John's topic was on facing our fears, "Fear in the Horse, Fear in the Rider, & Yikes! It's Gonna Eat Me!" He made some really wonderful points. Things that I think many of us lose track and focus of. #1 most important point was to HAVE FUN WHILE RIDING. That we have horses to have fun, and we need to always focus on that first and foremost. If we can't or don't want to ride our horses, then we still need to focus on what it is about having horses that makes us happy. Even if that's just watching them eat grass and petting their noses. He made the point to *D what you CAN, not what you CAN'T*. Some of the thoughts for that:
- Don't ride (or work) your horse when/where you don't have control. If your horse is very barn sour and you can only ride at the barn, then ride at the barn. By working the horse in it's comfort zone and gently pushing the borders (shades of Ryan Gingerich's Green, Yellow, Red here) that zone will eventually begin to expand.
- Work on what you and your horse already know. Don't make every session a training session (or conditioning session - as us Endurance riders at apt to do). Take some time to just go over your basics. Be proud of what you have accomplished so far. Reinforce and strengthen your horse's known cues.
- Practice what you want to learn. You need to be 90+% perfect in your practice, otherwise you are teaching the mistake. If your horse isn't getting what you're trying to teach, you need to go back and look for a missing or weak step in the process. Go back to working on what you know.
- Don't work on the problem, instead focus on what works - what it is you want.
The main point was to CHANGE OUR FOCUS WHILE RIDING from the negative to the positive. John got on a Fresian mare that had earlier that day bucked off her rider while in that same arena, spooking at some balloons. The mare was very hot and anxious. You could see how nervous she was. John commented on how if he was thinking "I want this mare to be calm, to stand still, to walk near these grandstands, etc" those were all things the mare was not currently capable of. What *could* she do? Well, she would turn on the forehand, she could flex her head, she could yield her hindquarters, etc. By just constantly circling her back and forth, letting her walk until she would be come tense or try to speed up, then circling her again, back and forth, back and forth while talking with us - pretty soon you could see the mare start to relax and gain confidence. By the end of the clinic, he had everyone in the grandstand make as much noise as possible and the mare stood still in one spot and watched us, about 10 ft from the rail, less than 20 ft from the beginning of the bleachers.
His point on this was "you can't force respect, it has to come to you." You can't MAKE the horse respect you, you have to earn it. One of the best ways to earn respect is to choose a simple exercise and achieve the correct response every time. For this mare, it was a turn on the forehand, yielding her hindquarters. This will help to build rider confidence as well, in that you will begin to recognize that you have control. "Don't try to do what you can't, do what you can."
John told us to focus on the physical parts you can touch. The rider of the Fresian mare said she had an "attitude". John asked her to put her finger on the horse's attitude. Or put your finger on your horse's fear, or spook, or trust. It can't be done - instead focus on what you can touch, what you can control - make it simple. For example, he would start the mare walking and say "I'm going to focus on her tail, nothing else, just her tail. By picking up my rein, I turn her and move her tail. That's all, that's all I want to do, just move the tail. We're not worried about her head, or her shoulders, or her legs, just her tail." To do this best, there are 4 steps:
- Pick the physical spot you want to control
- Pick the direction you want that spot to move (i.e. tail to the right, left eye down - BE SPECIFIC)
- Use constant, consistent even pressure on the reins to move that spot (he wasn't doing much with his legs at this point - the focus was more on problem horses, just ONE cue).
- Release the pressure when achieved
These type of exercises will make your horse lighter and more responsive to the bridle. This will help to further build your relationship by building control. Focus on the control, the response to the exercise. It will help both the horse and the rider begin to relax and build confidence.
For spooky objects:
- Don't focus on the spooky object - look past it. Acknowledge it's there but then channel your focus to something else.
- Pick an exercise your horse knows (circling, sidepass, shoulders-in, etc). Concentrate on that exercise instead. "We're going to work on circling here. Oh, there happens to be a horse-eating log over there? Well nevermind, we're over here doing circles instead."
- Work where you CAN on the exercise, not where the horse is tense and worried, where it is comfortable and just somewhat unfocused.
- Stay focused on the exercise. Gradually work your way closer to the spooky object.
- DON'T STOP. Once the horse is stopped, it can too easily bolt, rear, spin, teleport, buck, etc. Keep the feet moving. Don't let your horse walk over and sniff the scary object until it's already not worried about it. Stop is more likely to equal explosion, controlled movement is much better.
John concluded by saying that most all riders/people will experience fear at some point, that's just our common sense working. Being brave isn't having ANY fear, being brave is being fearful but being able to face and address those fears. To being working through the problems and issues. "When there is no reason for the fear, the fear will go away."