Although strikingly beautiful, with a shiny coat and sleek build, Tiki has an ugly disposition. He just
isn't friendly. He sulks in the back of his stall much of the time and glares at anyone who comes
near. If you give him a treat, he acts like he's doing you a favor by taking it. He's a sophisticated,
grumpy old man, but all bluff and no bite.
Other horses regard him as a bit of a misfit. In the field, he gets picked on by pint-sized ponies. He's
basically considered a wimp.
Despite his less-than-charming nature, Tiki has never harmed a human being. He's just come to
associate people with something he doesn't want to do, namely, work. With his posture, he's telling
you to go away. But under saddle, he's spirited and knowledgeable. Compared to other school
horses, he's advanced. In addition to being responsive, he moves forward willingly, but not
dangerously so. He has impulsion. You won't need a crop.
Approaching and handling a horse like Tiki requires thought and skill. When you enter his stall, he
may be standing in the back, sulking as usual. Approach him from the side, the least threatening
direction, and keep your arms down.
Calmly, slowly, and confidently, touch his neck or shoulder first. Do not try to pet him on the head
first, which many people do. Many of us are naturally drawn to the horse's beautiful eyes, but many
horses don't like their faces touched. They've gotten one too many fingers in their eyes.
When you encounter a less-than-cooperative horse like Tiki, never let him get between you and the
door, and never close and lock the stall door behind you. You want to be able to exit quickly, if
necessary. And remember, if Tiki or any other horse turns his butt toward you, lays back his ears,
bares his teeth, or swishes his tail at you, don't enter the stall. If you're already in the stall, leave.
Self-protection comes first. Then ask your instructor what to do. Good instructors really don't mind
your asking for help; they welcome the opportunity to teach, and this is the kind of situation that can
provide an important learning opportunity.
You'll find that with horses, especially those like Tiki, your body posture says a lot. Tiki can intimidate
people, but if he hasn't issued any aggressive warning signs, you can handle Tiki yourself.
In you go. Confident, calm. You approach him from the side and pat him on the shoulder. He gives
you a dirty look, but that's all. You take the reins off his neck and over his head, and lead him out.
You walk him to the ring for mounting.
Think about this: Without the ring around the horse to contain him, the draw of the barn will be
greater than ever. Horses associate the barn with food, and eating is what they like to do most.
They also don't have to work when in their stalls, so that's where they want to be.
Horses in a field are more gregarious. They sense greater freedom without the constraints of the
ring. This makes outside influences even more problematic. Tiki will feel friskier.
Horses are competitive. If a horse is following several others, he'll go faster to get to the front. If the
horse in front senses a horse moving up, he'll go faster. This isn't much of a problem if you're riding
in second or third place, but if you're fifth or sixth in line, look out. A chain reaction can begin.
An open area will also heighten the horse's sense of self-preservation. Good school horses
generally don't spook, especially near the barn, but there's always a Dixie around: a big, beautiful
horse that panics at her own shadow and regards little rabbits as horse-eaters. For some horses, a
cricket that jumps and hits the belly is enough to cause a scare. In other cases, horses aren't really
scared of varmints in the field, but if they see one, they'll use it as an excuse to act up.
The horse's main line of defense is to flee. When in doubt about his safety, he'll run away first, often
toward the barn, and think about it later. And if one horse runs, the others will want to follow.
For the rider, the challenge is to override these outside influences. You need to be twice as alert
and vigilant about controlling your horse's thoughts. You need to reassure him that he's in a safe
environment. How do you do this? By communicating using your weight, your hands, and your legs.
This keeps his focus on you. Remember this as you go through this lesson.
This lesson is one of the most enjoyable you'll have. Riding in a field without the ring around you
and with no locked gate gives you a wonderful sense of freedom and a glimmer of what's farther
down the road in your riding career. In fact, riding in a field can be downright exhilarating.
In this lesson you'll not only get a chance to see how well you've mastered the basic skills of walking,
trotting, turning, and stopping, you're going to learn a lot more about the importance of outside
influences on the horse.
You're learning by now that, just as people differ, so do horses. Some are friendly, some aren't;
some don't mind working, and others do. Each horse requires an individual approach.
Today, you'll need to learn to manage Tiki.
Get your money's worth out of your lessons and speed up your progress: Ask your instructor
questions! Don't try to figure it all out yourself. Your instructor can quickly help you resolve a
problem that otherwise might take you hours to answer. By asking questions, you initiate a
response that benefits both you and the instructor.
It also can make riding more fun and safer too.
Don't worry about sounding stupid. For beginning riders, there are no stupid questions.
If you're in a group lesson, other students are probably having the same problem.
When you do finally grasp a skill that frustrated you, do ahead and make a big deal of it.
Let everyone share in your success.
Doing so encourages other students and adds to the fun.
|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156 fax: 301-421-9049