When the horse is motivated by…

I think many of us have experienced that the horse sometimes is motivated for something else than what we are. Am I right? A lot of horses much rather be with their herd than ride out alone. Or the horse is so much more motivated to snatch a tuft of grass, he’ll ignore that you pull on the reins.

If there something I always thought was hard, that is if I have planned something in my head that just cannot be done that day, and I have to change plans. Sometimes my plans are more concrete than others. It may be that I have planned I would train a specific exercise, or that I’d like to go for a ride in the woods before I train in the arena. Someone once said to me “You have to train the horse you have today.” I think that’s pretty well said. I can’t be sure that the horse I rode yesterday, is the same as today (although they are similar to the confusion :-)). We may never know what just occurred in the paddock, which affects the horse, whether he has been running around in frustration because of a vicious gadfly, and therefore is quite tired when we get to ride, or just can’t meet our expectations that day.

Therefore, I think it’s so important to remember that horses, by nature, are only motivated for five different things:

Food / treats etc.

The herd


Freedom from pain (and thus pressure)

Breeding / Reproduction ( minus most geldings ;-))

It is so easy to become annoyed at the horse if he’s not concentrated on the day, but if you find out what he’s motivated by you save yourself (and your horse) from the irritation and a ride that won’t be on the list of “Best Rides” anyway. Remember that horses are not able to “be cunning or test you out.” With the exception of those situations where the rider unconsciously trained a given behavior, then it is almost always because the horse is motivated by one of the five things above.

So I’ll just share my riding experience the other day: I am finding the right buttons to push on my new beautiful gelding. So when I went out to ride I had definitely planned that we would be the dressage couple today. I had even taken my long stiff black boots on – READ: I was highly motivated to by dressage, otherwise I’m often pretty lazy regarding rigid leather boots! Well, my beautiful gelding has never really lived in areal herd of horses, and has had a hard time adjusting to the hierarchy which means he is now VERY dependent on the herd and paying close attention to what they are doing. We took a walk down the road and when we came back, one of the other riders had her horse out in the arena. Her horse was really freaking out and running around because he had had a hoof abscess and had to stay inside so he just wanted to get out in the paddock with the others. My “I-have-all-antennas-out-horse” caught that of course so his focus and motivation instantly went down the drain…

Do I need to say what happened when the rider let her horse out in the paddock? Let’s just say that all the focus was now on the pack and he ran around and flashed just how much arabian blood there’s is in him. I tried to get him to calm down (I might have had a little hope that we could get back on track), but after a while I could see that his motivation for his herd simply was too big.

So I jumped off and let him in the paddock and he took off like his life depended on it. Was I disappointed that he didn’t stay for a rub as usual? No … Was I angry and annoyed because I had to change plans? No … I gave myself an invisible pat on the back for not thinking I had to “win this fight” or “I’ll keep at it because I will not give up” like I used to before. He was just much more motivated by his herd right there! Honestly, can you blame him when he’s relatively new to a place and experiencing being part of a herd? No, a horse is a horse and when I look above at the 5 things horses are motivated by I don’t see anything called “Being alone in the riding arena when your new herd is running around in the paddock “. So I tackled the horse I had that day, which meant that we should not ride right there.

The following day we had the most wonderful ride, while the herd walked around quietly in the paddock :-)

Have a great day, and remember that if you experience something like that, then it is not because the horse is trying to trick you or “win the fight” he’s probably just motivated by something else :-)


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