Many people are convinced that the key to having a safe horse – one who doesn’t spook, get scared, runoff, etc – is more desensitizing.
Though some desensitizing is necessary, a horse can have tons of it and still be a ticking time bomb when you’re riding.
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IS YOUR HORSE MENTALLY SOUND?
Your horse's lack of mental soundness is the key root to most problems. Get the mind right and you'll have the dream horse who's not easily distracted, doesn't spook easily, and is able to hold it together when something unexpected happens. Grab my mental checklist to see if your horse can check off all the boxes.
There are several things that can make a difference in making your horse safer. The first two are being able to control his feet and his attention.
In addition, your horse needs to look to you as a leader that they can willingly follow.
Establishing respect on the ground and under saddle, being fair to work them at the level they are at, and consistently rewarding them when they try, will all play into it as well.
This is something I work on right at first with every horse I start
because it is one of the main foundations that everything else in the horse’s career will be built upon.
It may seem insignificant, but getting a horse in the habit of paying attention to you is a MAJOR pattern to develop that will affect everything else you do.
And then from here on out, ask for and expect your horse to be focused on you.
He will still be aware of his surroundings, of course, but his attention consistently stays on you, in spite of whatever else is around him.
Another key factor in having a safe horse is being able to gain speed safely.
Here’s a quick video to show you an example:
If your horse is never asked to increase speed, or handle pressure, when a situation happens unexpectedly, he may not be mentally able to handle it.
This is one reason why I lope a colt during his very first rides — to teach him how to be loose in his feet and handle the pressure of increased speed.
A horse that is not loose in his feet is not a safe horse. He may stand perfectly still for you to mount, but if he is froze up, tense, and not able to un-track his feet, it is a wreck waiting to happen.
Being able to lope around on a loose rein would be the pre-requisite I would have for anyone before they attempt to ride their horse out away from the confines of the arena, even if they never planned on going faster than a trot on the trail.
You can’t really have a ‘safe’ horse if he has never been taught to handle gaining speed, be loose in his feet, and keep his attention on the rider.