Tag Archives: Horse Health

WHAT are you really telling your HORSE?

What can Tiger Woods teach you about Equestrian Sport? Read on to find out!

As a rider, have you really considered the importance of your body- it’s alignment, stability, mobility and movement patterns? All of these factors come together to define how you live in your body; and it is this that will determine how effectively you can communicate to your horse.

Your horse isn’t really that smart. Iknow that’s hard to hear; we all like to think our horse is pretty clever and some are certainly more that others. Horses learn by negative reinforcement most of the time with some hopefully positive reinforcement where it is physically possible- through this they come to learn what is required of them when a certain aid is used. But horses do not have the ability to reason so if your body is telling your horse something different to what you think it is, you’re setting yourself up for trouble. If you confuse his training, he will react. Your horse will start trialling undesirable responses to the confusing aids you’re giving him. He’ll act out his confusion. Because if your body is saying ‘Go’ and you think you’re saying ‘Stop’, what on earth should the horse do?

Unfortunately your horse’s brain is hard wired to run away as part of the fear response- although this can manifest in other ways too such as freezing or attacking. This is commonly known as the ‘Fight or Flight’response, and the reason this is so highly developed in horses is due to a primitive part of the horse’s brain called the amygdala. The horse has an amygdala the same size as humans do- but we also have a pre-frontal cortex that allows us to rationalise our fear- such as the paralysing fear of public speaking for example- which horses do not have. Unfortunately the amygdala is also the part of the horse’s brain that ensures that they do not forget fearful stimuli and this fear response may manifest at other times- resulting in danger to the rider, and to the horse itself. It is thus imperative that rider’s body is capable of communicating clearly and effectivly, so to prevent the development of this learned response, which is very difficult to de-train and much better to prevent.

You owe it to your horse to make sure your body is capable of communicating clearly by having the required mobility, strength, stability and balance. To make sure you know where straight is in your body, and that you can maintain that. Because if you can’t do it off the horse, you’ve got little chance on the horse. Trying to change HOW you ride just by riding isn’t enough. It’s too complex and complicated to be able to make fundamental changes. If you were a swimmer and had problems with your swimming technique, i’d take you out of the pool and on to dry land, and teach you in small steps what has to change for your stroke to be better; for your stroke to have more power, more efficiency, less chance of injury.

So why, as a rider, would you not learn to correct your problems in small steps, teach your brain a new pattern of movement, off your horse? It took Tiger Woods two years to change and perfect his swing by breaking the task down and practicing it perfectly- what would the equivalent change mean to your riding? You might not ever reach the prize money that Tiger has reached, but you’ll sure save yourself a lot of frustration and wasted time and money by addressing the fundamental problems.