Training Tips: ‘Horse Thresholds’

What are thresholds and how can we deal with them?

tresholdsHorses can have fear or leadership thresholds that can involve environmental, emotional or physical issues. These can sometimes show up as ‘napping’ where the horse refuses to go forward and people call the horse stubborn, this could also be something physical or painful somewhere, this should be checked by a vet first and foremost. They can also show up in sceptical horses where everything seems fine but then for no apparent reason they fly off the wall, bolt for home, spin or back up exceedingly fast. All of these really are fear or emotional thresholds or issues but it can also be a leadership or trust issue because if we’re frightened or unconfident the horse will pick up on that really fast and be unconfident or frightened too.

 

For a prey animal horses are asked to do quite a lot of things that aren’t naturally in their DNA. Horses are flight animals that live in family groups. They rarely go anywhere on their own, they are programmed to run without thinking through fear, for a horse it’s good to outrun whatever it was that frightened them or maybe wants to eat them, They are also animals that push into pressure SO when we get a horse going through a fear threshold their instinct to run without thinking is natural and quite often we are in the way and can get hurt. They literally cannot think of anything but running when in full flight mode. For a predator to ask them to calm down and listen is extremely hard to do and even harder to do when the predator is maybe being predatory!

Remember also that WE have thresholds…..this can be fear based such as trauma from a horse accident or going into a new environment  such as a wide open field and a frisky horse. It could be worry that you may have an accident or riding with people you don’t know. We need to approach, retreat and reapproach with our own thresholds too!

SO…what can we do to help our horses and their thresholds?

1. We can really listen to their body language such as where their ears are looking,  are their nostrils flared, is their head high, are their muscles tightening? if so then they are coming to a threshold. If we’re good at noticing these things we can do something earlier, before it becomes a bigger issue.

2. Once we’ve noticed a worry in our horse we can carry on and help the horse by being confident and assertive (not angry, frustrated or predatory) and this often can help a horse be more confident with us. If the horse stops and wants to look then let it, if the horse stops and snorts then there is something worrying it and we can back off, turn around and go away from the worrying thing (even if you can’t see what it is) or we can get off our horse and ask it to walk on or away to help the horse find confidence in us and relaxation over the situation.

3. Each situation is something you have to figure out with your horse as to what to do next. Once you have a good connection with your horse you should be noticing everything that it ‘says’ to you in it’s body language. Doing something earlier is better than doing something later and helping to understand your horses feelings and emotions goes a long way to being connected and learning to trust each other.

4. With the issue of a leadership threshold, where the horse doesn’t listen or trust us enough we need to learn to be ‘leaders’ in a way that helps our horse overcome issues it may have. By being a consistent, confident, quiet, calm leader where your horse can follow with confidence, because if we’re not confident about leading our horses won’t be confident to follow.

5. We need to make things familiar then take everything into a slightly unfamiliar place and create the familiar there too. To progress we take small steps into the unfamiliar and bring it into the familiar regularly and keep at it to progress. What we’re looking for in our horses is relaxation, attentiveness to our requests, willingness to perform those requests and curiosity with confidence. What we need to look for in OURSELVES is the ability to be confident by making sure we know the techniques to help our horses relax, to be confident in the ability to retreat out of a scary place if it’s making US or our HORSES worried at all and to be able to have techniques to help US relax in any situation even if that means GETTING OFF, BREATHING, RETREATING and RE-MOUNTING when we feel we can.

Being overly brave outwardly but scared inwardly really upsets horses, they read us beneath the surface, so don’t try to make it by faking it, it doesn’t work with horses. We need to ‘get our butterflies in formation’, find our confidence through consistency and progress at our and our horses pace.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Training Tips: ‘Consistency, Consistency, Consistency’

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Some horses and their owners have no trouble going out and about, trekking here, there and everywhere. I was one of them with my solid, calm gypsy cob Tara. She and I have gone over hill, glen and rivers for hours on end in our time riding out and we have a lot of photographs to remember them all by too. But since getting Solly, my TB x Highland, things have been slightly different. He has a sceptical nature, is a live wire sometimes and takes a long time to trust SO going out has been eventful and now very rare. But that is hopefully going to change 😉

The reason I decided not to hack him out any more was that I don’t want to have any accidents with him or to loose his trust in me. Our relationship in the field with training (liberty, online, lateral ridden and jumping) has become very good, when we started in the field there were places that he wouldn’t ride even though it’s where he eats every day so I knew he would be worse in new environments. His ground work is going well but he changes character when I ride him, from a bored, lazy horse who needs motivation to a sceptical horse that can spook at something that’s not there. For this sort of horse consistency is the best teacher.

When one of my students has trouble with a technique, a task, riding inconsistencies or unconfidence in new places I always say ‘start in a small area, build to bigger area’s and use consistency for confidence and don’t forget to progress’. Working with these methods helps gain the horse/human connection from their normal comfort zones to larger area’s which then become their new comfort zones. SO…this is what I have done with myself and Solly too…..we’ve gone back to basic’s and finding RELAXATION through CONSISTENCY so that we can stretch our COMFORT ZONES to larger area’s. (See previous  blog post –  Training Tip: ‘Stepping out of your Comfort Zone to Progress’)

This week we’ve started the CZT process (Comfort Zone Training) as I was away for quite a while teaching and with family to the point that our ‘connection’ was weak. I will endeavour to write about the experience of approaching and retreating with comfort zones (his AND mine) here on this blog and hope we can help and inspire others having similar experiences. I will put it all in the new category ‘Comfort Zone Training’ and make it a series of posts with video if I can.

It will hopefully show how consistency basic’s can be used to sweeten a new area for your horse by only changing the environment not the techniques and this then helps bring  relaxation quickly so that the new environment can be added to your original comfort zone which equals progress. I will also talk about you and horse ‘THRESHOLDS’…these are where fear/flight/fight/shutdown can occur so we need to take care of those to help everything go smoothly.

For me it’s about keeping the connection and not pushing a horse through his thresholds  to where his instinct kicks in and the communication/connection is lost. Once we’ve gone there we’ve lost relaxation and we’ve not listened to our horses fears and thereby lost his trust in us. I want a horse to have complete trust in me so that I have complete trust in him and with some horses you just need to take the time to allow this to grow together :)

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

 

Training Tips: What is Savvy and how do you get it?

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Horse Savvy to me is having the ability to ‘read your horse, his behaviour, his moods, his play’ and also being able to have ‘a calm, spontaneous response to an unexpected situation’.

Savvy doesn’t just sort one problem out, it is about remembering and comparing an accumulation of experiences that develops over time and it is this that brings confidence and savvy around horses.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

 

Training Tips: Keep it FUN

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It’s hard to remember to keep the fun in training but it’s really important to do so for our horses and for the relationship we are trying to build.

Learning to task for a while and leave things on a good, fun note so that we can return and progress another day is a great way to keep things in perspective. You will often find a day off training helps to give the horse time to think on what he has been learning and come back with renewed interest and understanding of the lesson.

What is not so good for the horse is to task repeatedly over and over and over in one day trying to get perfection. This can bore and sour a horse to where they become robotic and I feel it is mild form of ‘forcing’ a horse and then they are less inclined to come back the next day with a smile on their faces OR if they are an introverted horse they can come back robotic or shut down.

SO..keep your training progressive but also fun.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Training Tips: Leave your emotions at the gate

I’ve written a few articles on subjects such as Intent, Focus, Breathing and Space to show ways we can get connected to our horses but the ONE thing we need to learn is to ‘Leave our emotions at the gate’.

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Don’t bring your anger, upset or fear to your horse. Try to leave any negative work or home issues at work or home. Being in the now with your horse is what works the best. It also means that whatever happens in your session don’t bring any emotion apart from love into that either. Don’t be angry with your horse for doing something you didn’t ask for, don’t bring frustration or fear to the session and always finish on a relaxed positive note.

Bring confidence, awareness, focus and love in all you do with your horse and most of all ask with clarity and without any emotional baggage.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy(See Previous Articles for other subjects)

Training Tips: Practice makes perfect

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The best tip I can give anyone doing anything is that ‘Practice makes Perfect’, that the hard work of learning something you’ve been taught well is to go over and over and over it until you get the muscle memory of it in your body and your mind.

It’s like when you learned to drive, or use a computer. To start with you were unsure and unused to what to do to make things work, how to start, stop, turn in the car, how to download, upload, find search engines, keep files for photographs BUT you learned one thing and did that for a while, then another question came up and you learned how to do that and did that for a while. Soon you were doing those first few things without thinking about it but you kept on asking questions and learning more about your car or computer until the first things were easy, light and you didn’t think about it and the new things integrated easier and faster.

It’s the same with Horsemanship. Learn your ABC’s, practice until you don’t have to think about it and then as questions about where you stand, what the horses feet should be doing, what kind of energy you need keep cropping up find out what you need, listen to your horses feedback and practice the right thing when you figure it out.

It’s the muscle memories of the practice that make everything happen when you need it to in circumstances such as in a lesson or in an emergency.  When you need to do something new in a lesson all the homework you’ve practiced doesn’t need your mind to think about it so practice opens up the door to progress. Progress for learning, for lightness, for relaxation, for ease of cues, for your thoughts being in tune with your horse, for everything you do with your horse.

SO, practice, practice, practice and if you are not sure you’re doing something right or you need more information to progress then have a lesson or watch the dvd and upload more data to your biggest muscle, your brain.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Training Tips: What are you looking for when training?

This is often the hardest thing to know or be aware of when you’re learning horsemanship…..what are you looking for when playing/training/riding? To have an end result or goal is one way of looking at it, but another way is to use the training techniques to achieve something far more important….a well balanced horse….physically, mentally AND emotionally.

My main aim when working with a horse is first and foremost for the horse to be RELAXED. Calmness helps find curiosity and with those two things the horse is very teachable because he/she can take things in well and remember good experiences. If the horse is worried or fearful he/she will also be bracey in it’s body and mind and won’t remember anything good apart from how it felt when something was being done to it so relaxation is my first and last criteria of any session. To see relaxation in the horse we also see confidence and rhythm in it’s paces, these two are missing with a fearful horse.

 

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The next criteria on my list is COOPERATION, which is shown through the horse being willing to accept my requests and to enjoy interacting with me.

My third criteria when working with a horse is IMPULSION. This isn’t impulsiveness and doesn’t mean the horse runs around without stopping, it means the horse has the same amount of whoa and go, that it can stop lightly and nicely just as easily as it goes forward in any gait and is all about balance. When the balance of whoa and go are good then you’ll see the horse be more balanced in it’s own body, it’s core will be more engaged and so will his hindquarters. This is pure athletic energy that allows the horse to go or stop with a whisper.

And my last criteria is FLEXIBILITY and this means that the horse is equal on it’s left and right sides and is as  symmetrical as possible. This way the horse can go in a straight line without the reins holding it in place. All horses (and humans) are born A-symmetrical and we all need working on to help become more symmetrical. Once we’re more symmetrical  we’re straighter and our aids become lighter, our reins can be lighter and not have to be used for keeping the horse straight and we can start to ride the dance of horsemanship.

While working through the HS Criteria list I often go back to RELAXATION when a horse needs me to help find that, this is the most important of all the criteria as without this one ingredient good learning doesn’t occur SO make sure it’s there at the beginning of the session and at the end. I also move around working on one or more of the criteria using my Horsemanship Techniques and work out what each horse needs on each particular day.

A horse that is fearful may just need calming to find that relaxation with me from the start. A horse that is more of an alpha may need me to help it find relaxation and willingness when playing with some techniques. Some horses may need to be working more on willingness and impulsion and others may need lots of flexibility play whilst still trying to find relaxation.

So, each time I handle a horse I am thinking of what the horse needs at that moment, what it needs to progress and what the owner wants to learn or where it’s training is leading to. Having the criteria to make sure whatever I do helps keeps the horse RELAXED, WILLING, FLEXIBLE with balanced IMPULSION is the key to progressing without any brace…brace in it’s body, brace in it’s mind or brace emotionally.

Learning should always be done through relaxation, confidence, curiosity and FUN.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Training Tips: Stepping out of your Comfort Zone to progress

You may have heard about ‘Comfort Zones’ and to get out of your own to progress, this is true but there is also more to it. To progress you need to step out of your comfort zone but if you step too far you may get worried, out of your depth or plain put off going there again SO here is a quick outline of how to progress without going too far.

 

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Here is a good image of your comfort zone, it has the learning zone just outside and the wilderness on the outer edge.

 

 

 

 

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To learn anything you need to step out of and back into your comfort zone to the learning zone. Doing  this often  can help build your knowledge through consistency but you don’t want to go too far through that section or you could find yourself in the wilderness zone where you could end up lost and too scared to go out of your comfort zone again, sometimes for a while and sometimes forever, so just keep dipping in and out of the learning section.

 

 

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By stepping in and out of your comfort zone you will increase your confidence  and build a solid foundation of knowledge which will increase the size of your comfort zone. This then takes the learning zone further out so you have to go further for that but it also takes the wilderness zone miles away too.

 

 

 

I call this approach and retreat with learning, keeping your CZ safe. It’s accumulative learning and works not just for us but for our horses too. Approach and retreat with scary objects, new learning and building confidence and knowledge at our and our horses own rate keeps things safe and calm and good learning can only happen when those are in place.

SO…keep your Comfort Zone safe but don’t forget to dip into the Learning Zone to PROGRESS :)

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy