Helping a horse relax
My horse has a problem with relaxing whilst riding. He gets all worked up and stressexd out quite easily. I have managed to get him walking and and trotting on a loose rein, but (especially when trotting) he still isn't actually relaxed doing it. I try my best to stay relaxed when riding him and sitting tall rather then leaning forward (bad habit), I find this helps a bit.
I have a problem with him taking really short steps with his back legs and find it difficult to get him to use his hind end instead of just speeding up. I have tried transitions and change of direction but it seems to just wind him up more like his brain is just going into overload and he stresses out more. I have also tried just trotting on a loose rein until he stops rushing with his head in the air. That doesn't always work but I find he tends to relax better that way.
I had a moment this afternoon where he just dropped his head level and actually looked and felt relaxed while trotting. It didn't last long but he also felt like he was just being lazy and not really trotting porperly. When I asked him to pick up the pace a bit his head came up and he got all tense.
He has recently had a few weeks off due to being ill and lame. So I'm not expecting a huge amount out of him due to his drop in fitness. I just don't know if I'm going about this the wrong way? Any tip or opinions would be great. :D
There's many different things you could do with him depending on what and why exactly he's doing what he's doing. I'm no expert so I won't go too crazy with suggestions.
What sort of riding discipline do you do?
First off, are you sure he isn't sore or stiff in his back end? And foot sore even-if you happen to be somewhere where the ground is hard/frozen. What was he like before his illness and injury? Was he doing the same things?
He probably was trotting nice and lazy on the loose rein. But, make sure you aren't unintentionally tensing your body when you're getting ready to cue for a gait change. He might be sensing you prepare for whatever cue and then is anticipating it.
There's different things you could try. Like circles and figure eights to work on the rushing. Keep his brain working and don't do the same routine over and over again. Don't let yourself be predictable. What happens when you try to push him forward to move out better at the trot? Try lunging, with side reins if he's used to them, and you're familiar/comfortable with them (I know some people don't like aids like side reins). See if he's able to stretch his back legs forward to track up without a rider.
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Assuming that it is just his nervous personality, and nothing else....I would just keep taking him out and showing him that everything always turns out fine in the end. Little by little, he will feel better and trust you. Make sure you are relaxed as well! Loose rein for sure. I would massage my crazy QH's wither and talk softly to her...I heard that massaging the wither lower's their blood pressure...not sure if it's actually true. I also used rhythm/calming beads....it is a horse sized necklace that has beads and bells on it. The horse is supposed to focus on the rhythm of the beads/bells, instead of all of the other crazy sounds around them.
If he is just nervous, I would recommend talking to him, whistling to him, petting him, even put on some music and sing to him! If I have a horse that is nervous and will not pay attention to me, I do this silly thing and just Sing, "Payy attention, payy attention" and lightly whistle, once I see the horse put their ear back to me to imply that they are listening, they get a pet.
Thanks for the replies.
I ride english, though just trail ride. He has been like this since I got him a couple of years ago though he has very slowly gotten better. I don't think he is foot sore, they are really hard and its easy to to see when something is bothering his feet.
From what I can tell I don't think its the sorroundings or anything that stress him out its actually the work its itself, especially anything faster then a walk.
I don't know much about his history but the girl I bought him from said he was too slow for barrel racing. I think maybe she worked a lot with him on speed. So now in his mind he is like OMG I'M NOT GOING FAST ENOUGH, THERE IS A LEG IT MUST MEAN FASTER. SOMETHING IS COMING DOWN THE REINS I MUST HAVE MISSED THE BARREL!!! That is how I picture his thinking like he just stresses about everything you ask and reverts back to an old habit or something he was taught.
Maybe take some fun trail walks where he doesn't have to be brave and be the leader? I started hand walking my girls first, then riding once they had confidence.
Well, I just wanted to remind you that you've come a long way with him, and the things that you are trying are all good choices. I am not sure there is one and only one way to help a horse relax.
There is always the pain issue, so you have to be very sure that pain is not making your horse want to run out from under the saddle. I kinda doubt that, but that is the question all horsepeople must aske themselves first; is this a pain problem?
If he is nervous, he might need to move out some. Horses can really hold a lot of anxiety in their back and haunches, and the way "out" of their body is the same way; by moving and by loosening the back. easier said than done, right?
at least you can let him go if he needs to, right? and after he has trotted out vigorously, you can start to work on him stretching his head and neck further downward, which helps loosen the back and allow it to swing through the trot. All those physical movements can ease out the tension tht a nervous horse contains.
Some horses have to be worked with lots of turns, or disengagements of the hind. Those would be , I think, those that really go into a panic and want to flee.
Those that are nevous due to their surroundings I might do a lot to keep them busy, such as stopping, backing up going forward, faster, slower, serpentines, and whatever creative thing you can come up with.
Don't get discouraged. you ar doing well and have made definite improvements in your riding, based on the photos you've shared.
I have noticed a huge imoprovement over the years. Now I can walk and trot on a loose rein, which I most definitely couldn't do when I first got him. So I know I have taken some big steps forward with him, I just kind of felt like I got stuck recently.
I did think of pain too but he has been checked and I know its not that.
We are still working on relaxing, bending and disengaging etc, though he still resorts to tensing and becoming some what like a stick that just can't bend.
Thanks for the encouragement.
I rub or scratch my horse's neck and wither while I read, encouraging him to relax. I also sing or talk softly to him, usually in a very mellow happy tone. I make sure that I am not tense and instead nice and "melted" :)
With trotting, any change from tense to relax.. reward it. Reward with a verbal cue or with a clicker (if trained) or with a nice rub. Let your horse cruise control at a slower speed and correct them with minor adjustments when they feel all strung out. Eventually it'll be fine and dandy.
Also keep in mind a good adjustment with an equine chiropractor won't hurt either :)
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