Keeping your horse focused and concentrated might be complicated sometimes, but it is essential to help them pay attention in order to build trust with your equine partner.
According to trainer Tik Maynard, when horses are distracted, there is something making them nervous. Let’s find the keys to helping your horses stay focused during training or competitions and help horse confidence improve.
Horse attention can get distracted if something approaches them quickly and they want to stay away from it. This can be a dog that is running nearby, a tractor closeby or another horse that is acting strangely.
“Horses tend to be afraid of things coming towards them, things moving quickly, things that make noise, things that are new or unusual, things that they have had bad experiences with…” -Tik Maynard
However, on the other hand, if this is something they like, they might get curious and want to go towards it. This could be grass, new horse friends, a ball they want to sniff…
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To solve the problem, you should try to understand what is the object that is bothering your horse. Pay attention to your surroundings, and once identified, you could try removing or reducing it so your horse relaxes more during training.
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However, if you are not sure what the issue is, it is best to ask an expert in behavioural problems or call your vet:
“Someone that’s an expert Dressage rider is not necessarily an expert jumper rider or reiner - the same goes for dealing with behavioural problems.” -Tik Maynard
Moreover, you should gradually get them used to the object they are nervous about. This helps them build confidence as horses learn to live with a point of fear and to expand their comfort zone.
To build confidence, you can slowly introduce an object at a distance and with rhythm. If horses do not enjoy erratic, noisy and moving objects, then for instance pick an umbrella and slowly get used to approaching them. However, be aware of doing this one at a time.
If the case is the opposite, and the horse prefers going towards something they like, then become something your horse likes as well. Give him some treats, play with him, give him a good scratch… in order to build your relationship with your horse and help him focus on you.
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As much as we think we know our domestic horse, we always learn something new about them. Horse behavior might be simple, but it is not simple, so do not overwhelm them.
Also, as most of the problems our horses face have to do with us in some way, it is important for us to learn about emotional control. Horses are highly social animals and great at sensing emotions, this is why they can be part of mental health treatments.
If you are starting to feel frustrated because something is not working out during training, then it is best to stop, take a break and start again tomorrow. This is because your horse feels your emotions and could change behaviour mirroring yours.