Mounting Anxiety

There are many MANY reasons horses do not stand still for people to mount, but they all lead back to anxiousness (whether it be excitement, pain, or worry about what happens next).

Sometimes the solution can be as simple as letting the horse stand still for a minute after you get on.  Horses learn routines, and if you always get on and go, then your horse will soon just try for the “go” and skip your getting on.

That is obviously a very simple answer.  For people who are willing to look a little deeper into their horses’ state of mind (which for your own safety I urge you to do) you want to look for signs of stress or discomfort in your horse prior to mounting.

Before you put on a saddle, check your horse for sensitivity in their back or girth area (watch their facial expressions as well as flinching in their body).  Some horses that have had a lot of unpleasant experiences with saddles flinch before you even set the saddle on their back.  For those horse you have to build new positive associations with the saddle and riding once you have thoroughly checked for any residual or current physical issues.

One thing important to remember is that just like when we don’t feel good we get grumpy or overreact to things we might normally let slide, horses also become less tolerant when they are dealing with even a low level but persistent pain.  If you have ever had a headache that won’t go away, you can understand how your ability to “deal” becomes limited.

So once you have checked and double checked that your horse is not in physical pain before getting on, you also need to take a look at how your horse feels about the work you have been asking for while you are riding.  Perhaps you went on a trail ride with some hills the horse hadn’t been physically prepared for, or you asked for way more of ______________ than you had before.  Most of us would not go run a 10k without training a few weeks for it, but we don’t often think about adequately preparing our horses for carrying us (because they are horses and we see horses carrying people in pictures all the time!).

The army, which in centuries past used horses to their physical limits, came up with the rule of not making a physically fit horse carry more than 20% of their weight.  So a 1000lb horse in regular physical training would not carry more than 200lbs (rider, tack, & everything).

Working with older horses or those who have had time off, I have noticed that any weight over 15% (of the horse’s weight) causes the horse’s back and shoulders to become sore even if the ride was just walking for 20 minutes.  And these horses were reluctant to approach the mounting block for days afterwards.

Besides physical over exertion, there can also be mental stress.  Sometimes we ask our horses to do things or go places that push them over their fear threshold and it can take days (at least) for their endocrine levels to stabilize and their emotional state to calm down.

While you work to identify and alleviate your horse’s worry, you can practice having your horse follow you at liberty to the mounting block and reward them (do they have a place they liked scratched?) and repeat until you can scratch their withers from the mounting block.  When you do finally get on, get off again without asking your horse to move (do that for a couple sessions).  Then start building up your rides slowly and keep focused on what makes your horse unwilling.  Like young children they can’t tell us why they do things, but if you watch their behaviors and gather information without prejudice, you can make positive changes that make your rides better for both horse and rider.



Positive Reinforcement and Stallions

The temperature had dropped from a muggy 90 degrees to a blustery 52 degrees in a matter of hours. The horses were all running around and leaping into the air to try to stay warm. Of course, I thought that this would be a perfect evening to work with my Andalusian stallion, Frankie (Financiero) since weeks of bronchitis had limited my time with him. For the last month, I had only had a few minutes here and there to do a little clicker training while moving him from one turnout to another.

For this cold wet evening, I had Frankie in his shed pen next to the arena. I was almost out of daylight, so I grabbed my long bamboo pole I used for training horses to lunge with R+ and my treat bag and opened Frankie’s gate and asked him to follow me. First thing I had overlooked was a big feed bucket with old mushy alfalfa pellets sitting right outside Frankie’s pen. He had not had dinner yet so went right for it.

I really didn’t want him to eat the old feed so I tried the “I have something better” game. I asked him to lift his head and gave him a good treat when he did (rather than our usual Timothy pellets). It took 3 or 4 times to finally get him to follow me away from the bucket and into the arena.
One of Frankie’s favorite things to do is to run to the other side of the arena immediately upon entering and see what horses might be hanging out on the other side. Second thing I overlooked was that I has put a mare who was always quite a flirt, in the paddock at the end of the arena. Frankie did his run to the other end, saw the mare and I figured I would have to go get him and end our session in the arena. By the time I got the arena gate latched however, Frankie was running back to my end of the arena and went to one of our stations that we had worked on a couple months ago when I was taking an online multiples class. I was thrilled so I clicked and threw some treats into the pan.

I knew Frankie was cold and wanted to move, so I asked him to target the end of the long bamboo pole. I had only worked with him and the long pole in a couple short sessions during the summer. I did not expect much tonight. But He was more willing to reach for the end of the pole than he had been in the past. The long pole can be very intimidating to horses that have experience with whips and Frankie was extremely defensive when I got him several years ago. But now Frankie followed the long pole and touched the end agreeably.

I then walked over to the platform in the middle of the arena and he got on it quickly despite it being very wobbly. After treating him for his success, I had him follow me to the horsey car wash (hanging pool noodles). The wind was blowing pretty hard so I didn’t ask him to get close enough to be hit by a flying pool noodle. That was the point I decided to try to video some of this. The camera light came on and Frankie was blinded for a more moment since it was well past sunset. I quickly figured out just to point the camera at the target and not at my horse. Sorry Frankie.

So the point of the story is that I had a great training session in the almost dark with my energetic stallion despite the cold wind, a mare and assorted other horses around the far end of the arena, and obviously no lead. Frankie did station by the mounting block as we were leaving but I decided I was too cold for anymore tests on that night;)

Upcoming Events at the Balance Point

Email us to sign up or for more information.girls3b

Clinic Series: Introduction to Training with Positive Reinforcement
I.  Saturday, November 4th, 2017 (2:30-4p)

II. Saturday, November 11th, 2017 (12-3p)
III. Saturday, November 18th, 2017 (12-3p)

Balance Point Liberty Challenge: Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Winter Class Series: Learning Theory
Evening & online group classes


Winter Break Camp: December 26-29, 2017




Sunday, March 4th, 2018: Play Day at the Balance Point


Sunday, March 11th: Advanced Liberty Clinic


Dressage is NOT a Dirty Word

I have recently come to the realization that to many people dressage is almost a dirty word. I’ve heard people talk about dressage with about as much enthusiasm as getting a root canal. If dressage has become torture for people then they are missing an integral part of dressage – it’s purpose.

Charles de Kunffy gives a wonderful definition of Dressage and its ideals in his book, Training Strategies for Dressage Riders. “Dressage, in general, is horsemanship that is based on love and respect for horses. It is aimed at the improvement of the horse’s natural abilities to fulfill his ultimate potential. It results in a happy horse that usually lives longer, stays healthier, and performs better and for a longer time than one not dressaged. The method of dressage includes only natural means for the development of the horse. It is based on mutual understanding, respect, and trust between horse and rider. It is based on kindness and reward rather than punishment, and it excludes the use of force.” For anyone who truly loves their horse, how could you not be intrigued by a training discipline that espouses such rapport with the horse?

The problem with dressage arises when attempts are made to learn more about dressage. People can become lost in what seems like incomprehensible jargon. Or people meet “dressage riders” who go to numerous dressage shows but are afraid to ride their horse outside in the real world. To some it may then seem that dressage is merely painfully tedious esoteric exercises to be performed only in arenas. But there IS a world of dressage beyond the painfully crusty veneer so many people see and cringe from; dressage done with love, respect and understanding – Classical Dressage.

Classical Dressage is not torture, but an art with the quest to let go of our own ego and become one in harmony with our horse. In classical dressage you base your training on the understanding that for a horse to work in a happy, healthy and balanced manner there must be:
Relaxation (suppleness)

With this basic foundation, you and your horse are prepared for whatever you may encounter.

The exercises performed in dressage training are only useful and productive if they are used to solidify the basic foundation of training. Each exercise done with care and consideration for the interaction and balance of horse and rider can increase the physical strength and communication of the pair. Without understanding, the movements of dressage are simply moments of frustration and anxiety for the horse and rider to endure.

The exercises of dressage are taught in the schooling arena to give the horse and rider a study hall in which to practice. The flat surface of the schooling area makes it easier for a horse to find his balance. The geometric design of the dressage arena allows the rider to gauge his horse’s ability to balance and maintain straightness. It is in the uneven terrain of a cross country course or out on the trail where you truly discover the benefits of dressage.

To understand dressage is to understand balance. Without balance you can’t hope to ride in harmony with your horse, and you can’t expect your horse to be ready to take any obstacle in front of him. Dressage exists to make things easier for our horses (and ourselves) and to make them happier and healthier.

Dressage is not a dirty word only to be spoken in quiet corners. It is a language in itself that can expose the intricacies and inner working of our relationship and interactions with our horses. Spoken with love it can enlighten the frustrated equestrian. Spoken without understanding it is nothing but gibberish.

I use the basics of dressage anywhere I find myself with horses: trail riding, jumping, working on groundwork, and even in dressage competitions. With a solid foundation of training in dressage, you and your horse are prepared for whatever you find in front of you.

An Exploration of Harmony & Horses