Q: I am r eally enjoying the video classroom! I have a quick question about the video: First Thoughts***. My horse pulls when I take up the reins. I'm working very hard and retraining this behavior by not giving her any reason to pull. It's working very well. My only challenge is that when we're standing still and I confidently take up the reins for "first thoughts" it takes forever for her to release and she never really fully releases....I'm being extermely patient, not pulling, suiting up in my core etc. I'm gently reminding her with a little touch of my leg or moving my hips side to side, I'm suggesting that "this can't be comfortable" but it still takes forever. Suggestions?
A: Yes, I have met horses like that! It seems that horses can learn to 'zone out' in this area more than in other areas of their bodies. When standing still we really run this risk. Because this was...
probably a learned behavior, or an 'inadvertent de-sensitization'... For the next block of time, before you take up the reins, think: "something really important is about to happen", come to attention, get a little excited, and think about like you are posing as if you are going to be sculpted for one of those statues outside famous buildings, (you know, with the famous warrior on his proud horse) :-)
It is likely a 'state of mind' thing. Move his feet a bit, just in place, little shifts of weight, etc. and as soon as he is interactive and alive and responding then drop the reins and slump and relax. Practice this repeatedly and see if it helps!
I did a lot of this with Ovation when he was young and would just lean if i took up the reins.... I would finish our freestyle sessions by walking to the barn, and before I got off he would have to 'pose like the horses in the statues'... make it a game! It is a fun way to re-sensitize him to the reins, and it incorporates the whole body/mind.
*** First Thoughts is from the November 2011 Video Classroom
Karen talks about how to make sure your horse's first thoughts are positive thoughts about connecting with the reins. She demonstrates some simple techniques you can do from the ground with her horse, Atomic. The main idea is that when we contact them anywhere on their body, we want the horse's first thought to be to be relaxed and open. This video is excellent for students and horses of any level! (Discussion/Demo 20 min)