By Jennifer Forsberg Meyer

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H&R file photo
Credit: H&R file photo
There are many ways to make your horse unhappy. Here are four specifically to avoid.
Ordinarily in this blog I share ideas for understanding your horse better in order to influence him more effectively. This can make the experience of riding and training more enjoyable for both of you.

If, however, you’re dead set on simply making your horse unhappy, here are four sure ways to go about it.

1. Nag, nag, nag. I don’t mean him, I mean you. When you ride your horse, keep pick-pick-picking at him over something. Be like the mother who constantly yells “stop bickering!” at her kids, but never does anything to actually stop the squabbling. If, for example, your horse is lazy and tends not to move out willingly, just keep up a steady bump-bump-bump with your heel or spur. Don’t accelerate the pressure; that might get a response that would enable you to reward him by stopping the bumping altogether. Remember, the goal is to make your aid an irritant your horse can’t get away from or learn by, rather than an effective tool of communication.

2. Correct mindlessly. If your horse misbehaves or fails to do what you ask, get after him instantly with a swat or some other penalty. Don’t stop to consider whether you’ve inadvertently asked for the behavior yourself (by botching or mistiming a cue). Or whether your horse is responding to a related pain or discomfort issue that should be resolved before you continue training. You’re the boss; he’s the horse. When he displeases you, smack him.

3. Drill, baby, drill. If you’ve just made a breakthrough and taught your horse something new, practice-practice-practice. Horses learn by repetition, right? So keep sidepassing over that pole until the cows come home. Or ask for that lead change 20 times in a row. Don’t worry about boredom, or soreness, or your horse coming to hate his job. If it’s fun for you, have at it.

4. Go for ‘bigger.’ If you’re having a communication problem of any sort with your horse, solve it by switching to a more severe bit. No need to know the finer points of how various bits work and when one might be indicated. If you don’t like how he stops, or if he roots in your hand, or if his head’s too high—heck, if there’s anything you dislike!–get a “bigger” bit. It’s quick, it’s easy, and you’ll feel as if you’ve solved the problem. (Whether you actually have solved it or just made it worse—that’s not our worry today.)

OK, there you go: four easy ways to make your horse miserable.

Now, if making your horse unhappy is not your goal (and, let’s be serious…I know it’s not), then here are links to ideas for training him a better way: how horses learn; ride-smart secrets; the bit gallery.