Thursday, November 3, 2011

Developing Work Ethic in Horses

reading horseDeveloping work ethic in your horse ~ well, I didn’t know that you could actually do that!  I always sort of assumed it was mostly came down to a horse’s personality as to whether or not they would work willingly for you. 

But yesterday I found out that while I had considered things that I needed to do to keep my horse happy while working; i.e. not destroying his work ethic, I hadn’t considered that on the flip side that I might actually be able to go a bit further and do something to encourage work ethic in my horse.

 “The varying personalities of our equine friends might convince us that some horses just have more “try” than others.  However, a horse’s life experiences and how they are raised have a lot to do with how their personality develops.  Establishing strong work ethics takes time and dedication and once they’ve been established, if we’re not careful, they can all too easily be destroyed. …

 A horse that has been put under too much pressure or has been asked for extensive, repetitive hard work can quickly lose some of their “want to” and willingness to please.  It might be unrealistic to expect our horses to prefer loping in the arena to snoozing in the sweet clover.  However, we can all benefit from taking advantage of opportunities to positively influence our horse’s attitude toward work.”

In retrospect, it makes sense. After all, we know that if you over do it on the flatwork, your horse will go ‘sour’ ~ get cranky, not work well; basically his work ethic will be destroyed.   But what can you do to encourage a horse’s work ethic?  What does a horse with a good work ethic even look like?

There a lot of differing views on what a horse with a good work ethic looks like, but from all the different horses I’ve ridden I tend to think that a horse with a good work ethic tends to try to figure out what it is you want.   They actually try.  That doesn’t mean that they won’t have their grumpy days, or that they won’t ever be naughty, but I think that you can tell the difference when you are on their backs as to whether or not they will actually listen to you and try to figure out what it is that you want. 

A horse with good work ethic also tends to be more forward going{now having said that a horse can start with out not being forward going; then become forward going and gain a good work ethic!}; although you do have to take into account horses that are naturally forward going and horses with quieter, laid back personalities. 

It ultimately comes down to willingness and softness under the saddle and in the bridle and you’ll know it when you feel it.   So how do you encourage it?

1 –  Fitness.  Firstly, you need to take care of your horse’s physical needs.  If they are unfit, or their tack is causing them pain, etc, they will be unwilling to work; just like you would be if someone told you to run on a twisted ankle!

2 -  Engage their minds.  Make sure you don’t fall into a set routine.  If your doing flatwork, change the exercises up, or try schooling out in the paddock instead of the arena.  You could jump logs instead of fences, practise bending around poles instead of barrels, or how about skipping the saddle and riding bareback?   This is particularly important with young horses that get bored easily.
3 – Treat time.  If the famous Lipizzan horses from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna get sugar during their workouts, it wouldn’t hurt to give your horse a little something once in a while.  Do be careful not to over do it though, if your horse becomes insistent, or expects treats, then you might end up spoiling your good work.   

4 – Treat time times two.  If sugar, liquorice or carrots aren’t your style how about a nice long trail ride?  Most horses love getting out and about and trail riding, cross country or bush bashing are a great way to clear out the cobwebs. 

5 -  Mix it up.  Vary your training regime to prevent boredom.  Two days flatwork, one day trail, two days flatwork, one day jumping ~ etc.  Keep the flatwork limited to two days consecutive and don’t forgot to throw in a little cross training. 

6 – Be consistent.  If you allow dodgy corners and sloppy transitions, then your horse is going to think that that is okay, even when you don’t want them to do it ~ like in a dressage test or at a show!  Insist on getting it right every time.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be accurate.  Repeat your exercises if necessary ~ even little things like straight lines and corners.  Go over it until it’s acceptable and don’t settle for less.

7 -  Praise.  Lastly, but probably most importantly; if they get it right; let them know!!  If you are having trouble with a certain exercise, go back a step and do something you know they can do.  If you set the horse up to succeed,  and you praise them, fuss over them and generally tell them they are good until you tongue falls off, they will be happy to try the harder exercise again.  If it’s a big breakthrough, like you’ve been working on it for weeks, get off!  Give them a massive pat and turn them out.  Nothing says “Great job” like stopping work!  ; D

Taking care of your horse physically and mentally will get them in the right place to work easily and from there on in, it’s easier to encourage them to work with you instead of against you.  Here’s to happy riding days!

See ya!


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