This post was originally written for and published at Cavvy Savvy. I’d love for you to check out the other horse handling advice I dish out over there!
I’ve finally learned the difference between being alert and being aware. And that is a big deal, people. We’ve all more than likely been there: had a wreck on a horse because we got worked up over something. We’ve all had a horse that was afraid of a tarp, or plastic bag, or a snake, or a kid riding by on a bike, or (insert your demon here).
What I’ve learned is that as we become effective leaders for our horses we can steer/direct/help our horse when we feel him become troubled. We can learn to ignore the sign on the arena fence that creates trouble for him. We can learn to ride by (at a distance he’s comfortable with instead of demanding he be on the rail) and let him know, “yeah, buddy that’s there, but I promise it won’t eat you, okay?”
By not riding directly up to “it”, forcing the issue, and making a big deal that the horse get over “it” right that very moment, we’re reassuring him. We can ride by it multiple times, getting closer each time, reassuring our friend that it will all be okay.
If you were terrified of snakes, someone putting a snake in your face is certainly not going to help you overcome your fear of them, is it? Why then do we expect our horses to immediately get over something that troubles them by riding them up to the scary object, the sign on the fence, the (insert demon here)? It baffles my mind.
So what is the difference between alert and aware?
If you know your horse sees something that may trouble him (be aware of it). You can rub him, reassure him, and know it’s there, but not make a big deal out of it. Nine times out of 10 they’ll just ride by, look and go, “Cool, if you’re not concerned, I won’t be either!” Alert means you think, “Holy (insert four letter word here)! There might be a wreck!” And then your horse thinks, “Uh oh. She’s scared, so I better get the hell outta dodge!” From there it can go downhill fast!
Said another way, being aware is feeling back to your horse; being alert is waiting for the other shoe to drop. And no one, not even the horse, can enjoy a ride like that.
Next time your horse is bothered by something external, take a deep breath, know it’s not a big deal, and help him realize that too.