Are you a pushover? So many riders describe themselves this way. And this is unfortunate because what’s happening between you and your horse on the ground, is a good reflection of whats going on in the saddle.
Groundwork is so important. Every single conversation you have with your horse starts and ends on the ground. Failing to pay attention to what is happening there is simply setting you both up for frustration and maybe even anxiety.
What Are Boundaries
Boundaries are the rule book between you and your horse. They are where you define what’s ‘okay’ and what’s not. And it is the lack of a boundary that causes issues when the arise between horses and their riders.
Often you won’t even recognize you have a boundary until your horse has overstepped it.
Think back to the last time you felt a ‘negative’ or less than desirable emotion when working with your horse. I can bet it was because he either did something or didn’t do something, you expected of him. You see, you had a rule. A boundary. And your horse broke it.
The good news is that once you begin noticing your boundaries, or your rules, you can begin actively enforcing them.
Your Electric Fence System…
Imagine having an electric fence around you. I say this because most horse owners and riders understand how effective this is when managing horses in paddocks and fields. If someone was to push up against your fence, your boundary, would they be shocked? Or would they be able to continue pushing until maybe the fence breaks?
It is really important to realize that it is your responsibility to turn your electric fence on
This is enforcing your boundary. There is a clear and definite point where you won’t tolerate the other person (or your horse’s) pushing. And what’s nice is that once they know where the fence is and that it is turned on, they begin respecting it.
Are Boundaries Boring?
It can feel that way initially, especially if you are used to the ‘free to do what you want when you want it’ style of horsemanship that many people now tout as being ‘natural’. However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if you have read this far, you’re having issues with your horse. So, maybe it is time to try tweaking things a little?
Riders who have strong and clear boundaries can truly enjoy their time with their horse.
They don’t experience the anxiety, nerves, worry, or trepidation that other riders do on a daily basis. This is because they are not always wondering what their horse will do if a ‘mood’ takes him. They are also very aware that these boundaries are first put in place when on the ground with their horse. They are then later carried over to when they are in the saddle. It all begins on the ground.
Knowing The Limits
Think about your horse in his usual paddock or field. He knows where those boundaries are. He feels safe when inside of those boundaries. Now, think about when he is put into a strange place he’s never been before. Often the very first thing he will do is figure out the new boundaries.
Horses like to know where they can and cannot go. They thrive when the ‘limit’ or the boundary has been clearly defined for them. This allows them to settle in and really begin to get to know the space they are in.
Your job, as ‘team leader/trainer/rider’ for your horse, is to clearly define your boundaries. Then explain and show them to your horse. From here, you must enforce them. A boundary is not a boundary until it is enforced.
Knowing the limits allows your horse the space to step into his own confidence and begin taking responsibility for part of the teamwork
Clear Expectations & Rules
A boundary is basically a rule. If there is anything in your riding, or in your interactions with your horse on the ground that is causing you to feel frustration, anxiety, or any other negative feels, it is because a rule is being broken. There is something there that you would like to happen differently.
Noticing what we don’t want is often the first step to begin inning to define what we do want.
Every time you ask your horse something, you have the desired outcome already imagined or mapped out in your head. It is when you don’t get this outcome that the negative feelings begin to show up. For example, if you put your outside leg back and expect canter, but your horse turns in or bucks. Or if you stop while leading your horse and he doesn’t. He runs you over as he walks on past you. It could be that you want him to lift his foot when you tap it in a certain place or a certain way. But he stubbornly refuses to budge, maybe even leans over onto said foot!
Next time you feel yourself tensing up over something your horse did or did not do, celebrate! You have now been given a clear opportunity to begin redefining your rules and your boundaries
Horses Have Boundaries Too…
Think of a horse who become anxious or nervous. This is probably happening because a boundary he believes exists has been broken…
Your horse also has his own set of rules. “If I feel or sense this, I must do that”. Or “if my ‘person’ does this, it means I must do that”. The trouble begins when the rules don’t align! Which is really common when you get a new horse or a horse that has been worked with by someone else.
Re-training or re-schooling horses is simply redefining the rules or the boundaries to where you want them.
A lot of negative feelings that are expressed by horses happen when the horse’s boundaries have been crossed. When the horse’s expectations of the rules have not been met or been broken. A conversation is two ways. Meaning that your horse must also have input and a say.
When your horse feels comfortable, heard, and understood regarding boundaries, he will begin to express this in how he shows up. His confidence will grow and this results in a physical change in his way of going.
Being Consistent and Fair
Boundaries require consistency in order to be fair. I have helped so many riders transform their relationship with their horse by simply applying consistency to their rules. Rules on the ground and when in the saddle.
It is unfair to the horse when the rider allows their current mood to dictate the rules.
They flip from one day being absolutely hell-bent on doing ‘the thing’ the ‘right’ way. No wiggle room at all in their approach. It must be this – nothing else is acceptable. There is nothing wrong with this approach until the rider ‘flips’. Maybe they are tired or feeling rushed. Either way, this ’thing’ that they so diligently enforced the previous day is now no longer important. The rules change with their mood.
In order for a boundary to be fair, it must be consistent. Even when it is uncomfortable or awkward to do so.
If you do want to change the goalposts, I’m going to suggest creating a different playing field for you and your horse. A different arena. Or different tack. Maybe it’s the time of day. Things can change, but there must be a definition of the change.
Clearer Boundaries = Better
So many riders want to become ‘better’ when working with their horse. A better rider, or a better leader. You can do this today by becoming clearer on your boundaries. By simply showing up and deciding what is allowed and what’s not, you are already better than the last time you worked with your horse.
And if you’re unsure of where to begin… Think about the last time you felt frustrated, angry, nervous, anxious when with your horse.
Negative feelings are a clear indicator that a boundary has been either pushed up against or crossed. You might not have actually defined the boundary yet, but the feeling you are experiencing is telling you it is there and it needs reinforcing.
Additional Resources on this Topic:-
- Boundaries; How They Work for You In Your Riding
- Online coaching and audio horse riding lessons for equestrians
- Groundwork for Riding
- Online community for equestrians working on their mindset & fitness
- Online Community for equestrians focusing on re-schooling horses (and ex-racehorses)
- The Daily Strides Podcast on iTunes
- The Daily Strides Podcast on Stitcher Radio