Working so closely to the show world within the equine industry has given me many different view points to how horses "work" in such a high stress environment. It's most interesting to me how many of the same personality types I see in the coaches, trainers and riders... but also how many of the same horsenality types I see in the stalls from day to day.
The best athlete is one who can push through hard times, both emotionally and physically. But in horses we often over look the mental capacity needed for such a strenuous and demanding job; none so much as the show horse. A show horse spends 99% of it's time in a stall, and more often than not never gets to touch another horse in it's "up time". They are expected to perform physically on a daily basis without a thought of their own, and must fall into obedience without question. This is far from ideal for most horses, but is the most detrimental to that of the left brain extrovert (LBE). This is a busy body, busy minded horsenality that not only needs to be right, but needs enrichment! It's easy to pick these busy mouths out of the barn with a quick glance: they are the ones banging on stall doors, chewing on everything (and everyone) within reach, and often the ones who start to "revolt" when the goings get rough. The LBE however, is one of the more sought after horsenality types for the show world; by pure performance ratings. An LBE is braver by definition and has a great work ethic, when their energy is guided to the right outcome. But when it gets left to it's own devices in a stall, that LBE energy spells disaster. From tearing blankets, nibbling on handlers and reaching extremes of self harm accidents; the LBE needs to put that energy somewhere. And what better place than at the end of a lead line, playing some games!
Playing ground games with your LBE before schooling under saddle is one of the most effective ways to improve your schooling results. Instead of hopping on and trying to "run out" all that pent up energy, you can put it to good use and teach him something new! A left brain extrovert wants to move his feet in his direction of choice, so fighting with gadgets and dominance won't work to get his mind straight. The best way to bring him back onto the playing field with a level head is to direct that sure headed and quick hooved energy into some games that YOU can win. This will help establish respect from your LBE, as well as develop his need for leadership from you, instead of him trying to convince you of the opposite.
Here are my favourite games for the LBE; try them on the lead line or at liberty!
I am the first to look to liberty work when starting out with any horse; I love creating a safe environment for myself and my horse, and nothing says safety more than space! But I also love liberty work to start every session as it allows me to better gauge when my horse has decided to work with me as a partner.
"Join up" is the first and foremost of every session; a little free lunge around the ring to get some beans out... but it needs direction! Too many people just chase their horses around thinking they are getting some energy out, when really they are putting in more energy then they are getting out. Chasing a horse without direction constantly invokes the flight response from them, and that is not the outcome we are looking for. We want them to trust us, not fear us. Join up allows the horse free movement to choose their pace, but you should be the one deciding the direction. Have a plan in mind, and stick to it! You decide when the horse goes right, and when they get to change to go left, and vice versa. Not the other way around. If your horse goes to change direction, you need to redirect them back to your chosen direction. You'll probably notice with your LBE that they often choose the "fight" response when you first get going. This looks a lot like a cheeky head toss, snaking neck, maybe a buck or two and even a striking front hoof. Your job is to get them out on the rail and keep moving. Be kind, assertive and consistent. Once you have the horse moving around you in rhythm, you'll start to notice their gestures change from a "fight or flight" to a calculated and rhythmical dance. They will start to relax into the rhythm and begin to trust your presence in the middle of the circle. From here you'll need to look for when they ask to come in to you...
Monty Roberts shows a wonderful example of "Join Up" here:
Once you've had your horse join up with you, you can decide to stay at liberty or move onto the lead line. This decision is personal, but can also be for safety reasons.. if you have an aggitated LBE you may choose to keep them at a distance as you play to avoid misplaced energetic strike outs, or to keep them close so they can't turn their bums to you in protest. Either way your next mission should be to teach your horse to disengage their hind end.
To do this you'll need a carrot stick and a lead line to start.
While facing your horse, lean to one side and place all of your "energy" onto their hind end. Your goal is to have them swing that hind end away from you and square their shoulders up with you again. You are asking them to step away from you, but also to cross their hind legs as they step away. By doing so, they are putting themselves in a vulnerable position; which in turn is showing their trust to you as their leader in that instance. This is very important for a LBE to accomplish with you; they are giving up their dominance to you by moving their bums away, and also their trust in you by crossing those hind legs.
Now unless your horse is super sensitive, or trained for this movement already; you will likely need to up the motivation from just your energy at their bum, to some air pressure from your carrot stick, and upping the levels of pressure to touch until you get the desired response. Always remember to start with the ideal cue first, and move up your levels one at a time. That first cue will eventually become the only cue, so make it a good one! Also remember to stop cuing your horse as soon as they THINK about giving you what you want. We reward the slightest try, and then progress forward from that thought into rewarding the action.
Make sure to bring some treats with you for your LBE, we all know they are motivated by food.. and what better prize for becoming your new partner than a nice carrot treat.
I'd like to take a sideline here for a moment about treats, as so many people disregard the importance of positive reinforcement with horses. Especially for LBE's since they are already quite mouthy. And my response to that is: it's not the treats fault and it's not the horses' fault... so guess whose fault that is? ;)
When used correctly, and given at a sanctioned time as a reward for trying and good performance, treats can be a god send.. especially with an LBE. Be picky about when you a give a treat, be picky about how your horse takes that treat from your hand, and be picky about how they respond afterwards. What I mean is; don't let them mug you for a treat. With my horses, I give treats in training at two monumental phases: 1) the "I just tried learning something" phase and 2) the "I'm not asking for a treat" phase. For the first, I give a treat immediately after my horse has thought about trying something new. For instance; I just taught my newest OTTB how to back up from waving my finger. I gave him a treat the second he leaned his weight backwards and thought about going backwards. It encourages the thought process in the right direction for the next time I ask for the same thing. And for the second instance, I only actually give the treat over when I am not being mugged for it. My horse must stand calmly and put together, respecting my space before he gets a treat; not when he's shoving me over in search of a free grab bag.
Okay treat rant over, back to games!
Another great LBE game is more of a mix and match game. Once you have an arsenal of games under your belt, and the language to use them. Start one game, and half way through jump to another... be consistent in your language, but start to be unpredictable.. and then at some point, let your horse take the reins for a bit! Where do they want to go? What game do they like to play? Make it about their decisions for once, even if it means letting them graze for a few before moving to a new spot in the field. An LBE loves to have their brain pet, and nothing fulfills ego fluffing better than follow the leader with exuberance!
Just because you show high level and need to bubble wrap your horse, doesn't mean your horse can stop needing an outlet. They are still horses under all that show gear, and if you want the best results; you need to put in the best training! Physical conditioning is only half the battle, get to work on leveling out that inner mental battle so it can help you out in the show ring! A level headed athlete is ready for anything; even a big red ribbon.
Be sure to share some of your fun LBE stories with us!