Have you ever noticed horses that just seem to do anything their rider asks? Everything is usually easier, safer, and more enjoyable if when you ask your horse to do or learn something they respond with ‘yes.’
Not all horses are the same. To figure out how to get your horse to be a ‘yes’ horse, you need to understand what your horse craves.
There are many ways to describe different horse personalities and characteristics, but I want you to focus on what does your horse want most. Keep in mind that cravings can change from day to day or even moment to moment.
What is your horse craving?
Now a lot of you probably read that list and think the answer is treats – horses always want treats right? Although most horses do like treats, that’s not always the most important craving.
Let’s take a look at each one of these unique cravings to see which ones fit your horse.
- Does your horse like to repeat the same thing? Your horse gets better and better instead of getting defiant or sluggish when you repeat tasks.
- Does your horse stare wide eyed for several minutes after doing something new or difficult? Normally when a horse is thinking or relaxed they will be blinking. Horses that need more time to think stare wide eyed. Other signs include how long it takes your horse to take a deep breath, lick and chew, or relax and lower their head.
If you answered yes to both of these questions, your horse needs you to take things slowly. This means introducing one new task at a time and allowing them to literally stand and think about it for several minutes. Go slowly and allow them lots of time to figure out what you want without getting frustrated or rushing them. As soon as they get it, stop. Then allow them lots of time to process what just happened. Then you can try again.
- Does your horse seem to always be trying to look at you? They seem to always be checking in, wanting to see what you are doing, or just watching you carefully?
- Does your horse seem to relax when you give a praising rub, or a friendly voice of ‘good job’? Some horses will relax their posture, lick & chew, start blinking, and do more of the good thing you just praised after getting your approval.
If you answered yes your horse likely craves your approval and praise. They are constantly looking to you for reassurance, or they get an ego boost when they’ve done the right thing. Praise can come from giving them lots of scratches and rubs, or your voice telling them they are doing a good job. However you praise your horse, they just want to know that they are on the right track.
- Is your horse a bit of goof, picks up things, head tosses, or just seems hard to focus?
- Does your horse hate repeating the same thing?
- Does your horse seem excited about new places or things, or grumpy and lazy on a circle?
If you answered yes your horse is likely craving play. Play can come in many forms. You can try to teach your horse new tricks because they like to be clever and learn. You can try doing more changes of directions, changes of tasks, transitions, or changes in environment to keep life interesting. You can switch up their routine and try a variety of things like trail riding, arena riding, ground play, free jumping, etc.
For example even though you are working on flying lead changes, you can vary the task by doing some over poles or a jump, on a diagonal, in a serpentine, or during a weaving pattern. In between the different exercises you can switch focus and practice lengthening and shortening stride or transitions to keep their mind engaged and challenged – but also you can think outside the box and let them try pushing a ball, knocking over a barrel, or play at liberty.
- Does your horse always want to stand really close to you? They seem to crowd you and always want to be right beside you.
- Does your horse like circles or working in a smaller safe space?
- Is your horse easily distracted and may often be looking around even though nothing is there?
If you answered yes your horse is craving protection and wants to feel safe. Although every horse wants to feel safe, this type of horse is a more worried type of horse. They really need you to show them you are a safe and fair leader.
These horses want a very clear focus and consistent boundaries. They feel much better when you can protect your space and can move them around.
For example you can give them a focus of what you are working on such as circles, transitions, changes of direction, etc and you can repeat the same tasks over and over until they really relax. For clear and consistent boundaries you can pay attention that you aren’t moving out of the way of your horse – instead get the horse to stay out of your space. You can make sure your horse maintains direction, speed, and watches where they are going and correct them if they try to switch it up without your cue.
- If you use a treat as a reward, will your horse try to repeat the same action even without you asking?
- After having a few treats, do they still seem just as keen?
- If you let your horse watch you put some treats in a bowl, cover it with a lid and then give it to them on the ground, do they eagerly try to get the treats, or do they give up?
Although many horses want treats, a lot of them crave one of the 4 P’s more. Save treats for when your horse learns something new, or does really well. As your horse becomes more of a ‘yes’ horse you can make the horse work a little harder to get one. You can put treats in buckets around the arena, and during your ride you can take your horse to them. You don’t need much, a small piece of a carrot or fibre nugget works. Remember some bits and nosebands make having treats a choking hazard so be careful.
Think about the cravings and which ones seem to fit your horse. Your horse may fit really well into 2 cravings, so you’ll need to give more of both of those to your horse. For example a lot of horses that like Play also like Praise, and a lot of horses that like Protection also like Patience.
Whenever you’re working with your horse, try to think about satisfying your horse’s cravings. Then your horse will start craving you. This is key to creating a ‘yes’ horse and opening the door to incredible possibilities.