I recently helped a client with her horse who had the equine equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder! The challenges she faced and that I helped her to overcome are faced at some stage by most horse owners (well, probably all if I’m totally honest!). So this weeks blog post is about how to gain your horse’s attention….and keep it!
How long is a horse’s usual/average attention span?
Horses have the ability to focus on one thing and block out everything else. For instance when they are worried. [emember_protected custom_msg=’This content is only available to Members, to read more of this article please Join HERE or if you are a member please LOGIN‘] If their attention is on something that is worrying them they will be highly focused, compelled to react in seconds. If they are calm and interested they can stay focused for longer periods but we are talking minutes before they can become bored or look for an easier option or want to release some energy. Generally the younger a horse the shorter the attention span. Attention span is also affected by the way the handler or rider is with their horse.
Horses can be patient for long periods if they are relaxed, during these periods they are not necessarily focused, they are simply resting.
Why is it important to hold your horse’s attention?
It is important for safety. If your horse becomes distracted by something they may be unaware of you momentarily. Another key factor is your horse can not learn when they are not paying attention.
There can be a number of reasons for lack of focus:
The horse does not see you as important or a leader worthy of their attention
Something other than you is of more concern to them
They may not understand what you want of them and become frustrated and look elsewhere
Where your horses attention threshold is, i.e. they are young or easily distracted
They may have had a bad experience and are on the look out all the time
Are they distracted by trivial things or is it only something out of the ordinary? If it is the former it signals an unsure handler, if it is the latter it is a normal response which will be rectified by being calm consistent and decisive (CCD) about regaining their attention
What can cause you to lose his focus? What role does instinct play?
I find “nagging” is the biggest cause of horses losing focus because their handler/rider is failing to stop giving a cue or “ask” when the horse reacts correctly.
Instinct over rides all training if they are unsure. This is true for both horse and rider. The more CCD a handler is when a horses instinct kicks in the better your horse will respond next time and this will lead to a higher level of trust and respect.
If you lose your horse’s focus, what can you do to regain it?
On the ground I use energy to regain his attention and get him to face me. The amount of energy required to do this differs from horse to horse. When done correctly your horse will move their back legs more than their front. I only do this if a horse acts on their thoughts and moves past me, away from me or over me.
When riding, you need to work on something they know. The bigger the loss of attention the more basic you make it. The first and most basic aid is to move the hind end using one rein redirecting energy. Your horse will find it very difficult to resist and/or ignore your aids when doing this exercise. Once he can do this easily and feels relaxed you can start to build back up to his usual training level.
How can you improve his attention span?
Repetition and being CCD as a handler or rider.
How do you harness your horse’s attention and teach him new things?
Warming up is part physical and mostly mental. If your horse is not paying attention to you in a lesson you will struggle to achieve anything and your horse will not learn. Do some simple things, things that you both know first to get their attention then build from there.
To summarise, if you notice your horse isn’t paying attention to you, address that first before you move on with your ridden or handling work. Remember without their attention you are in a vulnerable position with little control and they will not learn until they are focused, settled and paying attention to your cues.
Good Bye for now and be sure to “Get In and Get On!” with www.yourhorsemanship.com