What Does Your Horse Enjoy?

Working with Guinness has reminded me that it is really important to learn what your horse enjoys – and to allow some time for what your horse wants to do.

With Guinness, his owner was realizing that he is pretty lethargic and can be pokey when in the arena. However, outside or on a trail, he would be much more willing to work with.

Just like people, horses have different things they like to do and different things they don’t.

Below are some helpful ways to know what your horse doesn’t like:
– Reluctance to go forward
– Pinning ears
– Swishing tail
– Avoiding going into the ring or in the area where you do the ‘task’
– Trying to be ‘cheeky’ and change direction or go sideways to avoid the task

Sometimes a horse can not like something because it hurts or it’s too demanding for them – make sure your horse is healthy and that your equipment fits, especially your saddle. Also, make sure your horse is physically and mentally ready to do whatever it is you ask.

In Guinness’s case, his loving owner made sure his saddle fit and he has a clean bill of health. She also has the help of an experienced coach who tried lots of ways to try and make dressage fun. Guinness just doesn’t enjoy this type of work and it takes a lot to get him motivated to do the forward gaits and collection – but out on the trails, he is much happier and willing.

In this scenario, his owner decided to put Guinness up for sale – so that someone who wants to trail ride can enjoy Guinness.  She will try to find a horse that enjoys and is more easily motivated to do dressage and arena work.

Since I have started working with Guinness, I have found that he is a brave boy and loves to try new things and explore new places. He is much braver than a lot of other horses that I have worked with – on the first ‘ask’ he went up and down steep banks, under a tarp, and over a creek. When something is new, he is excited to try it.

However, when Guinness gets ‘excited’, it just means a perkier walk – on the trails he can ride at the back of a pack of riders with everyone in full gallop and he just lopes along happily. He is so calm and relaxed. This means I have to be creative to help keep him motivated for trots and canters, otherwise, he can be pokey.

For this, I always keep trots and canter in short bursts or directed to something. I want Guinness to think its okay to trot or canter because I’m not going to ask for too much – or we just have to reach the top of the hill. This helps to make him more eager to go and a little less pokey.

Some things Guinness enjoyed:

– walking on a loose rein

– standing still for rubs

– riding on a loose contact

To help get Guinness motivated, I would ask for something difficult like a collected canter, and after a few strides of really nice ‘work’, I would let him do something he enjoyed. We would take turns doing things I wanted him to do, and things he wanted to do.

It took longer for me to have a full ride and do all the things I wanted – but in the end, Guinness was happier, we didn’t get into battles, and he became much more willing to go when asked.