We’ve all seen it; some of us have even done it.
A rider leaving the arena, the course, the trail … with horse in hand, following with his head hung in shame. The rider mutters “I don’t know what’s gotten it to him… He’s never like this… he was an absolute A%$#$@#*.”
The rider is fuming; the horse refused a jump, an obstacle or an element, a coach usually is lecturing ‘you need to force him to go’. The famous words “if you allow him to get away with it once, he’ll pull this every time.”
Really??? Is there a small possibility the horse is trying to tell the rider something?
Several years ago when my son was still quite young, him and a group from the barn went for a hack in the mountains, my son’s horse could be a royal pain and yes there were plenty of times our trainer would be yelling…”You have to be the boss.” As they were riding through the wooded area, laughing and enjoying themselves, my son’s horse came to a screeching halt and refused to go. Everyone in the group was giving my son instruction on how he had to force the horse forward, but for some reason my son said no, turned his horse and headed back to the barn.
It was a good thing he did. He still tells the story how he and another friend had made it safely to the meadow in front of the barn, when several rider-less horses blew by him; followed by others running like crazy, then riders on foot, turns out there had been a rather large bear just a few hundred feet around the bend. Good thing my son chose to trust his horse, he was the only kid in the group and was leading them he would have been the first to encounter the bear.
Another example of listening to your horse. Two years ago, I was at a show barn that I often go to, so my horse and I know this arena very very well. During the warm up, my horse refused to ride deep in one corner, which was super odd for him, it was a pick and choose my battles moment so I did not push it. We left the arena and the first rider’s horse started to hesitate at the same corner – except the rider forced her horse into the corner and as soon as they started the bend, the arena footing gave way, the horse fell and the rider was hurt.
I don’t know if my horse knew something was wrong or not, but I do suspect a friend’s horse was keen on trouble ahead when it refused to go forward through a series of XC jumps. She had been schooling at her barn’s cross country course; a course they took daily, the horse suddenly refused at a spot the horse had never had an issue with before. There was a battle which the rider “won” in forcing the horse, and a few feet after the first jump, the horse hit a gopher hole the horse broke its leg and the rider is still in a coma.
Last week after a huge snow storm, my mare refused to go through the hall into the arena. We’ve been at this barn riding in this same arena for four years, walking through that same hall for four years. Snow had drifted through some cracks in the walls. After several attempts and I seriously assessed the situation – no, there was no mountain lion in the arena. I toughened up and the mare was encouraged to go forward a little firmer than usual.
It’s a fine line to understand when a horse could be telling you something is wrong or just being a brat. Sometimes a rider just has to know when to trust the horse.
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