You can’t see it in this video, but a car drives up and parks nearby just as our training session begins. People get out. The timing is unfortunate because we’ve just begun. Crush immediately reacts by trotting off with a tight back. He loses all focus on me. A major goal in his training is to direct his attention to me, his trainer and eventual rider, at all times. This is for safety first and foremost, but it is also necessary for our success together as a team. Horses do not naturally have long attention spans. They don’t need them in their world, so we must develop them.
On this day, I am preparing to get on Crush for the first time so it’s especially helpful to have this discussion about staying focused on me. If I were to get on him after allowing him to focus on his surroundings, it probably wouldn’t be such a great ride. He would likely find more things to react to. I want him to react to me and me alone. Each time the horse loses focus on me and is distracted by something outside of our training, I have lost him and I must bring him back.
Crush has been ridden before, but this will be his and my first ride and I can tell you from a lot of experience, horses do not forget their first time – ever. I get one chance to get this right and everything else I do with him will be built on this. I’m glad I get to address his distraction/reaction before I get on. We will have this same discussion many times because horses are wired to react to things in the environment around them. I am asking him to do something that goes against his nature – to pay attention only to me and not to his surroundings. With time and positive reinforcement, his attention span will expand. Each horse is different and some find the ability to focus on me and our work rather quickly, others take more time. It eventually happens with every horse as long as I am consistent.
Horses are by nature reactive. This means I must spend time and effort to direct and manage their reactions. In this case, I give him several serious tugs on the lunge line to get his focus back to me. Then we move on with our work. My reaction to his reaction is direct, clear and nets the desired result.
As you will notice, I don’t ride Crush for long. Today I want to get a feel for him and more importantly, I want to end this session with Crush thinking how easy and uneventful it was. That will be our foundation if everything goes as planned. During this short ride, I sense he is a bit nervous. I will keep our rides short until he realizes riding is no big deal and is completely relaxed. I expect this will happen in only a matter of days. Reasons he might be a bit nervous are the fact that there are no other horses training—racehorses are used to training in the company of other horses—or that the training area is very small compared to what he’s accustomed to. I can’t know for sure, but I can listen to what he’s telling me about how he feels and make sure this ride is a positive experience. That is how we move forward without dragging his anxiety with us.