I have been riding since I was a kid. I remember thinking “How could someone NOT spend every day with their horse”. Ha ha sweet naïve child… As I graduated high school and went off to college, I began training colts. Again, I was spending all day, every day with a horse- again, I was almost mocking someone who claimed to “not have time” for their horse. I remember thinking “Make time!”
And yet, here I am. Hustling, working as hard as I can to build my business, support my husband and get our little family settled in West Virginia. The other day my main mare was being a jerk. She wasn’t being herself and she was acting so sour. I have done just about everything on this little mare, she is as broke as they get- and I couldn’t figure out what her deal was. “She’s never sour”….
And then it hit me- right up side the head like the tail side of a whip when you get just a little too western with it..
The only time I spend with my horse- is when I want to work. I don’t spend time on ground work unless they are being shits, I don’t catch them to grain them, brush them or love on them. I use them for work, play or nothing.
The only time I was spending with my mare, was when I wanted to work the crap out of her. Riding her hard, not really enjoying the ride as I should had. I wasn’t spending time or riding her just to ride her.
So after our little tune up in the round pen, I spent as much time as I could spare before night fall, just on her. I brushed every knot out of her tail, I brushed some of her winter coat out, I gave her a good rub down and just talked with her.
I focused on what her energy was at that moment and made judgement calls to help bring her energy to a more relaxed and content stage. This inspired me to try and build a line of connection to her, like I hadn’t had before.
It’s not about having a horse that is perfect, it’s about having a horse that is perfectly fit for you.
- Victoria Dellapaolera
This exercise is really simple and easy for anyone, at any level of horsemanship to do.
The beginning process
Enter a good sized pen with your horse – a round pen works great for this. For a moment, just take it all in. Take a few deep breaths and focus on how the space feels. Is your horse tuned into you, or is he looking outside of the pen, paying you no mind at all. Take about three minutes and really try to tune into your horse.
Does your horse seem rearing to go and pushy, or are they quietly waiting for your direction... or- do they not care about you at all. This observation is a good foundation to discover where you need to go to move forward.
Feel this energy and ask yourself how does this make you feel?
Once you have let this soak in, begin slowly working your horse in whatever method you are comfortable with. Focusing on keeping the session slow, calm and really focusing on tuning into your horse. This isn’t a training exercise, this isn’t the show ring at Quarter Horse world. This is you, bonding deeper with your horse. Keep a mental note at how he is behaving. Notice their ticks, their behaviors and their personalities. Really focus on the horse themselves, instead of how well they are listening to your commands.
When you horse seems to be tuning into you, let him come to a rest. If you are on a halter/lead combo, let the lead carry some slack so it is hanging loose, and if you are working at liberty or loose in the pen, just simply allow your horse to come to a stop on his own, and watch his actions. Basically, stop actively pushing them and let them stop on their own.
Do they stop immediately after you stop pushing them- (Either from lots of ground work, or them being tuned into you) or do they make a few trips around the pen before coming to a rest.
If they don’t stop- that is okay. Just let them go, he will eventually come to a rest on his own.
Again, take a few moments and take a few deep breaths. Focusing on the connection between you and your horse and focusing on what this energy feels like now.
What does this energy feel like to you, how is your horse reacting and did it change after you worked them for a few minutes? After times goes by, do they snap back to you once you release the pressure- or do they start gazing outside of the pen and begin to lose interest in you?
What are they doing, and why?
With my mare, she felt like she needed to go-go-go. She wasn’t her normally docile self, and she was acting like a colt ten years younger than her. Knowing this isn’t normal for her, I worked to gather back her mind through round pen work, and the moment I felt that energy change, I changed.
She was doing this, because I was pushing this upon her. I was always “Go-go-go” when I would go for rides, and I wasn’t just enjoying the time spent together- which can be said for all aspects of my life.
This feel and release is working on you, not the horse. The point of this exercise is for me to become tuned in on how she is feeling and showing them that you are willing to build these communication bridges to them in a new way.
It is important to note- this is still groundwork. If they are naughty, disrespectful or dangerous, proper actions need to be taken by the handler to help stop these issues. After doing this exercise with my mare, I did it again with my other two horses and it was a really cool connection- that was different with every horse.