Being able to get your horse to relax while you’re riding is a very useful ability. If you have ever been riding a nervous horse on a narrow mountain trail, you know what I mean.
I have a 10 Year old Off the Track Thoroughbred-OTTB for short. I have had Bonus since he was 5. He was raced for 3 years; fortunately he retired sound and unspoiled.
Bonus in his Glory Days on the Track
When I first bought Bonus, I was determined to get him going on a loose rein and encourage him to go at a nice slow relaxed pace. It was actually easier than I had anticipated. He loved cantering nice and slow. With his huge stride, he was a pleasure to ride at the lope.
He didn’t tug on my hands and with consistent, well-timed release, he learned quickly to give vertical flexion each time we stopped. His lateral flexion was also easy to obtain. Just a slight tug on one rein would get him to bend around to my foot. Our game has become: Please touch my boot with your muzzle, and he loves to play.
So, his training was progressing nicely until it wasn’t. What do I mean by that? My first negative experience I had with him was when we were on a trail ride. We were going along the trail, he was relaxed but attentive. Then we got close to a highway, he couldn’t see it, but he could hear the cars and trucks speeding by. I finally experienced what happens to him when he gets anxious or worried. He balled up, tucked his nose to his chest and BOOM! It was like the Lipizzaner who performs Airs Above the Ground. All four feet off the ground and hind legs kicking out behind. Wow, when you don’t know it’s coming, it is BIG.
He went from a 16.1 hand horse to a skyrocket. The one thing Bonus and Parelli have taught me is this: Don’t be afraid to GET OFF! When things are turning into a wreck, find the safest place possible and quickly do an emergency dismount. In my youth, I would never have done this. I would ride it out and hope I was still in the middle of my horse’s back when it was over. No more of that for me.
After his rocket launch, not wanting to see if I could stay on through another one, I was able to dismount and allow him to move around me. I didn’t insist that he stand still, I just let him drift to the end of my reins and move his feet. If you have a horse that is usually a thinker (left brain) and a player (extrovert), you have to let them move their feet. To restrain Bonus at this time would have been a big mistake. I gave him some place to go, around some trees, sideways down the trail, backwards up a hill, anything to bring his mind back to me.
Once he was again engaged with me, I remounted and resumed our ride. I could feel the anxiety returning, but this time instead of dismounting, I tried just a partial disengagement of his hind quarters. This allowed him to still move, but gave me the control of his body so that I could get in his way. What I mean by this is I needed to make it hard for him to ball up and explode. With his ribs and nose slightly bent, he was able to relax just a bit. Instead of holding his breath, he had to breathe, which in turn allowed him to relax.
By doing this small exercise each time he gets antsy or overly excited, I am able to reduce tension-mentally, emotionally and physically. He thinks more clearly, he acts calmer and he moves more freely, all the things we want from our horses out on the trail.
Besides relaxation, your horse will experience greater confidence, improved flexion, rhythm and length of stride.