Getting Your Horse or Pony on the Right Routine
Whether it is an animal or a person, we all thrive better with routine. It helps us find our rhythm. Why? Routine cuts out worry on certain things that are essential for surviving, like where is my next meal coming from, where is a safe place to rest, where are the rest of my community or herd, as it is for horses. If you are interested in our weekly exercise routine, you can check it our here.
Decision making is tough and tiring. We want to save our energy to learn new things, not constantly worrying about the basics. It is an inner instinct in us all, whether human or animal. It is how we have survived and evolved. Routine helps us develop and learn.
This is why it is so important to build up a routine slowly. Introduce things at a rate the mind can process and become familiar with it. We have all gone to some day long event or an intense workshop or meeting and came out with our heads hurting because of the information bombardment. How much do you remember afterwards? Probably just one or two things that applied directly to what you are doing right now and the rest, well, someday and it is all soon forgotten. This can also trigger the ‘bunny in the headlights’ effect and start to create a panic within thinking of all you have to do, often to the point that you do nothing and just run. While realistically, this is counter intuitive to getting a job done, panic and fear instils the response run to the hills and just run away from it until it goes away. Even though when we know it won’t, it instils procrastination because of this natural response and things just end up piling up. Our horses and ponies are no different. They are the ultimate fight or flight animal. So the best advice, keep things simple for them.
Is there are real difference in horses and ponies?
Anyone how has worked with both will know the survival skills of a pony seem to be much faster than most horses. They are just cuter. They don’t seem to need such a strict routine. Isn’t that right? But why? Is it just the difference in the two species or is it the fact that a child will not bombard a pony with 20 million new things to learn in one session but focus and repeat, to learn for themselves and the pony gets a chance to do the same. They both learn the routine together.
For the majority of ponies, their stable routine is much simpler. The quiet, safe child’s pony doesn’t tend to be treated like a top-class showjumper (even if it has all the gear), the routine is different. While the competition pony may have started as a quiet one, they are not exactly what you would pick for a first child’s pony because we have been trained to be athletes. We have a lot to do with how we create our horses and ponies to turn out and one of the main differences, their routine.
Another great point to consider, how much kids love their ponies. How much time they spend talking to them and playing with them, creating a true relationship and friendship. Again, this is a very calming ritual that kids do unknown to themselves, which creates a that space where their pony knows they are safe to rest.
This is something we have always done, stay talking to our horses, let them hear voices. Let them know they are safe and create that relaxed and calm space in the yard. It also helps creates a clear definition when it comes to correction which we will look at in a moment.
Points to Remember
- Build your routine slowly, introduce things one at a time until they are accepted.
- Stick to your routine to create that safe environment that becomes a base point.
- Connect with your horse or pony every chance you get
- They should know the sound of your voice.
Creating a relax space as a base point
When you start to create a clear relaxed routine, your horse or pony will start to learn a relaxed and trusting state. We regularly have the radio on in the yards, yes it breaks the silence, but it also gets our horses very familiar with the human voice. Again, it becomes routine. So, when they go to a show, there is one less unfamiliar thing they have to worry about because they are happy with hearing voices, sound and music. Sounds are an alert a horse which will trigger an instinct ‘is it danger and should I flee’ so introducing it as part of their routine gets them familiar and takes that worry away.
Horses and ponies in big yards will soon become very used of activity and this becomes part of their norm. If you have a quiet yard, it is good to include in your routine bringing them somewhere busier to act as a stepping stone to going to events and shows.
Creating a base point like this for your horse where the learn to accept things as the norm in their routine will reduce the trigger for panic mode and flight or fight response. Introduce new things over time and let your horse or pony become familiar with them.
When your favourite song comes on the radio....
What is right and what is just not on
Horses and ponies ultimately want to please you. They are like kids though, they do try get out of things if you let them. They do like to challenge from time to time because we all need boundaries, so when a fair boundary hasn’t been clearly defined the may well test for it. Like kids, unfair boundaries will be challenged regularly.
When you have created a clear base point with your routine, it is far easier for your horse or pony to know when they have cross the line and what they are doing is. This is probably most apparent in the Spring time, yep, it’s fine to have a neigh, toss the head and even kick up the heels to show the joy of spring but then let’s get back to it. It is spring after all. But when it starts getting too much, a quick correction and back to something they are familiar with will help you get them back on track. Strive to get the rhythm back from your routine rather that stay in conflict too long. This way, your horse or pony will soon learn what correction is, be happy to go back rhythm and over time, corrections become less and less as they learn. If you constantly stay in fight mode with your animal, that is where they will stay too. This is their natural instinct. Survival is built in.
One last very important point, correct for what your horse or pony has done wrong, not for your own mistakes or frustrations. If your horse or pony responded based on your incorrect actions, they were correct in fact that they listened and trusted your instruction. Don’t blame them for your mistakes or guess what happens over time? They learn, “I better not listen the next time my rider does that” and for example, if you correct them regularly for a badly missed stride on your part, they start stopping, even when you haven’t made a mistake because you kept correcting them for your mistake. They also stop trusting themselves, because they thought they were doing the right thing, but they were still corrected, so it must be wrong. Always give clear and fair signals.
We all make mistakes, that’s life so being clear when it was your mistake will build trust. Go back to smaller fences for example and get your rhythm going. Over time, your horse can learn to pull up and trust itself too when they know you have messed up and mind you both. If it is waiting for the whip each time, this will never happen. Develop a two-way partnership. If you make a mistake, just relax and breathe, why not verbally apologise to your horse and admit it was you while you were at it. From experience, this builds trust and a partnership. Going into fight mode because you are angry with yourself will just lead to pointless battles..
It was me....please forgive me
Points to Remember
- Have a clear understanding between base point and correction
- Keep correction as short and clear as possible
- Return to activities that promote the base point asap.
- Don’t correct your horse or pony for your mistakes.
- Teach them and let them learn, build a relationship.
- Avoid dominating and submission and aim for understanding and building trust.
Doesn’t the Same Routine get boring?
Doesn’t Routine get boring?You need to keep the interest going and doing things differently, not just going through the motions all the time.
Are you kidding me? No chance!
Having a chat with your horse or pony while you are in the stable mucking out, breaks the routine because you are connecting with them plus it is a great way to get stuff out of your head and clear it too. Time out on their own in a paddock is ideal if you have it. It is the natural environment so for most horses this is very relaxing. Some have separation fears to go out on their own of course, so you have to work towards the individual needs what makes the animal relax. Time out is essential for us all.
With you routine in the saddle, what is your goal to improve with your horse or pony? If you are competing, what is the best thing you can work on to improve things for your next show? Is it better balance, more even stride, listening more in canter or lengthening and shortening for a course? By the way, those things are pretty much in order, you need balance and engaged to get your horse or pony to accomplish a more even stride, to then get them listening in order to be able to adjust their stride.
Remember, introduce new things slowly and even more importantly, in order and get your horse or pony happy with them before building to the next. If you are asking them to do something and they don’t have the ground work for it, they will start to become unsure and fear will creep in.
Have you ever wondered why flat work is called ground work for Showjumping? It is how we build the building blocks to improve our performance over fences.
Check out our weekly exercise routine and all feedback welcome.