It’s a common phenomenon that you can get really good at doing things at home on your horse, but the minute you arrive at a clinic or a show, it seems like all your hard work has gone down the drain.
The honest truth is—your horse is never going to behave exactly as they do at home when they are out in the world. Does that mean you can’t strive to make your work away from home as successful as your regular rides? Absolutely not!
By integrating realistic expectations that celebrate even the smallest wins, you’ll be able to focus less on the influence of those external pressures and stressors and more on being present with your horse.
Horses rely on routine for safety and comfort. Having exercises at home that you do consistently, and then implementing them in a new environment, is a great way to reconnect to your horses’ mind and body, and to promote relaxation, presence and focus in both of you.
Exercise 1: Leading with Purpose
Walk your horse in a way that exudes the type of calm and relaxation that you want them to have, while keeping your horse’s body a safe distance away from yours, preferably near your shoulder.
Begin establishing safe boundaries with your rope or stick to remind them where you would like them to be. Move the rope or stick in front of them if they try to go past your shoulder, and between yourself and your horse if they push into you.
Do this in a steady, predictable rhythm. Keep your intention, attitude and body language the same—calm, slow, and relaxed, even if your horse is not. Just keep holding the boundaries of your personal space while you move. This will give them the chance to really understand that there is nothing to do but walk, and will give them confidence in your calm presence.
When you notice their eyes soften, their head lower, and their demeanor less attentive to the external distractions, be sure to reward them for settling into the space you’ve asked them to occupy, by giving them a gentle rub or stopping for a break. It’s ok if this takes a while…just keep walking…
Exercise 2: Backing Out of Your Space
Begin by facing your horse and applying a very low level of pressure, asking your horse to step back, first with your intention, and then by moving your rope or stick towards your horse’s chest while keeping your feet still. If they don’t respond, slowly and rhythmically increase the use of pressure with the rope or stick.
Once your horse does respond, even in the slightest way, immediately stop asking—this will show them the moment they’ve tried to do what you’ve asked for. Then ask again, starting with the smallest amount of pressure you can apply, and building in the slow rhythm again.
Not only will this create a safe spatial boundary between you and your horse, but it is also good practice for you to remain present and really notice when your horse tries to understand what you are asking.
This is an excerpt from Chelsea’s new Equestrian Masterclass, Showing Up Mentally & Emotionally for Your Horse. To access the course, as well as a full library of courses from the likes of Ian Millar, Anne Kursinski and more, go to equestrianmasterclass.com