How many times have you been on the trail or in the warm-up arena and heard someone say “My horse isn’t paying attention to me!”? A lot of people can get on a horse and kick it to go then pull it to stop. Unfortunately, many folks are taught that way and sadly never really move on from that point. As time goes by, they wonder why there’s so much disharmony. If your horse could talk to his pasture mates, he might be saying, “My human never pays attention to me!”.
Being more than just a rider takes effort, consistency, trust, education, and a patience that grows out of kindness and caring. According to Pat Parelli, of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, horses are motivated by 4 things, safety, comfort, play, and food. Becoming more than a rider means that you build on those four principles to strengthen the partnership between you and your horse.
Horses seek safety through leadership in their herd. They also expect it from you! Every time you are holding on to the reins or a lead rope , you are providing that safety by being the leader in a herd of two. Horses are playful and curious animals. Use your horse’s natural curiosity to earn their attention. The results can be a flawless flying lead change, a confident creek crossing, a beautiful back up, or a nicker from your horse when he sees you. Horses have the ability to focus on one thing, and block out everything else. Humans on the other hand, tend to abandon focusing on their horse, and then our minds start wondering. Horses live in the moment! When you are with your horse practice living in the moment too! It takes time and practice to build your focus, but a strong focus creates harmony and consistent communication between you and your horse.
Being more than a rider, means making my horses comfortable and healthy. Comfort not only means a warm blanket or the best feed. It also involves things like, taking the time to calmly, and respectfully tack up the horse. Such as, slowly tightening the girth and teaching your horse to lower its head for bridling. When mounted it can mean gradually sliding your hands down the reins to meet your horse with a soft feel that is fair and reasonable.
The list of things that can make you more than a rider are endless. Start with small things and build from there. I think horses and humans, from a backyard pleasure horse, to an experienced trail horse, or a top competition horse can and should achieve a relationship filled with strong focus, harmony, comfort, and curiosity.
Gail Ford is owner of Mulberry River Farm. She is a local amateur rider and competitor who studies natural horsemanship and the fundamentals of dressage.