An owner visited me last week to take part in my monthly “Surgery” and explained that her horse was impatient and fidgeted a lot when ridden. The owner asked me “Why do horses fidget when ridden?”…great question as there are so many reasons!
“So why do I think horses fidget when ridden?”
1. Herding instinct:
When your horse starts to fidget and gets agitated when ridden, not wanting to stand still, they basically want to be somewhere else! Most of the time it is back with their friends or to a place where they feel more secure like the stables.
You can help your horse cope better by how you manage them on a day to day basis. With a horse that frets when their friends are taken away from them or when they are taken from their friends try the following new ways to manage them.
When turning in or out to the field always make sure that the other horses are bought to where your horse is, where possible avoid taking your horse to the other horses. To clarify, turn your horse out first and then turn the field companions out afterwards. The same when you bring in, ensure your horse comes in first and then the field companions afterwards. Your horse will soon learn that they do not need to go to their friends, their friends will come to them. By making this simple change in your daily routine you will help your horse change the way they think about being alone. This small step will help them cope and become more settled in other aspects of their life, including their ridden work.
Another tip is when schooling in a familiar environment, make sure that your horse always gets their down time (rest or break) away from home and the other horses and vise versa with their work. So for example, work your horse more at the end of the school where they want to be (ususally the end closest to the stables and their friends!), then rest them at the part of the school they least want to be (the spooky corner or more isolated end). Remember to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.
2. Another reason a horse fidgets is that they feel worried by you or their environment.
If your horse feels you are unpredictable or that they can not find a comfortable place with you, then they will find it somewhere else. For example, when you ask your horse to stand and they walk off, immediately ask them to stop again and put them back where you asked them to stand. When they are back where you want them to be remember to stop “asking” so that they know they are in the right spot – reward them by letting them rest there. If you keep holding your horse tightly they will not feel comfortable and will eventually look to move on again. Your horse may also become irritated if you are pulling on their mouth when they are moving forward and you pull on their mouth to stop – Two different responses to the same aid . . . .this makes you unpredictable and untrustworthy in your horses eyes.
Make sure your horse knows that you are a worthy leader as this will settle a fretful horse, who often does not want to be put in a role of responsibility and will welcome you taking charge. The best way to achieve this with a horse that is fidgety and worried is to disengage their hind end, which can be achieved by doing a small circle(s) until you feel the hind end step out. This is how I say to my horse “come back to me”.
3. Prevention is better than cure!
I have some rules I live by with fidgety and fretful horses…
1. Always come back home on a relaxed horse, if they are still fretting do some calming exercises until they settle. Never take a worried or excited horse home and get off as this will reward that behaviour. If your horse is in this state when you get home, ride them around at home for another 10 minutes using small circles to control their speed until they relax then get off. I call this the “winding down” exercise and it is simple but very effective.
2. Don’t try and make a young horse (even some older horses) stand while their friend is ridden away from you. In this situation you would be better off riding off in another direction until the other horse is out of sight and your horse has stopped looking for the other horse. Give your horse a task to do, something to distract it and help it settle. I often see riders and handlers trying to restrain a fidgeting horse, forgetting the horse has tension that they need to release. If you try to hold them still, firstly you will no doubt fail as you have half a tonne of horse under you and secondly holding all that energy in will result in your horse behaving unpredictably, running backwards, rearing, bucking and generally plunging around as they find their own way to release their energy. The best thing to do is control their energy and let them release it in a safe way, finishing with a relaxed horse who has let go of their tension.
3. Don’t let your horse drop their shoulder towards home. To avoid this ride around an object to prevent them from falling or keep repeating the disengaging exercise until they turn correctly.
These are just some of my thoughts with regard to fidgeting and how best to handle this…there are lots of videos and exercises you can follow in my training programme.
Here are just some of my videos with exercises that will help a fidgety horse under saddle and on the ground:
Let me know how you get on with these exercises!
Until next time be sure to, “Get In and Get On!
Bye for now,