5 Tips for When Your Ride Goes Wrong

Learn five strategies for problem-solving when your horse is having a bad day…or…What to do when your ride goes wrong!

Frustrated? When your horse is having a bad day, try one or more of these five strategies to get back to achieving your training goals—or just enjoying your ride. Photo by Jennifer Paulson

Do you know how to salvage a ride that’s gone wrong?

You know what I mean. During those precious moments we have to ride our horses, what we crave is progress of some sort—or at least an enjoyable ride.

Sometimes, though, our horses don’t go along with the program. They get cranky, or flighty, or resistant, or a pain in the patootie in some other way.

When that happens, it can be supremely frustrating. Trying to force compliance at that point is counter-productive, of course. But what should you do?

Here are five strategies to consider.

1. Is It Ouch?

In other words, is pain or discomfort the cause of your horse’s resistant behavior? (I know you already know this, but I’d have to turn in my equine journalist card if I didn’t remind you to always check first for a physical cause, such as injury, soreness, oncoming illness.)

[Learn how your horse’s facial expression signals pain.]

2. Is It You?

Check with yourself, as well. Are you focused on your horse and your horsemanship, or distracted by personal issues?

Remember, your horse is extremely sensitive to your body language and—let’s face it—your “aura.” If you’re in a bad mood, he’ll know it. Take a few deep breaths, clear your mind, and make sure your cueing is coherent, consistent, and patient.

[Learn why timing and clarity are essential in your cueing.]

3. What Exactly *Is* It?

Use your big human brain and your horseman’s feel to suss out the source of your horse’s problem. Is he feeling too much pressure from a new maneuver you’re asking of him? Give him more time to figure it out.

Is he heavy in the bridle because he’s braced somewhere else in his body? Try moving his various parts (with sidepasses, leg-yields, turns on the forehand, and so on) to pinpoint and soften up the “blockage.”

[Train your horse to do the problem-solving leg-yield.}

4. Is It Time to ‘Fall Back’?

Often the simplest way to get your training session back on track is to return to something your horse does really well.

Is he struggling with his lope circles? Go back to the jogging circles he was getting so round and even the other day. Let him feel like a winner, then return to the new lesson while he’s still thinking, “I can do this!”

[What good horse trainers *never* do.]

5. Is It Time for a Break?

To avoid fighting with your horse, sometimes a productive “time out” is in order—especially if he’s feeling hyper. Don’t put him up—wrong message.

Instead try some purposeful longeing or round-penning, sending him energetically through his paces and asking for crisp changes in direction to get him focused on you and paying attention.

Or simply tie him safely and let him think about things for a bit before you step on him again later—this can work wonders, too.

[Learn the lost art of the ‘patience pole.’]

By the time you’ve worked through these five strategies, you’ll likely have a “sticky” ride going smoothly again, or a balky attitude sweetened up.


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