Here is the first of three articles that will help you strengthen your bond with your horse, especially when you can't go for a ride. You might feel the results once the dark times are over, and you can once again mount your horse.
As the days get shorter and the weather wetter, we inevitably approach a less horse-friendly time. For some, this might mean that the riding track becomes slippery, forest paths become dark, and rides become less frequent – unless you're lucky enough to have access to an indoor riding arena.
However, you don't need to see autumn or winter as a limitation. Instead, view the lack of saddle time as an extra cozy moment from the ground. The stable, the barn aisle, and the paddock – or perhaps an old barn – are all excellent places for some extended horse and rider time.
Everyone can learn new tricks – including horses. By teaching your horse a fun trick or two, you not only have a pleasant time together but also mentally challenge your horse as it tries to understand your signals.
It doesn't have to be a long session. Horses learn best when a command is repeated frequently but briefly. Patience and a positive attitude are essential, just like when riding. This means that you, as a rider, can also maintain essential skills when practicing tricks with your horse.
To teach your horse to smile on command, hold its favorite treat – a slice of apple, a piece of carrot, or something else – above its muzzle and lightly poke its upper lip with a couple of fingers. As soon as the horse starts to lift its lip, praise it and give it the treat. As mentioned, repetition is key, but eventually, it will get there!
Yawning on command can be a bit challenging for the horse to learn, but don't despair. Try placing a finger at the corner of its mouth, as if you were making room for a bit. If it feels the urge to yawn, praise it. This too requires many repetitions. Over time, you might just need to poke the horse at the corner of its mouth – so it doesn't think it has to yawn every time it gets its bit.
If your horse is comfortable being touched around its ears, you can teach it to shake its head. Take a straw of hay or straw and tickle the horse gently behind its ear. Meanwhile, make a motion that it should associate with the command. It could be you shaking your head or waving your hand – it's entirely up to you. When the horse shakes its head, thinking it's shooing away what it believes to be a fly from its ear, be sure to praise it.
Horses learn differently, so what works for some might not work for yours – but that's no shame. Experiment and see it as a unique opportunity to get to know your horse better. The goal of the exercises in this article series is precisely to help you maintain daily close contact with your horse during the otherwise limiting autumn and winter weather.
Source: Horse & Hound.