Two examples of times I did nothing to fix a problem and it worked out great: or, fix everything else to fix the problem: or, the problem you think you have is just a symptom of a larger problem:
——Case 1: thoroughbred who bites. The big TB bit at me whenever I was close to him, pinned his ears, and if I tried to touch him might swish his tail or try to kick me.
Here’s how I approached it:
Step 1- why is he biting at me and kicking at me? Firstly, he had ulcers. Treat for that. Secondly, he was covered in rain rot. Treat (carefully) for that. Thirdly, his poor body was bound up like a knot. Rehab for that.
After three weeks of pole work and slow in hand work, he yawned, licked and chewed and put his head down for the first time. He was in so much pain, of course he wanted to bite me.
I’m told his previous trainer described him as lazy and would kick the snot out of him to get him to go. This is an off the track horse …. the fact that he wouldn’t go is a dead giveaway something is wrong.
Did I let him bite me? Of course not. I blocked any bites headed my way (block, not reprimand. They’re very very different), but more importantly, I tried setting him up to feel better, and made sure when I did touch him it was in a place he could handle (neck, back, and girth area were off limits).
Now almost a month later, he’s happy in his expression and hasn’t tried to bite for a while.
Solution: fix everything that caused him to bite
Case 2: horse roots on the reins
This little horse would root the reins out of his riders’ hands whenever contact of any kind was taken up, and sometimes while just standing on a loose rein. This horse was not pushy in any way, and otherwise did not go into pressure. This made me think the problem was not a misunderstanding of giving to pressure, but a check engine light on. I told the rider to do nothing about the rooting, and hypothesized it would go away on its own.
Step 1: fix the rhythm. This little horse was so nervous and overreactive to the leg aids, he’d about zoom off and get to worrying. So the first thing we told him is all we want is for you to be in balance and a good rhythm. Soon enough he slowed down, relaxed his back, and started putting his neck down. He went from an upside down banana to a nice stretchy posture.
Step 2: tell him the leg does not go against the seat, and it doesn’t mean rush off. First we told him with the seat to follow each seat bone in rhythm, then when we apply the leg, the leg and seat compliment each other. Horses hate having a seat go against the hand and leg (in other words using the leg and hand without moving the seat in rhythm). Pretty soon we could move his shoulders without his head popping up.
Pretty soon this horse was no longer rooting on the reins, but was happy, relaxed, and buttery soft in the reins- actually seeking them out instead of scared of them.
This rider had nice hands, and this horse was not pushy, so the rooting to me was an alert that the horse mentally was not ok. Fixing his balance and understanding of the seat and leg made a world of difference to him. When the horses body and mind were right, the rooting stopped.
Problem: rooting on the reins
Solution: fix the balance