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  • Writer's pictureColton Woods

Prepare Them Before You Have to Protect Them

The key for positive, enjoyable experiences with your horse

The best way to make sure us and our horses have the best experiences possible is to be PREPARED.

What that means is we want to be so prepared that we don’t have to enter protection mode.

That means developing our horses Mentally, Physically, Emotionally and Spiritually by building strong associations to how we want them to THINK through situations, building a strong connection & relationship with them so they check in with us (the herd leader) before reacting as well as providing them with experiences to build their confidence, skills, understanding and more.

To protect our horse is to be defensive and when working with prey animals, this state of defensiveness can raise tension, concern, anxiety and fear to name a few.

To be a great leader we must embrace a progressive approach of preparation. And this approach is relevant across all disciplines and activities with our horses.

What we teach our horse is certainly important but how our horse thinks about what we are teaching is far more important.

So before we can prepare our horses, we must prepare ourself. As our horse’s leader- I do not believe that our horses are a mirror of us but rather they respond to how we exist in the world. We must develop ourself in a way that when our horse connects with us, they respond to how we are existing Mentally, Physically, Emotionally & Spiritually. This enables us the opportunity to lead them in a way where we can be confident we are providing the leadership and example our horse needs to serve them as a horse. While also serving them so they can be successful in the environment we’ve asked them to exist.

The best way to prepare your horse for any of life’s events is to ensure they have a solid foundation. Now we’ve heard that time and time again, yet people are so quick to want to move on from ‘the basics’- the foundation and get on to the ‘fun stuff’ like jumping, piaffe, sliding stops, trail riding, chasing cows, etc.

The fact of the matter is you have 2 Decisions-

1. Invest in the solid foundation up front and do the little things along the way to maintain it and keep progressing towards the fun stuff with your horse

2. Skip through the solid foundation and get into the fun stuff but continually run into resistance along the way and keep having to circle back to the solid foundation concepts because you’re just patching things over and consistently building a house of cards that anytime things shift from being just right the cards fall and things go to crap.

You see, a solid foundation is comprised of skills such as picking up their hooves, ground work, being ridden, standing tied, etc. but that’s just the WHAT. A true solid foundation focuses on much deeper concepts that truly serve a horse the rest of their life. Those deeper concepts are HOW a horse thinks, learns, responds and associates.

A solid foundation puts FOCUS and RELAXATION at the forefront teaching a horse that we need them to be engaged yet we will actually require relaxation. Requiring relaxation is extremely beneficial because you’re putting the way a horse feels as a main priority. When a horse understands you really care that they feel good and yearn for them to understand what is happening, you can tap into a whole new dimension of connection, trust, try and willingness with your horse.

If YOUR HORSE is lacking in the foundation department- you start there.

If YOU are lacking in the foundation department- you start there.

If the solid foundation is established and you are working towards goals such as competing in a horse show, endurance ride or whatever your goal is- write down EVERYTHING your horse needs to know and be able to do to be successful. And write down everything YOU need to know and be able to do to not only be successful as a human but also as the leader for your horse.

Reverse engineer it. So for example- in the show you need to be able to do a flying lead change. You write down Flying Lead Change then write down all the pieces that make up a flying lead change. But you’ll also include pieces such: as be able to be stabled in a stall for ‘X’ number of hours with no turn out or be able to stand tied to the trailer for ‘X’ number of hours while staying relaxed and in a good frame of mind the whole time. Every detail must be accounted for.

Remember, prepare before you must protect. Be proactive, be progressive. Take the time to break down the bigger pieces of your goals & your plans. Use those pieces to create a road map for how you and your horse will prepare for the adventures ahead. The more prepared you are the more enjoyable those experiences can be.

And don’t forget:

What we teach our horse is certainly important but how our horse thinks about what we are teaching is far more important.

-Colton Woods

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