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
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
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
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
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.
Boost your confidence
Build your skills
Enhance your lessons
Put Mike Smith's
40 years of
experience work for
You'll love it!
|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156 fax: 301-421-9049