The Draw Of Horses After An Accident

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Horses have their own gravity. If you’ve loved them in the past and been pushed away because of an injury or accident, it’s possible you’ll be drawn right back to their beautiful, sleek, powerful sides. Gravity pulls you back even if your worries or fears make you wonder why, even when our biological responses to fear tell us not to go back to a dangerous situation. Here’s a look at why I think horsemen want to overcome the very natural fears that enter in after accidents with horses.

I often wonder why we want to be around horses when horses step on your feet, bite, kick, and buck you off. Have you ever had your foot stepped on by a horse? Been bitten? Been kicked? Have you ever fallen off or gotten bucked off your horse? Have you ever started out on a ride and ended up at the Emergency Room? I ask these questions to rooms full of horse people and just about all raise their hands.

Why do we do this? Gravity. Horses have a power to draw us in, make us learn from our mistakes and prompt us to keep trying.

Safety First
I hope that you are never hurt by horses—physically or physiologically. I do believe that if you are conscientious, systematic and methodical about safety, the chances of getting hurt are greatly reduced. I’ve worked with many large riding operations through the Certified Horsemanship Association (a nonprofit organization focused on horsemanship safety and excellence) and seen many of them that have almost zero incident rates. That’s not luck— that’s by design. But I realize accidents do happen. Horses are powerful beings with their own minds and strong bodies.

Let me go on record here: I DO NOT believe that getting hurt should be an expected or accepted outcome with horses. I DO believe that most, if not all, accidents are preventable and no matter how wild and unpredictable we think horses are, if you really analyze an accident, you’ll find a way you could’ve prevented it. I know for myself that when I look at the horse wrecks I’ve been in, they all started with me doing something stupid or going against that little voice in my head that tried to warn me.

Still, even when we make a commitment to safety, things happen. Horses are big and flighty animals and it’s a given that bumps, bruises and scrapes will happen–even in the best of circumstances. And when you are perched on top of a half-ton of live and somewhat volatile horseflesh with a balance of its own and–more significantly–a will of its own, you will on occasion have an unscheduled dismount. I’ve sure had my share, but fortunately I’ve never had more than a few broken ribs to contend with. But that was enough to mess with my head. With my chosen profession and my love of horses, I had to work through the worry.

Biology of Fear
I’ve known plenty of riders who have had incidents with horses that resulted in serious injury– I’ve heard stories that are so horrific that I wonder why the person would ever want to ride again. But amazingly, they do. Gravity.

Our hard-wired biological responses after a traumatic event can be hard to overcome, but overcoming is possible. Our love of horses makes us want to overcome. When an accident or injury occurs, a “fear memory” is lodged in your mind; it’s purpose is to remind you of this injury so it doesn’t happen again. Fear memories are supposed to prevent us from doing a stupid thing again, like reaching out and touching a hot wood stove. But when coming back after a riding accident, sometimes fear memories get in our way of hopping back into the saddle.

Fear memories can not be deleted, but you can learn to manage them. If you were bucked off and hurt one day when you asked your horse to canter, the next time you canter (or even think about it) that fear memory will surface— it’s a biological fact. So don’t let it surprise you and don’t let it take control. Expect the fear memory to surface and have a plan to keep it at bay.

I think it is really important to “intellectualize your fear” after an accident. When enough time has passed and you have healed both physically and emotionally, it is important to thoroughly analyze what happened. What went wrong and what you might have done to prevent it from happening?

Learning from your mistakes and understanding the situation better should help diffuse your fear. If, for instance, you ignored an earlier warning sign, then you can make up your mind to never do that again. Knowledge and understanding of how an accident may have been prevented—and establishing concrete actions you can take in the future to prevent a repeat–will lead to more confidence.

Fear is a powerful emotion and it is generated from a subconscious part of the brain. But you can learn to control your fear. It’s not always easy; it’s something you have to work at, but it can be done. Coming back after an accident will require some work and self-discipline on your part, but I know many, many people who have done it. Their love of the sport, the way of life and the love of their horses seems to drive them to face that fear and create a plan to overcome.

Answer this: Why?
After you’ve had an accident or mishap, it is critically important that you do some serious introspection to determine why you are doing this horse thing. Why are horses important to you and why do you want to keep riding? These are not easy questions to answer but the answers are critically important to your comeback. You have to decide if horses are pulling you back. You have to know if you are being pulled by their gravity or just think you “should” ride again.

“Why?” is always the most difficult question to answer; how and what are much easier. But there are reasons why you are committed to coming back to riding and it is important to get in touch with those reasons, because of this simple fact: purpose leads to courage. If you can really come to terms with why you want this so badly, then you remind yourself of that purpose when things get tough, your purpose will give you courage.

Plan of Action
Your fear can come back to you like gravity just like your love of horses. Fear has a way of finding its way in—especially if you don’t have a plan to subdue it. When coming back after an accident or injury, it is important to practice mental control. Know that your fear memory will surface— don’t let it take you by surprise or dictate your actions. Your thinking, your body language and your emotions are all connected: mind, body and spirit. When the emotion of fear takes over, your mind devolves into negative “what if” thinking and your posture starts to reflect the emotion too.

Here is the secret key to overcoming your fear– keep your mind operating in a proactive and positive way (plan ahead of time what you will think about or what song you will sing; disallow negative thoughts and replace them quickly). If you think of falling each time you mount up, make a list of all the wonderful rides you’ve had and focus on those memories. Feel those wonderful rides. Make that memory a reality in the present. Make sure your body language shows confidence (sit up straight, square your shoulders– look tough!). By keeping control of the mental and the physical aspects of your being, the emotion doesn’t stand a chance.

A recap and to-do list: Analyze what happened to cause your fears, know what lessons can be learned and make a commitment to safety. Gain a better understanding of why you are doing this; the ‘why’ is your purpose, your “gravity. ” Purpose leads to courage. Finally, make sure you have a plan of action when you ride: practice deep breathing, keep your eyes focused and your mind engaged in a positive direction, and keep your body language strong and confident.

You can do it! I hope your love of horses pulls you back to the fun of the sport.

Enjoy the ride,
Julie

Buying A Horse

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In “Shop ‘Til You Drop,” the Horse Master episode taped at my ranch in Colorado, I helped my friend Sddita Fradette begin the horse shopping process. She’s a skilled rider and NARHA riding instructor but doesn’t have her own horse at the moment. She wants to make sure she has the know-how and strategy to start shopping with confidence. We talked about the importance of conformation, breeding, size, temperament, training, sex and more during the show.

Be sure to watch the episode on RFD-TV, log on to watch the extra footage at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghGuPH_bLOI then read on to find out more about finding your own perfect horse. The show is part of a new series of episodes shot at my ranch (we’ll shoot in Colorado again in late summer 2010 if you’re close and would like to apply to get help for you and your horse: http://www.horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com/apply.html). In the new shows, there’s help if your horse refuses to approach obstacles, if you’re a new rider and want help learning how to work with your new horse, if you’re horse shopping, if your horse won’t accept a bit and bridle without raising his head, and if you want help finding the proper bit for your well-trained horse. Here’s more about horse shopping….

Horse Shopping 101
When it’s time to look for a new horse, you want to be an educated buyer—understanding what to look for and what questions to ask as you shop for your dream horse. You’ll want to find the safest and best-trained horse that your money can buy. You will love a horse that makes you feel safe; get one that you can build confidence with instead of constantly re-building.
It’s very important to identify exactly how you plan to use your new horse because you cannot fit a square peg into a round hole. Spend some time thinking about what your short and long term goals are; be realistic in terms of your time commitment and physical ability. If your time commitment is limited, you’ll need a very well-trained and seasoned horse that can stand around for days or weeks and still ride easy, not a “project” horse that is young or poorly trained. If your goals include competitive riding, you’ll need a horse that is the right type, with good athletic ability and solid training. The more demanding the competition, the more type, pedigree and training play a role.
It may be that you want an all-around horse that you can do a variety of things with, from casual trail riding to dressage, both English and western. If so, realistically rank all the activities you plan and what is most important to you and set up a list of priorities so that you can evaluate individual horses and rate their best qualities.
Realize that one horse may not suit your long-term goals and you may out-grow this horse, particularly if you plan to compete regularly. If you are just starting out as a beginner, you need a steady, solid mount that has a lot of patience; these horses are typically not the sharpest athletes. As you reach higher levels of riding, you’ll need a horse that can move up the levels with you. Maybe you’ll need a starter horse and in a few years you’ll be ready to move up to a highly bred and trained performer that will propel you to the highest levels (start saving your money now!). Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you’ll keep every horse you have for the rest of its life; horses are not like dogs. While it is possible that you may keep one horse forever, you may find that the horse you buy does not turn out to be the best horse for you in the future and you may need to sell him and move onto another.
In a booklet I wrote for the Certified Horsemanship Association (a non-profit organization that promotes safety in the horse industry, http://www.cha-ahse.org) called Ready to Ride, I cover when to buy a horse, purchasing vs. leasing, and the many and varied breeds and disciplines to consider. I also cover finding a riding instructor and trainer, setting realistic goals, etc. If you haven’t owned your own horse before or are looking for a horse for a young rider, the booklet helps you consider all the aspects of horse ownership—costs and extras you might not have added to your budget and plan. Here’s information from Chapter 10, “Should You Buy a Horse:”
“When you consider the purchase price, boarding, health care, and equipment needed, owning a horse is clearly more expensive than simply riding school horses. Owning a horse requires a substantial investment of time and energy and a serious long-term commitment.
Owning or Leasing a Horse Many stables offer leases and half-leases on horses, which gives a good introduction to horse ownership, without the capital investment. Often leases are available for the cost of board and maintenance, so it is a more affordable first step to horse ownership, without the long-term commitment. However, the purchase price may be the least amount of money you will spend on a horse; the maintenance costs can be considerably higher in the long run….
Many naïve horse lovers make the devastating mistake of buying a young horse for their first horse. Horses are not like puppies; you cannot effectively train a young horse without years of experience and a young horse is much more dangerous than a little puppy. Between the horse and the rider, it is imperative that one of you knows what you are doing. Unlike puppies, horses can become big dangerous animals in a heartbeat; it requires a competent and experienced horse person to raise and train young horses.
Horses are not really mature until they are about eight years old and they are in their prime in their teens. Most good beginner and novice horses are 14 or older, although some may be younger. The older a horse gets, the more he has learned about life, humans and his job. You want a horse that can teach you; not a horse that needs an education.
Look for a stable with a program that teaches good horse care and knowledge as well as riding skills. Volunteer for horse chores at a stable; allow your child to take advantage of the opportunity for character development. Horses are not machines and one of the most important things a child can learn is personal responsibility.
Some stables offer full care only, while others give you the choice of providing some of your horse’s care yourself. There should be a regular schedule for feeding, watering, stall cleaning/manure disposal, farrier, and veterinary visits….”
It’s crucial to consider all the costs and think through where you’ll keep your horse and how you’ll keep him safe and healthy before you buy. And no matter if you’re shopping for your ultimate dream horse or your first horse, take the time to research your purchase and seek out support for your shopping trips. Find a trainer that specializes in the discipline you’d like to work in or seek out a friend that has more horse experience than you do to help you weigh your options throughout the process. There are seller’s agents and buyer’s agents. You need a buyer’s agent that you can pay his/her regularly hourly fee to look at horses with you. Or you could engage a trainer to look for horses for you for a finder’s fee (be wary of commissions for buyer’s agents since that encourages the trainer to look for an expensive horse). Most often what you encounter is the seller’s agent (like with real estate), who is receiving a commission on the sale (usually 10%); therefore you may not get all the info you need about the horse. Be very leery of double-dipping agents (taking a commission from both buyer and seller). It’s best to have an objective third-party agent who has no motivation other than to give you his/her honest opinion.
Check out even more horse shopping tips and strategies in my Horse Buyer’s Guide PDF available free at www.JulieGoodnight.com. And visit the horse sales page on the site: http://juliegoodnight.com/horses.
–Julie Goodnight

Horse Afraid of Mounting Block

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What To Do With a Horse Afraid of His Rider

Question: Hello Julie, I have a 4 year old registered paint gelding, Zippo Pine Bar bred, tall and gorgeous that I have had for just over a year! But, he is terrified when I step near or into the saddle. I bought him knowing he had a troubled past, but I can’t seem to make any new progress with mounting. I have done a ton of groundwork and desensitizing which he does great with.

The problem comes in when I am on the mounting block. His body gets very tense, his lower lip will quiver with concern and his eyes look terrified. I usually stand on the mounting block doing stretching exercises and touching/patting him all over until he relaxes, which sometimes doesn’t happen! If I get on without using my stirrup he is OK, still nervous but stands fine. However, if I even start to put weight in my stirrup he will bolt away from me, and once that has happened I will not be able to mount that day (he gets way too freaked out).

Strangely enough though, once I am on you would never know he is such a challenge to get on. He rides like a dream, still green, but a wonderful 4 yr old! I have all the time and patience in the world for this horse, he truly is an amazing animal that was damaged by an uncaring human by no fault of his own. I just want some direction on where to go with him!

Thank you so much!
Nichole

Answer: Nichole, Sounds like your horse was lucky to find you! It is not hard to make drastic mistakes in the process of starting a horse under saddle. There are many steps at which things can go very wrong and there are many stupid mistakes to be made by people in the complicated process of training a young horse to be ridden.

Who knows what happened with your horse in the past, but chances are it was entirely preventable. That’s why I always encourage people to hire a professional to put a good foundation on your young horse—it is a time that can make or break a horse’s riding career. In your case, it seems like his previous training left him broken, but not broke.

During the process of introducing a horse to the saddle, to mounting, to balancing the weight of the rider, to taking cues from the rider, there are many crucial steps that, done wrong, can turn into a very negative training experience for the horse which may cause problems for the rest of his life. Something went wrong with your horse—either something hurt him physically like an ill-fitted saddle or something scared him so badly that his reaction caused him to get hurt (a self-fulfilling prophecy to the horse).

So now you are left to undo the damage that was caused when the horse was “broke.” Good training and many, many repetitions (until the good experience far outweighs the bad) will fix this horse. The good news is that he is young and still impressionable. It’s really good news that he is working well under-saddle—it tells me if you find the right technique, he will be entirely fixable.

It’s critical to make sure your saddle and/or poor mounting technique is not causing the problem. If it is digging into his wither or shoulder when you mount, he has good reason to react poorly. Unfortunately, the fear of pain may have originated from his previous training so even if your saddle is not currently causing a problem, in his mind, he may think mounting will always hurt him.

After you’ve ruled out a physical problem, only time and patience will reprogram your horse. You need to retrain the mounting process as if you were starting from the beginning, only it will take much longer. It always takes much longer to undo training mistakes than it does to train a horse right to begin with. Wouldn’t it be nice to know about all the potential mistakes you could make in training a horse before you actually do it?

We have four new episodes of Horse Master coming out in February 2012 about starting a young horse under-saddle—each step you take, how to do it right and what mistakes to avoid. This same info is also available in my full-length training DVD, Ready to Ride. One whole section is on mounting and I would use the same process on your horse. It is my hope that this information will help people avoid making the mistakes that were made with your horse.

Based on the info stated in your question, the first thing I would do is get rid of the mounting block. It is possible that it is contributing to his fear and I would want to see what his reaction to mounting was without it. I’ve seen a lot of training problems that involve a mounting block.

Of course, this means you have to be very good at mounting from the ground and getting your weight centered over the horse’s back as soon as possible, so as not to hurt his back. I have also seen many mounting issues caused by poor mounting technique on the part of the rider.
Next, you’ll break down the mounting process into tiny steps and then use a process known as pattern conditioning, where you repeat a certain pattern over and over until the horse has a conditioned response that is relaxed and accepting. Your horse already has a conditioned response to being mounted, but it is not a good one. Breaking it into small steps, releasing the pressure on the horse when he responds correctly and repeating this pattern again and again, will fix your horse.

There are a lot of articles in my Training Library, http://juliegoodnight.com/q&a.php, on desensitization and dealing with fearful behavior. You may want to read some of them—even if the articles are not exactly the same as your horse, you will likely find some info that helps. It is important that you fully understand the process of advance and retreat desensitizing and when you give the release.

Also, be sure to tune in to Horse Master on RFD-TV in February to see the episode on first mounting. If you don’t get RFD, you may want to order the DVD, Ready to Ride. It is the fourth DVD in my “From the Ground Up” series and covers the very critical stage in a young horse’s training when you first begin riding him. BTW- the previous three videos in the series are pre-requisite to this stage and cover round pen work, lead line work and training the horse to respond properly to bit pressure.

Take your time, have lots of patience and you will get past this problem with your horse. He sounds like a good egg—he just needs some reprogramming.

Enjoy the ride!
Julie

Find more free articles to read and refer to in Julie’s Training Library: http://juliegoodnight.com/q&a.php and watch Horse Master on RFD-TV every Monday at 12:30 and 10:30p EST —Direct TV channel 345, Dish Network channel 231 and on many cable outlets. Then visit http://www.horsemaster.tv and http://www.juliegoodnight.com/clinics for the clinic schedule, articles related to each episode, the gear used in each show, and for training DVDs and publications. Plus, see clips from each show at: http://www.horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com and check out specials and even more clips on Goodnight’s Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/horsemaster.tv. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at: http://juliegoodnight.com/emailsignup.php. Goodnight is proud to recommend Myler Bits, Nutramax Laboratories, Circle Y Saddles, Redmond Equine, and Bucas Blankets. Goodnight is the spokesperson for the Certified Horsemanship Association.