Saddle Up with Beth Eva: Leadership and Balance

Hello again friends!  Beth Eva of Heartland Ranch Horse Training and Lessons here to talk about how to establish leadership and have a “balanced” horse.  Although these may seem like unrelated subjects, they are actually very closely intertwined.  Gaining our horse’s confidence as a leader and establishing respect are the building blocks for setting our horse up to be balanced in his mind and body position.  Let’s examine this more closely with some examples that may help you understand the concepts of leadership and balance, and how they work together in our relationship with our horse.

I like to establish leadership with my horse at the same time I’m creating balance in him by playing a simple game.  The game is called “I’m going to ask you to do exactly the opposite of what you want to do”.  By playing this game you dictate who is in control, which creates respect in the horse the same way it does with their equine pasture mates, while keeping them from committing to a mental or physical position that leaves them out of balance.  An example would be riding in the arena and selecting the opposite, or at least different, choice than what the horse wants to do.  If you’re riding to the fence and you feel the horse wants to turn left, you turn right.  If he wants to walk, you trot or lope.  If he wants to be forward, you work on slower more technical maneuvers. This very clearly makes the statement that you are wholly in control of his actions and your relationship with him.  It also keeps him guessing so that he remains in a more neutral mental and physical state where he is better balanced and able to respond properly to your cues.  If your horse is sure that when you reach the fence you’re going to turn left, he’s going to take control and commit himself to that course mentally and physically so that when you choose to turn right instead, he’s mentally caught by surprise and physically out of position to properly execute your request.  When you create a situation where your horse is equally ready to increase or decrease speed, turn left or turn right, and stop or go forward, you’ve created balance in your horse.

All too often I see even experienced riders make the mistake of giving in to the demands of their horse.  You can’t let the horse be leader 90% of the time, and then expect that he’s going to relinquish his control to you when you decide you want to be the boss that remaining 10% of the time.  In our ‘riding towards the fence’ example, if you allow your horse to choose what direction he turns when he reaches the fence most of the time, the times where you finally try to make the decision you’re more than likely going to be met with some strong resistance.  In the horse’s mind he’s the boss, and who are you to try and tell him what to do?  He’s been running the show up till now, and will not easily give up that control to you.  In the horse world, you’re either a leader or follower, not a council of equals, so they either take control or expect you to.  If your horse is constantly having to pay close attention to you and your cues to try and figure out what he’s supposed to be doing, then he will usually choose a more neutral, balanced frame so that he can more easily accommodate your request.

It’s also very important to tailor this technique to each individual horse.  If you’re too demanding on a sensitive, anxious horse you can cause major problems, and if you’re not demanding enough on a more numb horse he’ll remained poised to take back the leadership role from you at his first opportunity.  Start with small requests, reward the “try”, and be consistent above all else. Earn your horse’s trust and respect with a firm, fair hand.  A mentally and physically balanced horse is safer, more athletic, more responsive and in general is a more reliable performer, so strive to take responsibility for your role as a leader.

As always, if you have any questions about today’s lesson, or are having any trouble applying it your horse, please feel free to contact me or seek out another professional for assistance.  Thank you for reading, and have a Blessed day!

Beth Eva, Owner/Trainer

Heartland Ranch Horse Training and Lessons


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