Preparation is the key to success with horses, and it all starts with groundwork. If you’re not properly prepared to handle the spontaneity of unexpected events, the answer can almost always be found on the ground. Instead of working with your horse from a place of fear, try a little confidence and trust. Start by preparing your horse for the real world, not the finite world of perfectly controlled atmospheres. This means that yes, there will have to be a little hard work and consistent practice until you start to resolve the issues at hand. The key is working from a perspective that horses can understand, not from a mindset of perfection or complete unawareness.
If a proper foundation of groundwork has been established, in moments of need your horse will not only take care of itself, but you as well. They’ll start to look to you for support and guidance, instead of seeing you as a mechanism of torture and meaningless work. If you are able to connect with the horse from its feet to its mind and vice versa, soon what might have been terror or boredom turns into a curious confidence. If you give meaning to what you are doing, it gives the horse a sense of relaxation through purpose. The horse starts to look to you for the next objective instead of always trying to find something else to occupy its mind or interrupt the training.
What people don’t realize is how connected groundwork and saddlework actually are. Groundwork provides the tools necessary to support a confused, scared, or threatened horse in a safe environment. If the groundwork is properly done, it gives you everything you will need in the saddle to refine basic movements, bypassing any emotional and physical discomfort on the part of the horse.
Always remember that your horse would rather be out in a huge pasture with many other horses, so give the horse a reason to want to go to work with you. If the horse is in a stall and only occasionally turned out in a small pasture, you may be the only thing that gives it purpose and peace. Alternatively, you could be the other side of the spectrum to the horse too. You could be the worst part of its day. Which person do you want to be to your horse? One who gives it purpose, meaning, and peace, or one whom the horse looks at as a hostile interrogator about to demand another session of “give me what I want or else”.
Prepare your horse instead of controlling it. Give it a chance to search, explore, and even make mistakes without punishment, only support and guidance. Allow it to find the correct answers through searching and thinking on its own terms.