It’s that time again: time for New Year’s resolutions, even though we all know they’re made to be broken. On the other hand, making a new start and setting goals for ourselves is a constructive (and optimistic!) exercise, and helps us focus on what is really important to us. Setting goals has never come naturally to me, but since I’ve started riding a horse, I’ve found that a little advance planning goes a long way. If I jump on my horse without a plan, he somehow always knows it and always has a plan of his own. But if I know what I want to work on, he can usually be convinced to follow my agenda.So, in the spirit of starting 2005 off on the right hoof, here are my New Year’s resolutions for my horse. Maybe you can steal a few.
- I won’t treat my horse like a pet. A horse is quite a bit larger and stronger than a dog or a cat! (For instance, if your dog steps on your foot, it probably won’t break.) As much as we may love our horses, they can do serious damage if we let them get too close when we’re not expecting it. Show your horse as much affection as you’d like, but only after you’ve invited him into your space. Otherwise, he needs to stay at a respectful distance. It’s tempting to feed your horse from your hand (and lots of people do), but it teaches him to nip. To protect yourself and other people who might be handling your horse, always feed him treats from a bucket.
- I will be deliberate and clear when I give him directions. If you nag your horse by giving a squeeze here and a poke there, he’ll quickly learn to ignore you. Your horse can’t read your mind (even though I swear sometimes mine can!). Try to be definite with your cues. When you ask him to trot, don’t accept an “I don’t really feel like it right now.” The way to earn your horse’s respect is to be kind but firm.I will only ask my horse to do things that I know he is able to do. If you’re teaching your horse a new task, try breaking it down into smaller tasks and working on each piece in the correct order. For instance, if he’s not used to going out on a trail ride, practice in the arena getting him used to new sights and sounds, introducing him to flapping plastic bags, dogs, bicycles and other assorted monsters. Then take a short ride with a friend who has an experienced trail horse. Your horse will learn from the other horse how to stay calm.
- I won’t get angry. And if I do, I’ll stop working with my horse until I calm down. It’s so easy to let anger and frustration spiral out of control, and we lose our horse’s trust if we react in anger.
- If my horse starts behaving badly, I’ll consider physical problems first. When a horse suddenly starts to refuse to work, it’s often due to badly fitting tack, back or leg pain or other health problems. Sometimes it seems as if our horses spend their spare time dreaming up ways to torment us, but if they suddenly turn disagreeable, they’re probably experiencing some physical discomfort.
- I’ll become a better rider. A relaxed rider with a balanced seat doesn’t get in the way of her horse’s movement. A horse can’t go forward if the rider is clutching at the reins; he can’t jump if the rider is tense and hanging on for dear life; and he can’t trot if the rider is bouncing all over his back.
- I’ll always end a ride on a positive note. After struggling to learn something new or working on something difficult, end the ride by just having a little fun with your horse and doing something that he enjoys.
- I’ll find more time to ride. Oh no. This sounds too much like a doomed New Year’s resolution! But the best way to become a better rider and create a more responsive horse is to spend more time riding. Maybe it’s time to get the kids off the couch and into the kitchen. While they fix dinner, you can spend some quality time with your horse!