Horse Myth #1

Horses smell fear.

Horse portrait

It is my opinion that horses really could care less about our fear and I have proof.

Try riding a wild mustang for its first time undersaddle and after it's went around the ring in a bucking rage in reaction to the saddle being placed upon its back. Believe me that's fear and yet as many times as I've felt fear I've never had a horse react to it. Why? Because I'm a great actress. I'm so good I could win an Academy Award.

No, the truth is horses only react to what our body language is telling them. Let's look at this concept more closely by making a study of physiology.

What happens to a rider's body sitting on a horse when they feel fear? They tense up. They pick up, pull or squeeze the reins. They clutch or grip tightly with their legs often leaning forward.

Now, let's look at what a rider does to tell the horse to go? They tense up. They pick up, pull or squeeze the reins. They clutch or grip tightly with their legs often leaning forward.

Are you starting to get the picture?

The last thing I'd want to do on a wild Mustang for its first time undersaddle is tell it to go and go fast. If I let my fear control my body no doubt that would be the signal he'd get and away we'd go, him dashing across the ring and me most likely on the ground.

Now, using the Mustang again for an example let me explain how I would ride such a magnificent creature and live to tell about it. Remember my mention of great acting abilities? I think the term; "fake it till you make it" generally applies here. After spending plenty of time with my feet resting in the stirrup and then settling my seat in the saddle over and over again with the horse just standing there, I finally sit. Just sit and breathe. I keep my legs loose sometime not even in the stirrups. I concentrate on my legs staying loose, and my arms, hands and well frankly every part of my body. I think relax and pet the horse, stroke his neck, knead it as though it were dough and I watch his ears telling me he's ready for more.

I go onto stroking every part of his body and move around in the saddle as I do. Whether I go on from there is up to the horse. If that is all he wants to accept for the day then that's fine and I can be sure that the next day he'll let me go further and the next and the next. It's amazing how keeping such an attitude always seems to put me on the fast track when starting a horse and I find myself doing things in training that I would expect to take far longer. In other words, the more I can convince my horse that there's no rush, the faster we seem to progress and all of that's done through my body language.

So next time you're terrified to be on a horse, (providing you have no good reason to be) just remember the horse doesn't really care, he only reacts to what your body's telling him and the signals you give him either deliberately or through default. It's your choice depending on how strong you are mentally and how well you can control your body's reaction to your emotions.