Sunday, May 24, 2009

Riding a Runaway Horse

Hi Rick,
I have a fourteen year old gelding that i purchased a few months back. He is very well behaved but i have a problem, when we go out riding he listens well but on the way back home he takes over and starts galloping and i can't stop him; i have no control what so ever. Can you please give me some advice on what i could do to fix this problem?

Hi JH,
Many horses are obedient when they don't have strong feelings about what you're doing. But heading home is another matter. Home is a place of comfort and safety and most horses feel a strong desire to get there as quickly as possible. A good rider can keep this under control and might actually enjoy the extra life in the horse, the extra spring in his step, the extra willingness to move out. For the less experienced rider, this can easily turn into a terrifying and life-threatening experience. We need to get this under control immediately.

I will give you two suggestions, one that will help you regain control when this happens and one that will make it less likely to happen in the first place.

The instant your horse starts going faster than you want, do not pull on both reins. Pull on one rein only to bend the horse’s head as far to one side as you can. Try to bring his nose to the toe of your boot. This will cause the horse to go around in a circle and finally come to a stop. This is called a one-rein stop. Keep the horse’s nose on your boot until he stops moving his feet and relaxes completely. Then release the rein and praise the horse. Keep yourself as relaxed as possible through all of this. After giving him a minute or so, begin pulling his head first to one side, then the other, again trying to touch his nose to your boot. Hold each time until the horse “gives” or creates a little slack in the rein. This exercise is called lateral flexion. By doing these things you prove to the horse that you can control his movement and his straightness, and are thus worthy of his respect. Doing these things without hurting him or getting angry helps earn his trust.

When your horse is relaxed and quiet, you can resume your ride. He may do the same thing again. If so, repeat the one-rein stop and the lateral flexion. You may have to do this several times before your horse realizes that speeding up only makes more work for him.

It’s important to understand that the one-rein stop is not a foolproof emergency brake. But for most riders, it’s the best option available. It works better if you practice it ahead of time in a controlled setting, such as an arena. Ask the horse to move out and then bring him to a stop with one rein. Do this many times, at the walk, trot, and canter. Having practiced it ahead of time will make its use in an emergency much more effective.

As for preventing this from happening in the first place, I will give you a general strategy for any situation in which a horse is drawn to a particular place, whether it’s the barn, a gate, the trail back home, or other horses on a ride. The strategy is to make that place less appealing to the horse by allowing him to go there but making him work when he gets there. By work I mean trotting circles and figure eights, doing lots of rollbacks, and plenty of backing. These exercises use a horse’s energy and air supply. Some horses are just lazy and don’t like to work, but all horses become concerned when they start getting winded. When the horse is huffing and puffing, take him away from the barn (or gate or other horses) and allow him to rest. Do this a few times, increasing the distance and finally just continue with your ride at a nice, slow pace. so it is genuine relief for him to be away from the place he thought he wanted to be. If you do this a few times, he will soon lose his fixation on being elsewhere because it always means more work for him.

Another little tip: try not to feed your horse or unsaddle him immediately upon getting back to the barn. Loosen his cinch and let him stand tied for a minimum of 15 minutes. An hour is even better. When the horse knows all these good things are going to happen as soon as he gets back to the barn, it’s harder to keep his mind on you. By the way, drinking is another matter. Allow your horse to drink at every opportunity. It’s very important that he not become dehydrated.

Final thought: there is nothing wrong with your gelding. He is just being a horse. These tips will help, but as you become a better leader to your horse, these kinds of things seem to disappear on your own. Every horse is happy to be a follower if he gets the right leader. You will become a better leader as you continue on your journey.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Finding Flicka

We all have expectations about what it will be like to own a horse. The reality is usually different, but we can still make it a positive, fulfilling experience if we get the right horse. Recently dressage great, Jane Savoie, interviewed me on this subject for her web site. The links are below if you’d like to listen to this unedited, hour-long interview. In this blog, I’d just like to reiterate a few key points.

1. Choose a horse with your brain and your heart will follow.
Don't let your emotions rule. Take your time, make a plan, hire a horse expert to assist you, be realistic about your own skills and knowledge, and try to be open-minded about the appearance of the horse. You will grow to love a horse that fits your reality just as much as one that fits your fantasy.
2. Horses are not “one size fits all.”
A good horse and a good human may still make a terrible team. Your ideal horse may be very different from my ideal horse.
3. Novice riders need experienced, calm horses.
Only very experienced horsemen should take on young or untrained horses. The most compelling reason? Safety. “Green on green equals black and blue.”
4. Do not agonize about changing horses.
Many of us end up with the wrong horse our first time out. Don't feel bad. But do take action. Allow the horse to go on to life with someone who is a better fit. It’s the most loving thing you can do for the horse and for yourself. Then you can make another, smarter choice.
5. Keep learning, especially from your horse.
You must be the leader in your relationship, but your horse is giving you a continuous stream of feedback about how you’re doing. Listen to that.

Finding Flicka - Jane Savoie interviews Rick Lamb - Part 1
Finding Flicka - Jane Savoie interviews Rick Lamb - Part 2


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Horse Doesn’t Love Me

My horse knickers when she hears me coming. She comes to the fence to greet me and stands quietly while I scratch her on the forehead or kiss her on the nose. She always lets me catch her. She respects my space. She leads and bathes and clips and loads and does it all without any fuss. She will do simple tricks and take treats very carefully from my hand. She seems to enjoy being in my presence, and when I ride her, she always gives me a try, no matter what I ask her to do.

I certainly love her. But does she love me? I don’t think so, at least not in the human sense of the word.

Human love takes many forms: romantic love, parental love, divine love, love of country, love of job, love of food, love of hobbies, love of animals, etc. Each is a complex mental construct consisting of sense memories and abstract thoughts. It is a product of the human brain.

We can certainly correlate certain human “mind states” to equine “mind states.” For instance, fear. When a horse acts fearful, we think we know how that feels because we know how we feel when our safety is threatened. We can thus empathize with the horse and that is useful in giving the horse what it needs from moment to moment.

But love is different. We expect beings that love us to behave in a certain way, to protect us, even place their welfare above our own. A horse just can’t do that. It’s hardwired to always make its own safety number one. That is part of its essential nature.

I can hear the screams already. “No! It’s not true! My horse loves me!” You can believe that if you want. We can even redefine the meaning of the word “love” if that makes you happy, although that is a dangerous thing to start doing. It doesn’t change the reality: a horse is a horse, not a human.

The tendency to anthropomorphize is strong with all of us and it is often harmless. Those of us who teach horsemanship sometimes deliberately do it to make a point. When a horse is not respecting its owner, Clinton Anderson says, “He’s flicking cigarette butts at you!” These little excursions into fantasy can be helpful as teaching tools, but far too often, horse owners live in that fantasy and get hurt because they think their horses will be motivated by love and not primal instinct when they become frightened.

Horses are perfect just as they are. They don’t need to have human emotions or feelings or “mind states” to add joy to our lives. It is part of the journey to recognize the true nature of the horse in all its glory and uniqueness, and celebrate it for what it is.

Food for thought, my friends.R

Monday, May 4, 2009

Share your thoughts!

Got a question? An answer? A gripe?
This is the place to get it off your chest.
Try it. It's fun!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hunt and Swift Passing

All of us who love horses and are seriously trying to do better in our interactions with them mourn the passing of Ray Hunt and Sally Swift. However, I think what’s most notable about these great teachers is the fact that they left so many talented students behind who are committed to continuing their work. What a great legacy!
In our grief, we say, "there will never be another," and it's true. They were unique and special human beings. However, their importance to the Revolution in Horsemanship is that they have created something that has a life of its own and will go on without them.


Eating on the Trail

Hi Rick,
What is your take on a horse eating while on the trail? I understand stopping and putting the head down is a no-no, but what if you never knew it was happening unless you witnessed it? There is some really long grass out there. My friend has to interupt my conversation I might be having with someone else, or my peaceful scenery observation to tell me what the horse I happen to be riding at the time is doing. I am 35 years old and have been riding since before I can remember. This is driving me nuts. I absolutely love going out every weekend to different locations, but because of my friend, I partially want to stay home. Thanks for your input.

Hi TJ,
I would not be overly concerned about your horse sneaking a bit of grass that is within easy reach. I would be aware of it and be prepared to give the horse something else to think about if it got worse.

Here are the rules for my trail horse: (1) go where I point you, (2) maintain your gait and speed, (3) do not become fixated on the other horses, and (4) respond promptly when I give you a cue. If my horse does all that, I see no need to micromanage her.

Horses often do exactly what we expect them to. There is a connection between what we think is going to happen and what actually happens. If I visualize my horse being calm, confident, and obedient when I ride her, she usually is. However, if I'm worried about her making a certain mistake and focus my mental energy on that, it's much more likely to happen.

This may seem like a bunch of hocus-pocus. However, we know for certain that horses read and interpret all kinds of signals from us that we aren’t aware we’re sending. The surest way to control those signals is to control our thinking.

In short, expect the best of your horse and put your mental energy there. However, remain alert and be prepared to respond to genuine mistakes. One of the best tools for dealing with unwanted behavior is also the simplest: backing the horse. (See my post to Mike on Fidgeting and Surging).

Your friend may have the best of intentions, but don’t let her take the joy out of riding for you. That is its entire purpose.

Fidgeting, Surging while leading

hey Rick
I just use my horse for trail riding only. i have 2 problems that i would like to fix.1. he wont stand still when i stop. 2. when i lead him he wants to walk ahead of me. do you have any pointers to help me with these problems or have a book that covers this?

Hi Mike,
Many behaviors such as fidgeting during saddling, surging ahead while leading, walking off while mounting, moving around at the standstill, etc. are helped by immediately backing your horse up. Don’t do this in anger, but do adopt a strong, assertive attitude and fix the image of him backing firmly in your mind. Start with gentle pressure on the reins or lead rope and escalate as needed to get him started moving. Hold that level of pressure until he’s gone ten steps, then release it, and praise him. Then go back to whatever you were doing. If he makes the mistake again, and he probably will, repeat. Remain businesslike in your attitude, not emotional. You don’t want him to feel threatened in any way. However, you do want him to realize that there is a negative consequence every time for that behavior.

Backing reminds the horse that you are leader and gets him thinking about his feet rather than the undesirable behavior he was exhibiting. In nature, a horse very seldom backs up. He may take a step or two (usually at the request of a more dominant horse) then he goes forward or to one side.

Backing puts a horse out of position to flee predators and creates a feeling of vulnerability in the horse’s mind. When he backs up at your request, it reinforces his role as the follower in your relationship. In other words, it reminds him that he must respect you. When you maintain a neutral or businesslike attitude, it assures the horse that you are not going to hurt him and works on building his trust.

There are no “magic bullets” in training horses, but backing, lateral flexion, and disengaging the hindquarters seem to help in almost any problem situation.