The golden rule
Whether we’re riding competitively or riding for fun, the only emotions we should communicate to our horses are calmness, confidence and control. Your horse will pick up on any manifestation of unease in your body, even subtle changes in your muscle tension. Build up a routine so that from the minute you approach your horse, you share each other’s mutual attention and can reach a state in which your horse is calm, obedient and focused.
Rhythm and repetition
First and foremost, be mentally and physically present from the moment you approach your horse – to get your horse’s full attention, you need to give them yours. As you begin to groom and tend to them, practice rhythmic breathing and movements, and repeat this rhythm when you are riding so your horse associates it with a state of calmness. If you travel to a show, remember to acclimatise your horse by walking them around the grounds, taking care to show them anything unusual, or anything that might spook them. Your horse might also want to meet the other horses, so allow them to do so if they show interest.
Beyond that, stop worrying about what your horse might do or how they might react and focus only on the present. Horses are extremely sensitive to tension in our muscles and to shifts in our weight, so keep yourself calm and relaxed. The better our balance, fitness and flexibility, as well as our concentration, the better we will be able to control our muscle tension and therefore control our horse, so work on your physical skills too. Doing this can help us raise our confidence, which will again enable both rider and horse to relax.
Remember that excess energy can also cause behavioural problems in horses, so it’s important they get enough time doing activities they enjoy, whether this is going for a ride or walk, grooming or social interaction. Just like us, horses that are cooped up can simply have too much energy.
Does your horse have separation anxiety?
Equine Behaviourist, Justine Harrison, CHBC, has some advice. If your horse is attached to another individual, start a gradual training plan to practice short separations of a minute or so at first, then gradually increase the time.
Ensure horses have calm, well-socialised equine company and they have a good experience when separated – e.g. a feed, praise or a lip-curling wither scratch.
Don’t force your horse to leave others or punish him if he is anxious.
If your horse will be alone for a specific situation e.g. a vet or farrier visit, you can ask to have another calm horse present. If not, ensure your horse has access to a hay net or feed.