How to Keep a Horse Calm While Riding
Whether you are an experienced rider in the saddle or brand new to horse riding, you may struggle with keeping your horse calm while riding. A horse can become stressed out or spooked due to a loud noise, a sudden movement, or a rider who is also stressed out. To keep your horse calm, you can use the reins on the horse properly or use the drop head cue. Your breathing and demeanor as a rider can also help to keep your horse calm and ensure you both have a smooth ride.
Using Your Breathing and Your Demeanor
Take several deep breaths before you get into the saddle.Approaching the horse calmly, as a rider, can also help to keep the horse calm. Before you mount the horse, take several deep, long breaths. This will slow down your heart rate, which will also help your horse’s heart rate to remain steady and calm.
Talk to the horse and stroke him gently.Connect with the horse on the ground by talking softly and encouragingly to the horse. You can also put your hand by his head and allow him to get used to your presence. If he appears calm and responsive to you, you can gently stroke him behind his ears and around his neck.
- If you tend to ride the same horse, you may want to create a grooming routine that you do with the horse before every ride. This will allow you to connect to the horse on the ground and get him used to your presence.
Visualize your ride on the horse before you mount him.Take a moment to picture your ride on the horse. Focus on having a calm, relaxing ride on the horse and set an intention. This will help to keep you calm and avoid bringing any emotional or mental struggles you may be having into your ride with the horse.
Use a tempo to help your horse stay calm during the ride.Horses respond well to rhythm and tempo, as they will act as guides for how to move their feet and stay calm. You can count out a tempo as you ride in a soft, calm voice or you can try to find a steady tempo as you ride so your horse can get comfortable.
- You can also download an Equi-Tempo app, which plays different rhythms for walk, trot, and canter. The app allows you to speed up or slow down the tempo according to your needs as a rider. Put your phone in your pocket and play the app on your phone as you ride so you and the horse can listen to the beat. You can then practice different tempos while riding and note which tempos seem to relax the horse the most.
Using the Reins
Think of the reins as a way to communicate with the horse.The reins on your horse should act a form of communication, rather than control. The reins should move with the horse’s front feet, thereby connecting your body to the movements of the horse. Your horse’s front legs can act as your arms and hands, responding to how you move the reins.
- As you ride the horse and hold the reins, you should notice any signs of tension or stress in the horse. This could be his head moving up and down quickly, his jaw tensing up, or a quickening step. When he appears stressed, hold the reins with one hand and use the other hand to pet him and stroke him. This can help him to calm down.
Practice the casual rein position.The casual rein position is when you hold the reins in one hand, close to the horse’s mane, with your elbows slightly bent. The reins should be loose in your hands. This position then allows you to bend down and put your hand on your horse with one hand, calming him as you ride.
- It can be difficult to do the casual rein position if you are not yet comfortable with riding on a horse. However, you should try to practice the casual rein position as much as possible while on the horse, as this displays trust and confidence in your horse.
Avoid pulling or jerking on the reins while riding the horse.Though you may think that pulling or jerking on the reins will help you gain control of the horse, in fact, it will only spook him further. Pulling with two hands on the rein also causes you to pullback on the reins, preventing the horse from moving on his feet to calm down.
- If you do need to pull on the reins, try to do it with only one hand on the reins. When you pull on with one hand, you will turn the horse in a small circle but also allow him to keep his feet moving. This will then let him calm down on his own by moving his feet and getting his bearings.
Using the Drop Head Cue
Be aware of the function of the drop head cue.Your horse’s head can act as an indicator of his emotional state. When his head rises, he is tensing up and preparing for flight. A lowered head is a sign that he is relaxed and calm. You can teach your horse the drop-head response so he can learn to calm down on his own. This will ensure you have a smooth ride together and can rely on the cue in the event there is a tense or stressful situation during the ride.
Practice the drop head cue on the ground first.Practicing this technique on the ground first will allow your horse to get comfortable with the cue. Start by putting your horse in a rope halter with a training lead.
- Put your thumb and index finger on the knot just below your horse’s chin and apply steady, gentle pressure in a downward motion. Do not pull his head down. Instead apply pressure so he is aware of the cue.
- Observe your horse. When he drops his head, release the pressure and praise him. Then, repeat the cue again. Be patient and move slowly, as getting him to drop his head a few inches during the initial practice can be challenging.
- Over time, he will start to drop his head whenever you apply downward pressure. Encourage him to keep his head down towards the ground for a few minutes before rewarding him.
Move to doing the drop head cue in the saddle.Once your horse seems comfortable with doing the cue on the ground, you can move to practicing the cue in the saddle.
- Tack him up and mount him. Then, have the horse stand still. Shorten one rein in your hand and lift the rein slightly to apply light pressure to your horse’s mouth. Wait a few seconds and do not increase the pressure so it is uncomfortable for him. You just want enough pressure for him to notice the cue.
- Observe him, as he may move his head a little to figure out the cue. Once he drops his head, release the reins and praise him.
Encourage your horse to do the drop head cue on his own.Practice the drop head cue on a frequent basis, perhaps during every ride, to get him used to the cue. You should also encourage your horse to do the drop head cue in any stressful situation during a ride. This will allow him to self medicate during the ride and react to a fearful moment in a calm manner.
Video: Simple Ways to Calm Your Horse
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