Sunday, August 7, 2016

Balanced Performance: making every moment with your horse count, from barn to gate, and beyond (a series)

 by Mary Gallagher

One lesson horses have consistently taught me over the years is to be present and address questions as they arise, before moving on. We don't know what future problem we are fixing in the present but most certainly, if we ignore the issue in the moment, it will show up again at the most inopportune time. Knowing this has shaped my teaching at home and on the road: make each moment you spend with your horse count!

In my last post, I shared how I had recently witnessed a horse's unwanted behavior at the in gate at a show, a perfect example of an issue showing up under pressure, at an inopportune time:

It's the final class, and the last horse I watch going into the jumper arena is a big handsome guy, a lot like my Koko. He, too, is having trouble leaving the gate; he, too, gets excused from the arena. I see the frustration, fear, and bewilderment he and his rider are experiencing, except this time, I know what will help this pair.

The upset horse at the gate is forcefully reiterating an issue that has probably presented itself at home.  So in this post I'd like to share some tips on how to work toward a successful horse show gate entry at home.

The idea here is to create good feelings about entering the show arena. Remember that your horse is always looking for comfort, and that entering a new arena can be daunting. So let's set you up to play with the concept at home, where your horse is most comfortable, setting up a pattern that you can repeat at shows, reassuring your horse that he is ok on this subject.

You'll want to convey an attitude of readiness and immediacy in departing the gate, followed by the comfort of getting to a destination. Once the horse picks up on this, and associates it with gate entry, you'll have it to draw on at show time.

Exercise 1:

Pick up your contact and walk into your home arena with confidence, at a bright walk or trot. Trot to the far end of the arena, stop, and reward your horse.

Possible rewards include:
  • give him a cookie or carrot,
  • loosen the girth, or get off and loosen the girth,
  • rub and rest on a loose rein.
Try this several times. Make it a special thing you do at home a lot.

Another idea to try is Exercise 2:

If your arena has two gates on opposite sides open both gates. Pick up your contact and walk or trot brightly to the opposite gate and walk out on a loose rein, giving him a rub and a 'good boy!' Repeat as needed.

At the show, this ready, energetic, 'can do' gate attitude will be familiar to your horse, who will be less likely to interpret the feeling as fear, or something new the rider just started doing.

As we all know, good horsemanship means good preparation when it comes to your relationship at horse shows. What we all need to learn and keep learning, is how to make our time at home with our horse, not just in the arena, but in the barn, on the trail, and everywhere in between, count for more.

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