Under saddle, disobedience from the horse can be caused by a number of factors, not necessarily just unwillingness to work. Here are a few points to consider:
The reason why horses are easy to train is because if you do things consistently they will pick it up; they are creatures of habit.
I am a great believer in giving a horse a pat as a reward for good work. However which method you use to praise your horse is not important, it is the consistency of doing the same thing. A pat, a rub, a word, a sound and the horse will learn by association that you are saying ‘good.’
Conversely if a horse comes to a fence and stops, the rider does need to let the horse know his displeasure with a slight growl or nudge. Even if it is a rider error you must show he was wrong, otherwise the message becomes inconsistent. Rewarding the horse for the wrong outcome can cause problems later as he has been confused and ends up thinking; ‘the first time I stopped I got a pat (reward) and this time I get a smack (displeasure).’ Even though the rider rode badly I am asking for consistency in the message. Patting your horse when he stops is a natural reaction for many, but this is bad training because the rider does not realize the outcome of this action. If you praise your horse in this situation you are condoning his behaviour.
People pat their horse for doing nothing, often this is because they are nervous. The impact of the pat is then lost because you are rewarding nothing, so use it in the right instances. If the horse does something that you are pleased about, pat him and let him know that this is the reward.
Again aim for consistency in your method of showing displeasure. For example, use the same tone in your growl and your horse will soon learn. You can also use your legs in a’rat-a-tat-tat’ motion creating a sharp vibration to make the instructions very clear.
When considering the method of showing your displeasure do not go automatically to thinking of the whip. The whip is an artificial aid and is used principally for correcting the horse in his movement or understanding of a command. The horse should never be scared of the whip and there is no excuse for rough treatment or excessive use. The horse will not understand and they go from listening to confusion. They will no longer be receptive but defensive and rather than opening up their minds they can become ‘blind’ or ‘closed’ to what you are asking.
Any form of riding relies on clear and consistent instructions from the rider which are given with a clear mind and never out of frustration.
This will create an anti-feeling but it can also make the horse anxious and we are not looking for the horse to be frightened of the rider.
If you ever find yourself in a position where you are losing your temper, you have got to stop what you are doing and calm down. Look at what you are doing; ask yourself does the horse understand my instructions? Should I go back two or three steps to get the horse through this problem? Try to be very analytical about what is happening.
Again this all boils down to the clear instructions that I keep reiterating, as long as you are consistent in your instructions the horse will very soon start to understand whether you are pleased with his behaviour or not. This is not down to rough treatment or pain; it is down to body language, the reward and praise.
How many times have you heard a rider say, “l ride him badly but he is great!’ That person has put their horse on a pedestal and often the horse is walking all over them. The horse is not keeping his side of the bargain up and yet the rider is saying what a lovely animal he is. The horse is never going to respect the rider unless there has been very clear instructions and communication.
The management of your horse’s work level is key. Recognize what type of horse you have and the amount of work they need to maintain their level of fitness. Also they can go out in the field and they can hack out, which helps keeps their mind from being dulled by the relentless going round and round in circles in a school. It keeps them fresh and their minds ready for their job. Some horses, on the other hand, need to have a higher level of stimulation; if you don’t work them for a couple of days it is almost as if they have forgotten everything they have ever learned. Adjust the work to the type of horse you have.
Knowing your horse and recognizing when he is happy
You have got to remember that horses have been domesticated. A horse was never meant to have shoes on his feet but if I took shoes off my show jumpers I can guarantee that 90% of them would go lame. The fact that the horse was meant to be a grazing animal does not mean that on a November day when it is pouring with rain he should be out in the field fully clipped out with only one thin rug on. He is not going to be thanking you for that one. It is a balance, understanding that he is a herd creature that we have domesticated. We have got to try and work in his natural needs within a domesticated environment.