Calm doesn’t equal Brave

If a horse is calm and sensible, they are often labelled as brave and bombproof. But Scottie has taught me that this simply isn’t true and after talking to several instructors at camp I think there a lot of horses out there like this.

When I got Scottie we all thought he was safe as houses and brave. You could just crack on and do what you wanted with him. But we have been together nearly 3 years now and I know that this isn’t exactly true.

Scottie is a worrier. He takes his confidence from his rider and the horses around him. He doesn’t suit being around lots of really spooky horses and if I get on tense/stressed/nervous he echos my feelings. However, despite being a big baby, he usually reacts in a calm and sensible way, making him come across as much braver than he is.

What I find really interesting is that he appears to have become more sensitive and nervous over time. But I think there are a few good reasons for this. The first goes back to his racing career. Everything he did was done fast and often in a herd. He would have been running on instinct and herd mentality, not really thinking for himself. Even his training would have been focused on going forwards and jumping and not thinking about it. So when he came to me, he wouldn’t have been used to thinking for himself. But during his time with me, we have taken things slowly and I have encouraged him to work things out for himself, rather than just following blindly. This means that we do have the occasional stop or hesitation at new or scary things, but it also means that he has to trust that I’m not asking him to do anything dangerous and work out how to do what I am asking him to do. So many trainers will emphasis how important it is for horses to be able to think for themselves to get the best results.

The second reason is that we have become closer. When I first got Scottie he knew I was the one who looked after him, but he wasn’t too fussed if I was there or not. Whereas now, I think he does enjoy my company and trusts me a lot more. He calls to me more often (even if it is just to make sure I don’t forget to turn him out/bring him food,) when things are scary he chooses to stand next to me and often breathes in my face for reassurance. One of our instructors at camp also said that he worries about me, which was nice to hear. But because we now have a much closer bond, I think Scottie is more sensitive to what I’m feeling and reacts to that, but also that he wants to keep us both safe. So while he always wants to do what I am asking him to do, if it worries him he needs me to be with him completely to reassure him.

And the final reason I think that he appears to have become more nervous is that I am asking him to do new things. I like to do a lot of pole exercises with him as well as handy pony type activities in the school. He wouldn’t have done this before I got him and I didn’t really do this with him when I first got him. Even the non scary things we do now, such as schooling, means he has to think a lot more than he has in the past, so I think that his brain is more switched on now.

So while Scottie is still a safe, sensible and calm horse, he isn’t quite the horse we thought he was at the start. He still takes everything in his stride, but I am now more aware of how much encouragement he needs to stop him worrying too much.

 

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7 comments

  1. Great post – & I think a lot of people “bracket” horses like this. Getting to know your horse’s individual body language & signals is key! It doesn’t matter how many you’ve had/have, each one is different!

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  2. This is so interesting. Coco would be quite a spooky horse and very ‘follow the crowd’. As soon as she’s with other horses in new situations she refuses to do anything unless the others are doing it too. She has improved a lot in the school but would still lack confidence outside. How did you work on getting him more confident by himself?

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    • Sounds very similar! I’m very lucky that he is very genuine. He wants to do what you’re asking him and I have always just cracked on and got on with it. In company he’s usually happy to blindly follow. But if we are going to do something different or out by ourselves, I give him plenty of space from other horses/people and just keep my legs wrapped around him and hands wide until we pass any scary monsters. I find that by sitting quiet and letting him work it out for himself makes him more confident next time, even if it takes longer than bullying him past.

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      • Yeh I find bullying them doesn’t really work too well. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing so glad to hear it’s worked for you. More time and hopefully Coco will be as well behaved as your lad πŸ™‚ It’s so lovely reading about your bond with him!

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      • The issue with bullying is that they can’t learn anything, so next time you’ll have the exact same argument! And yes just keep calm and let then work it out for themselves and you should get there 😊 and thank you, its so nice feeling like I know what he’s thinking, even if he doesn’t always react how I think he will.

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  3. It sounds like you know your horse well and he is gaining confidence. Often Delight will look calm when we are on trails, but he is paying attention to everything and will defecate a few times- his only outward appearance of nerves. We take great pains to build his confidence (sometimes it backfires because he thinks he’s the best) and he is becoming quite well-rounded. Ironically he is dead quiet to major things like cars and
    spooking horses, but will react to a butterfly landing on his nose.

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    • I’m certainly getting there! Its hard when they don’t obviously display fear as it can be so easy to overlook their signals. And I find the same thing, the things you think will be scary are fine and the things you don’t are terrifying!

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