding to pressure. Unintentionally you may have trained your horse to push back on any pressure you apply – bracing to the lead shank when backing or shoving his head into you while bridling. Use every re- sistance as a training opportunity, asking him to defer his space instead. Back him up several steps. Push his head away from you firmly enough to motivate but not scare him, sending the message move away and stay away. Refuse to become his sparring partner. If he keeps coming back into your space, step up the pres- sure a bit. If a horse can feel a fly, he can be attentive to the lightest pressure.

We’re always training – there’s no neutral. I encour- age riders to be mindful of each moment they spend on

Dos and Don’ts • Do be clear in your body language. Be readable in all your cues. Nervousness can cause us to deliver mousy signals. • Do establish your personal space. I slip little back-ups into every interaction, periodically connecting the horse to me. Before entering his stall or paddock gate. Prior to releasing him in turnout. • Do be the decision maker. Your horse’s unauthorized deci- sions should be methodically corrected or they’ll multiply. In the absence of direction, your horse will fill the void. • Do keep emotions out of the picture. Each correction is swift, appropriate and over within a second. • Keep expectations and corrections the same between all those who handle your horse. Each handler should use the same timing and intensity of cues. • Don’t hold your horse in place. Horses constantly held in lead shank pressure to maintain their pace or path, become either oblivious to or claustrophobic from the continual ten- sion. Lighten up on your hand so your horse finds release each time he finds his freedom box. • Don’t get in your horse’s face. There’s a downside to cud- dling your horse. Though “kissing-horse- face” photos tug the heart in social media and advertisements (if you love your horse, you’ll deworm with…), kissing isn’t your horse’s “love language”. Kissing is a human expression, while horses express their bonding preferences for herd mates in other ways. Research shows they actually prefer being scratched or massaged, particularly around the withers, by their people. With children or horses, establishing limits and expec-

tations is just plain considerate. Insecurity and resentment arise when boundaries aren’t well communicated, or they shift.

Wow! Could I be un-training my horse if I don’t follow

through on the details? What if I reset my expectations so that every question I ask my horse requires a soft response, from the moment I unload from the trailer to our entrance into the ring? The payoff is my horse is less likely to say “no” when

the pressure’s on. Fewer costly wrong leads, added strides, or seconds lost in speed events. What about humans? 10 months of pandemic pressures have squeezed many

of us emotionally, financially, relationally and physically. When I’m feeling squeezed by circumstances, what does it bring out in me? Resistance or resilience? Resistance is sarcasm. Social media outrage. Stiffening

against hope – a heart hardened by disappointment. Learned helplessness is a term in horse training to de- scribe an animal who’s given up, stopped try- ing – numbed and apathetic. It applies to people too. Yet resilience mixes strength and soft-

ness. Like a branch bent under the weight of snow but not broken, pressure tests our re- silience, doesn’t it? It tests our core beliefs, sur- facing the question “Where is my hope?” When all that’s familiar is turned upside

down, we’re more inclined to consider life’s big questions and learn some life lessons, don’t you think? I guess that’s the plus side of pressure.

“There is one who gives freely yet in-

creases more. Another withholds what is right and suffers want. A generous person will pros- per. Whoever refreshes another will be re- freshed.” Proverbs. The Bible.

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We’re always training – there’s no neutral. I encourage riders to be mindful of each moment they spend on the ground or in the saddle. Catch those little resistances and use them as training opportunities

About Lindsay Grice. “Is it me or my horse?” Horse show judge, certified riding coach, trainer and specialist in equine behavior and learn-

love to communicate the WHYs behind the HOWs of riding. “Equitation Science” – it makes life better for horses when we speak in a language they understand!”

horse trainer. “Why do horses do what they do?” Lindsay says, “In the horse world, our traditions and the evidence sometimes collide.

Equestrian Canada. She’s a provincial Hunter/Jumper and dressage judge and also judges mul- tiple breeds and Extreme Trail/obstacle events. She loves to share her own insights and stories learned from 25 years as a competitor and


She’s taught the science of equine behavior and learning for horse associations, courses for Uni- versity of Guelph and therapeutic riding facilities. Lindsay judges multiple disciplines and breeds, holding judging certifications with AQHA,

If your horse is annoying to work around or hang onto while you’re having a conver- sation with someone, some ground schooling just might make him more pleasant to be around!

ing. Lindsay Grice loves to help riders solve their horse puzzles, prepare for competition and enjoy the process of riding, not just the result! Lindsay enjoys teaching clinics and travelling to Ontario farms as a freelance instructor.

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