The Evergreen horse

I taught a lesson the other day for new clients. They described their horse as being evergreen. It is a term that is fitting for many horses that don’t seem to progress. There is obviously many different factors that are to be considered when judging the progress that a horse is or is not making. The amount of time we spend working the horse, the methods we employ while training, the experience and expectation of the rider, confidence, and so many other things I can’t list them all.

In most cases I would say that it is the rider that holds the horse back. I certainly have met many horses that had difficulty learning, but even they were held back only because the methods that were being used to teach them were too rigid. What I mean by this is that they often needed an alternative approach that their handler was not able to provide for them.

When I say that it is the rider that holds the horse back I am not trying to offend anyone or point fingers because there are many good riders that never seem to get their horse beyond perpetual greenness. Some riders are more used to riding a schooled horse. They know how to ride well but they do not know how to introduce or encourage their horse to perform something new. Frustration then sets in for both horse and rider and things start to fall apart or progress grinds to a halt.

I also see riders that have ridden for many years but have only ridden a few different horses. When their old faithful mount gets retired and they start to ride a much younger and greener horse the rider doesn’t have the same degree of confidence and either does the horse. When the comfort of familiarity is not there it can cripple progress.

If the horse is green because of layoffs due to injury or lack of time on the rider’s hands there is no real problem. If progress is slow because we don’t know how to proceed from where we are or it is just frustrating both horse and rider we need to take a different approach than the one presently employed.

If you don’t know how to proceed think about what your ultimate goals are as a horse – rider team. Think about the maneuvers your horse will need to be able to perform or how reliable he will need to be, You need long term goals and then short term achievable goals so you can have some degree of success every day you work together. Simplify the long term goal into multiple pieces, and then break those pieces in to smaller pieces and you will have something that you can work on. For example maybe you would like your horse to do flying lead changes (long term goal), before you can do that you would want simple changes to be consistent, before that there would be quiet canter departures and a balanced canter, before that any canter that is not out of control is necessary, before canter is trot and walk. If you can not achieve the next step you should concentrate on the step you are on. Each step leads to the next and if the next step falls apart you have a step to fall back on.

If frustration has set in because you don’t think things are progressing fast enough think about how much progress is realistic for 1 lesson. If you got 1% improvement every ride you would have your horses training finished in 100 rides. It doesn’t matter how good a trainer you are that is not going to happen. Think about ¼ or ½ a percent of improvement on any given day. If you can say at the end of your ride that the horse is better, not necessarily good but better then you should be happy. Improvement is a slow and gradual thing and should be encouraged every time you ride. It is only when we are satisfied or we settle for what the horse is doing that it stops. Not all horses are generous about what they do for us and others try too hard. If your horse is not generous you must be more supportive and encouraging not demanding, if your horse already tries too hard you should ask him to do less. It is quality not quantity that is important and consistent, quiet, encouragement will go a long way to help your horse continue to improve.

Think about letting your horse be better rather than trying to make him better.
© 2008 Will Clinging