Problem Horses - Aslan's Story 4 - Accept the Rider with Confidence [Slideshow]
Horses are very susceptible to changes, especially environment. Until now I worked with Aslan in his field. He has gained enough confidence in me and my tools that I took him into our outdoor arena. I wanted to see if he was only afraid of people and training in general or if he also had environmental fears.
As Aslan made so much progress in his acceptance of the flag, the stick and string and as well the green ball, I thought it was time to go to the next step: Accept the rider on his back with confidence.
Aslan has already been ridden, but when he was started it wasn’t done with much savvy and unfortunately his very first experience with a rider on his back was a very scary one. He started to have a very strong habit of taking off under the rider. He could also not stand still for mounting.
Restarting the horse to overcome bad memories
Horses who are truly ok and in peace with a rider on their backs will usually stand still for mounting and the chance that they buck or take off is way reduced. Skipping this important point during a colt start can cause way bigger trouble later on in the horse's life.
Now, as Aslan has some bad memories about the rider, this step will take a little longer than with a “normal” youngster. I will take more time and will go more into details with him in order to be sure he is really fine. Confidence is the most important to him – otherwise, he will not be open for communication. In this post, I will show two sessions.
Slideshow with step by step explanations
I went to check all the friendly games with the bareback pad on his back and had a big surprise: He was terrified by the noise the stick and string made on the pad! So I changed my plan of the session and took a long time to fix this. Riding a horse without daring to make any noise is not such a good idea…. Better fix it now than have trouble later on.
Changes that appear tiny to us may be significant to the horse. Just because the day before he was so good with everything, doesn’t mean he will also be good with it when he is wearing the bareback pad. Take the time it takes and it will take less time later on.
Aslan finally relaxed on the unusal noise on his back and so I decided to go to the next step: As I am too tall and heavy for him, I asked our working student Mathilde to be my assistant. She is working on her Level 4 Parelli, so she knows the principles and it is very easy to work with her. The first step was to get Aslan used to jumping up and down next to him while lightly tapping the pad. You can see he is sceptical – head up and one ear stiffly back. I am not trying to keep him from moving, it has to be the horses decision to stand still
We do the same step on the right side as well. Why? Because the horse will also see the rider with his right eye.
Mathilde quits the jumping and tapping the pad whenever Aslan looks at her – like with the flag and the big green ball: we want the horse to confront, connect and participate and if we reward just at that moment the horse will get the habit of connecting. This was all we did in this first session of accepting the rider and learning to stand still for mounting.
The next day we went on to the next step: The potato bag. First I asked Mathilde to touch Aslan everywhere also on the other side. You can see he has the ears back and the tail slightly tucked – he is tensed. I leave the rope long so he doesn’t feel trapped and he can move if he has the feeling he has to.
After jumping up and down and tapping the pad he gave us green light to proceed. I helped Mathilde on to lay over his back. You can clearly see Aslans tension: Head up, neck tight and ears are stiffly pointed backwards. Mathilde is gently stroking him while talking to him.
After about 3 repetitions Aslan could finally turn and look back to Mathilde. This is very important – it helps the horse to realise better what it happening and to connect to the future rider. He still wouldn’t lick and chew, it took him about 15 minutes to relax and do the first sigh and lick.
We continue on the other side. Mathilde is asking politely for permission to approach the shoulder. This also proved very important with Aslan. We repeated the sequence of jumping up and down then laying over the back on each side about 5 times and asking permission each time. Each time he would first block Mathilde out – like you can see on this picture – and after having said hello he would turn his nose back straight and give permission to proceed. Whenever we didn’t respect this little thing, he would move when she jumped up and down.
He is checking out Mathildes legs. Some horses might start to bite into the riders legs and shoes – this is not a big deal at this point. They are just curious and remember, curiosity comes after fear and before confidence.
Aslan had to yawn big time after this session. Yawning is not a sign of the horse being tired or bored – it is a sign that the horse is letting go of inner tension and stress. So it is a very good sign in this case. We did our best in order to respect him in his fear about the rider and to give him a good experience.
Read more about Aslan