Filed in Category: horse training
Sensitive vs Unflappable Horses
At the moment I am breaking in two horses for a client. They are the same age and have had almost the same number of sessions with me. One is a really sensitive Arab gelding and other is a very determined, unflappable Anglo Arab mare.
Temperament wise they are on the opposite ends of the scale. The gelding is super worried and sensitive and will take flight from the sound of a mosquito burping in Kuala Lumpa. The mare is the exact opposite. Nothing worries her except if you try to change her thought. If you try to get in the way of her idea she will bury you, burn your house down and sell your children to white slavers. Well, this is the way they were when I started with them. Both are much improved now that I am close to handing them over to their owners. They have both move much closer to the middle ground.
But what has been glaringly obvious is the difference in the way these two horses have progressed.
The mare took only about 3 days before I could ride her and be safe. The saddle or rider did not bother her at all. I could probably have ridden her the first day – it wouldn’t have worried her. But what has been difficult for this horse is to get her to respond to the reins and the legs without a fight. Using the reins and legs caused her to have to change her thoughts and this has been cause for a lot of resistance on her part. She fought the reins and the legs like she was angry. Asking her politely had no effect for her. I found if I didn’t firm up quickly to meet her resistance, she would plough through the pressure as if it was not there. But this meant she would also firm up. I have not met a horse with such determination in a long while. We have had a couple of major arguments that left neither of us feeling good about the other. But she believed her manure had no odour and I had to get her to at least consider that my idea was just as worthy as her idea. She is doing really well now when you consider where we started. She has always been safe, but eradicating her resistance to every little request has always been the dilemma.
The gelding has been completely different. Being able to ride him safely has been a much longer process than it was for the mare. Everything scared him. If I raised my hand over the saddle he would scoot forward at lightning speed. Pulling out a handkerchief from my pocket or touching his legs with a rope or walking behind him was cause enough for him to go into a panic. But once this instantaneous melt down started to subside as his comfort and trust built, the level of try, focus, responsiveness exceeded anything I was getting from the mare.
The sensitivity of the gelding meant he had to protect himself from me by running away anytime something new or bothersome happened. But when he learned that going along with me was a better option than leaving me, the same sensitivity could be directed into working in my favour. His sensitivity now made giving to pressure a priority rather than running from it.
I guess my point is that when you have a stoic type of horse like the mare, it’s easy to get basic learning established quickly because they are not so worried about new and strange things. You can throw all sorts of pressure at them and they accept it without too much of a melt down. This means it is easy to bully them into stuff we want them to know. On the other hand, the sensitive type of horse needs to be handled carefully when introducing new things. They need to be convinced things will be okay, whereas the stoic horses will just shrug and say “whatever.” But building softness and refinement into the sensitive horse is much easier than it is for a stoic horse. The stoic horse will always be wondering why should he bother, but the sensitive horse will be looking for how he could get it done with even less input from the rider.
In the end both horses have turned out pretty well and the owner seems very happy. Their training has progressed from opposite directions. I was trying to add the unflappable nature of the mare to the gelding without killing his sensitivity. And I was trying to put some of the geldings sensitivity into the mare without making her a “scaredy cat.”
And even though I was able to ride the mare and take her out on rides much earlier than with the gelding, I know the gelding has more potential for developing a partnership with his rider than the mare.