Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How Do You Relax Your Horse?

I really enjoyed reading the comments regarding bending and flexing your horse. I forgot how fun it can be to talk horsemanship philosophy. Since I'm working all week and it keeps storming on the weekends, so that I can't do anything with my horses, I may as well get some good dialog going about horses. If you can't ride 'em, talk about 'em.

I'm interested in hearing what each of you do to relax your horse. This can be from the ground or from the saddle. I've heard clinicians talk about teaching your horse to lower its head to get it to relax. So far, I have taught my horses to lower their heads so that I can get a halter or bridle on them, and I have a cue that gets them to lower their heads in the saddle in order to collect, round up, and push from behind. I've helped vets twitch horses to settle them down enough to give them their vaccinations or perform a minor surgery. That works well, but obviously I'm not going to carry a twitch around in my saddle bag and try to dismount and use it when some animal jumps out of the brush and startles my horse on a trail ride.

I'm in the habit of grooming my horses before putting any tack on them. Grooming helps relax them unless we are in a completely new environment. In that case, they just jump around and snort, oblivious to the fact that they are being groomed.

Stroking the horse's neck in reassurance sometimes works for me, but I think what works best is if I take some deep breaths myself. The horse feels my body relaxing from the deep breaths, and eventually the horse herself takes some deep breaths, and then I pet and praise her.

What about you and your horses? What helps your horse relax?


Katharine Swan said...

The universal one, whether I am on the ground or in the saddle, is laughing. Panama visibly relaxes if something startles and I laugh about it. I've played so many desensitization games with him, I think, laughing the entire time, that he associates my laughter with "It's just a game" as well as "Mommy's not worried."

When I'm in the saddle, I talk to him constantly, and I think that also helps. I've also been letting him graze a little on trail rides, something I've never done before, because he is so much more relaxed after he has put his head down for a few moments. Interestingly, although yelling is supposed to have the opposite effect, a loud, low, "Quit," sometimes makes him stop and think about what he's doing when he spooks at something.

Grooming, I'm afraid, isn't terribly relaxing for Panama unless we're in the sun, and then I think he is relaxing because of the sun and not the grooming. :o) He is really ticklish, so if I can be gentler and use a soft curry he is better about it, but right now he is antsy about grooming because I've been using my shedding flower on him a lot. I will be glad when all this infernal hair is gone!!!

fernvalley01 said...

I talk to the horse or hum, sometimes a soothing voice with a soothing hand to help relax them . When riding , same thing talk to them and give them physical feedback, a slight seeat or leg adjustment or a bit of light contact on the reins, just to remind them I am there with them

baystatebrumby said...

My horse generally likes to slouch into a relax mode anytime she is not moving. Is this lazy? If it is I don't care. I know Honeysuckle Faire says to sing to your horse to relax him. I tried that once on a trail ride that had a crazy incident and then I had Debby Boone stuck in my head for 2 hours. Long after the horse was over it, I was still singing that damn song! If you sing, just pick a song that you really like!

Mikey said...

ACE!! lol, just kidding. Or not.
I like giving a good massage, letting them know my touch is soothing. Relaxing myself works well too. Lot to be said for that!!

Grey Horse Matters said...

I always start out with a good grooming session before saddling up. Then as soon as we walk away from the mounting block I relax my body and basically hold the reins by the buckle. I always make sure I have long reins so they can get their noses almost to the ground if they want. I just let them mosey around the perimeter of the ring on the buckle and softly talk to them and rub their necks or manes and tell them how good they are. Sounds silly maybe but it works for us, I'm afraid if I sang to them with my voice that might very well give them a good spook.

All my horses steer with just a touch of my pinky finger directing the rein, my legs are relaxed and resting on their sides and until we go to work this is how we start off each ride.

Sydney said...

Grooming works. I always groom before I ride/drive (unless it's bareback and bridle less in the paddock)Calm voice, even if something is completely scary. Indigo knows the word "easy" and automatically slows her pace when I say it.
I find sometimes if they are really wound giving them some hard work calms them down. They realize goofing off and acting up results in some hard work.

Cheryl Ann said...

With Gigondas, I sing. There's just something doing that which relaxes her. It certainly isn't my voice!!! I relax when I sing, so she relaxes, too!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I don't like to sing out loud so singing isn't relaxing for me, though I have tried it before. I just sound even more awkward and nervous when I do sing. lol!

And grooming doesn't seem to be enjoyable or relaxing for Apache either. Weird, because I am so used to how Baby Doll would basically fall asleep when I groomed her. But Apache gets antsy and impatient with grooming.

I at first thought it was because in her previous homes, she wasn't typically groomed unless she was to be tacked up and ridden. So I was reasoning that she felt uneasy with grooming because she expected it to be short and fast and then she'd be put to work.

But I've went out there to groom on her many times and not saddled her at all, and she still backs away from the brush or gets grouchy during grooming.

When I'm grooming her out in her paddock while she eats and I take out the metal shedding curry, she will eye it suspiciously and sometimes run away! I wonder what that could be about? Could someone have used it as punishment to hit her? Weird.

So, let's see to relax my horse, I will gently flex her neck (sometimes with a cookie when she flexes around) and often talk softly to her when we ride, "Good girl" and rub her neck. I can visibly see her relax when I talk soothingly and quietly with her, especially if I'm giving her positive encouragement :)


Katharine Swan said...

Lisa, is it possible that she is really ticklish? Panama is very ticklish, and I had to find a super soft curry, one with those soft rubber fingers, before he would relax at all while grooming. He is still impatient, but at least he stands more or less still. If I use a hard curry he is a jumping bean the whole time!

juliette said...

Sorry I found this post too late. I groom while our TBs graze before tacking up. After I am up in the saddle, I do sing, as Bay State Brumby said. I am not a very good singer, though, so it doesn't work too well if I am riding with someone else! The other thing that really works is to let my reins out completely. I know that sounds like suicide, but it really works for me. I use my seat and legs and relax my upper body. They respond so well.