My mare has a cow phobia, and apparently has for all of her 15 years. Now, the issue is that she has to live right next door to them. The arena backs right on to a cow paddock on one long side and the farmer has a race which he moves his cows up and down daily on the short side. It's not my property so there's nothing I can do about the vista, and I need to keep grazing there. Unluckily for Miss 17hh, the cows in the arena paddock are very curious youngsters, and love to line up and poke their heads through the post and rail and keep an eye on things.
I have been lunging her in the arena with the whole assumption that the more she's focussed on me, she might realise that they just want to admire her beauty, not tear her limb-from-limb. I'm wanting to start riding soon and while she hasn't put a foot wrong in the rides I have had at my previous grazing in Whangarei, I am a nervous rider and I'd really like to lessen her desire to spin and bolt when the cows eye her up. The girls I graze with also love to hack out over the farmer's races and I want to join them, but I want my horse to have as much fun as I want to have, and neither of us are going to enjoy much in the arena or out on the trails if I can't get to the bottom of this. Help? Stacey, Cambridge
Lunging will help to get the excess energy out of your mare but it won’t make much difference to your problem. If you feel too nervous to ride your mare, you need to find someone with more experience to ride her for you.
You seem to be telling yourself that you won’t be able to control your mare because of the cows nearby. You need to forget about the cows and concentrate on your mare and on what you want her to do.
The only way to control any horse is to have her thinking about you and what you want. If cows are more important to your mare than what you want to do, it simply means that you aren’t in control.
All horse riding comes down to three simple things. Your horse must move exactly where you want, in the gait you want, at the exact speed you want. You certainly don’t want to stop and ‘spin and bolt’ whenever you see a cow. It’s up to you to make the decisions. It should never be up to your horse.
One of my favourite sayings is “never ask your horse to do anything before you’ve taught her to do it”. In other words, you must gain control of your mare in the arena before you go out into a paddock. If you can’t control your mare in an arena, where everything is to your advantage, you won’t be able to control her outside.
Whenever I ride a horse, I assess what he’s thinking, every step of the way. Is he thinking about me and what I want, or is he thinking about what’s happening down the paddock or outside the arena? Is he concentrating on me, or is he concentrating on something else?
The best way to assess this is to constantly watch the horse’s ears and head position and to monitor his speed. When a horse has his inside ear back ‘listening’ to me and is moving at an even, relaxed pace then I know he’s concentrating on me. If a horse lifts his head, pricks his ears, looks outside the arena, moves off line or speeds up, I know he’s thinking about something else. I must correct the horse every time he does these things. Otherwise any horse will soon learn to take control and do whatever he pleases. I feel this is the problem with your mare.
If your mare has had this problem for fifteen years, it won’t be easy to overcome her behaviour. Every horse can be improved with correct and consistent training. However, your safety must be the most important consideration. If you don’t feel safe riding your mare, maybe you need a more suitable horse to ride and enjoy.