Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cookie goes from Racing to Relaxing - Tips for calming down the 'hot' horse

Cookie goes from Racing to Relaxing
By Lindsey Forkun, www.LFEquestrian.com

Cookie is about 10 hours into her retraining program with natural horsemanship. She has spent a lot of this time doing ground work – and has had about 3hrs of training with me in the saddle. We work on being slow and relaxed at the walk and trot, with lots of standing still to show her that being still and quiet is a good thing.

Some tips for helping the 'hot' horse to relax for riding:
- Only get on when the horse is standing still for you (no one holding the horse)
- Keep your reins relaxed and never brace on the horse's mouth; instead you can to 'take, take, give' or turn the horse on small circles to slow them. If you pull with both reins with no release in pressure, it is like you are trapping the horse and the horse is more likely to get more anxious, or even rear
- Always allow the horse to slow down or stop (to show the horse that slow/stopping is a good thing), after they slow/stop you can politely correct them to continue.
- If the horse speeds up at all without your cue (even if its just slow walk to fast walk), correct it immediately (to show the horse that going faster without permission is never what you want)
- Only ride with other quiet and relaxed horses
- Get out of your horse's mouth - the mouth is a sensitive place for most horses and bits can make them more anxious and high strung. If you have a rope hackamore, or side pull with no bit, it can help to relax your horse and actually give you more control.

After practicing with Cookie it was time to take her on her first walk around our track. I had another rider lead the trail on a really quiet reliable horse of mine, Spice. Having a quiet and relaxed horse with us helped Cookie to be quiet and relaxed too.

To my delight, Cookie rode around our track (walk only) very relaxed and completely spook free. It was her first time back on a track since racing, and she didn't look like a race horse at all.

I use the track at my facility to provide a more open space to train horses, and also to have a place to ride that is like a mini trail ride. It was very rewarding to see that after such a short amount of retraining that Cookie could walk relaxed on a loose rein around the track.

In the coming weeks we will slowly start to practice more trot work – I have to be careful to make sure she stays relaxed. Right now we are avoiding canter because I am still showing Cookie that I am very different from a jockey at the race track - one of the easier ways to do that is to not canter and have many slow and quiet rides at walk and trot. That way when I do ask Cookie for canter, she should understand that I'll want it to be slow and relaxed, and it’s not about just go, go, go.

Take home message this week: if you want your horse to be more relaxed and quiet, then you need to let your horse know that slow and quiet is always good, but fast will always be corrected right away. Put the long term goal of a quiet and relaxed horse first - which means you might avoid the canter for a while to make sure you have the really solid basics of a quiet walk and trot first.

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