Knowing The Signs Of Relaxation
It would be fantastic if our horses could talk. They could tell us what they are feels, and what they like, what they don’t like, and things like that. And even though they can’t verbally talk to us, they do communicate with us, we just have to know how to “listen”.
If you want to move forward in your relationship with your horse, you need to understand the cues he is giving you. And for you to be more confident around your horse it helps to recognize the signs of relaxation in your horse.
Knowing when your horse is relaxed is so important, especially when you are working with him on the ground. And right now, to build your confidence that is what we are going to focus on. Before you climb up onto his back, he needs to be perfect while you are on the ground. And the more you work with him on the ground, the quieter he will become. And this quietness will transfer to when you are in the saddle. The goal is to have the utmost confidence in your horse, and yourself from the ground first, and then you can get into the saddle.
And we will be doing a lot of activities on the ground to establish a strong foundation that we can build on. And it doesn’t matter where you are in your riding, really. All riders should start on the ground, no matter how experienced you are.
5 Signs of a relaxed horse
There are probably a lot of signs that you can look for in your horse for signs that he is relaxing. But to keep things simple, lets focus on 5 signs that are fairly easy to identify.
Licking and chewing
This is probably my favorite thing to see with my horses. When we are working in the arena, and I ask them to do something and then I release the pressure when they do it, I see this. It has become a habit now that when they do what they are asked, and they do it, I instinctively look to their mouths. And if I see them licking their lips, and chewing I know I have had a small success. It’s as if they are saying….”Oh yeah, I get it now!” It’s almost comical.
When your horse is at ease, and relaxed he will lower his head. And when he is tense and worried, he will do the complete opposite and raise his head. This is also a very visual sign your horse will give you when he gets relaxed.
Cocked back leg
Most of the time I love it when my horse cocks his back leg. Sometimes I want him to just stand still and look pretty without the cocked leg though, for pictures. But if in all my pictures the back leg is cocked, that’s ok too. Because a cocked back leg, kind of like a kickstand on a bike means your horse is content, happy and relaxed!
Lets out a breath
Sometime it can be difficult to see this. But if you are close enough to your horse you will probably be able to hear when he lets out a big ‘sigh’. If you are working with him in your riding area and all of the pieces of the puzzle click for him, he will likely let our a big breath. And this will typically coincide when he is also lowering his head. So now you have two cues that your horse is telling you he gets it and is willing to comply with your requests.
When your horse will finally stand still, this is a HUGE milestone! Especially if you are working with him doing something he isn’t comfortable with, or something scary for him. A good example is spraying your horse with a bottle. Will your horse stand still while you are swinging a bottle of fly spray around him, or does he dance around like every drop of spray is stinging him? If he is dancing around while you are spraying, you need to keep spraying until he stops. When he stops moving, you stop spraying. He will learn to associate the fact that when he stops moving the scary thing stops spraying. Instead of stopping the spray as he moves around. If you stop spraying when he starts moving, you are training him to move and dance around every time you spray him!
If your horse moves around or freaks out while you are spraying him, take a bottle and fill it with plain water. Then take him into an area that you can move with him and start spraying. And you don’t stop spraying until he stops moving. Cam you see why you don’t want to use fly spray for teaching? That would be expensive! So just use plain water, and work with him until he stops moving. And be sure to do this on both sides of your horse’s body!
Always Start From The Ground
And this is why we start to build our confidence level from the ground, so we can observe these signals that our horses are giving us. Learn how to pay attention and watch for these signs of relaxing. It will help you to be a more confident rider, from the ground and this will transition as we do into the saddle!