Some people would consider my barn “distraction city” for a horse! This is true. Not necessarily a bad thing though, it is good for them to learn to tune out outside craziness and listen to you.
Our place is surrounded by a school complex. We have a football stadium, just a driveway away from our riding ring. You can imagine the craziness that goes on over there. Football games, cheerleaders, very loud music( I mean ridiculously loud). Sirens and cars on the road. Not to mention that awful cougar growl that they play anytime the home team scores.
It has been said that if a horse can behave at our farm it can handle being ridden anywhere!
Prey Animals And Distractions
Seeing that horses are prey animals, to them anything different or suspect they might consider a distraction. The sense of self-preservation is a part of working with horses that we have to learn to be aware of and accept.
Reason #1 For Your Horse To Get Distracted
The first reason that your horse may become distracted are things in the environment around you. Especially things that are not normally there. For example, when we have farm shows, the student’s families set up chairs along one side of the arena. It is outside the fence of course, but the horses are not used to anything being there so it throws them off.
I have oftentimes found our horses get more distracted in their home environment. They think they know what to expect at home in their usual environment. When there is all of a sudden something new they might find it very distracting. Whereas if you go to a show, your horse doesn’t know what to expect. He might spook at something unusual, something that probably wouldn’t be an issue at home.
Noises, other horse, trucks, and trailers… because nature tells them to be suspicious to stay safe, the silliest little things can become distractions.
Reason #2 For A Distracted Horse- Boredom
If you are a ring rider that has your horse in a training program. It is probable that you practice the same things over and over again. I totally get that, that is the whole point of schooling your horse. The more you practice the better they get.
If we drill the same things over and over again horses get bored easily. The trick to it is to find different exercises to do that help with the same thing. There a lot of ways to skin a cat as they say! Figure out what different things you can do with your horse to accomplish the same training lesson.
If Your Horse Is Distracted By Outside Factors ( other horses, wind, noises)
If your horse is distracted by stuff going on outside the ring, or wherever you are riding, you have to find a way to keep him focused on you. In my opinion, the best thing to do is to try your hardest to keep yourself focused on what you wanted to do. Don’t let your horse being distracted change your plan!
The best way to keep their attention is to keep pushing them forward. Go forward, give them a lot to think about. Constantly changing direction, gaits, going over poles, etc….
By doing this you are giving your horse to focus on you and telling him exactly what to do. Hopefully, keeping his mind engaged in what it is you want him to do, he won’t have time to be distracted by other things going on.
If Your Horse Is Distracted Because He Is Bored!
If your horse is bored with hard schooling sessions. You will be glad that you take the time to change things up and get his attention. His attitude will be better and he will most likely be a more willing participant.
Try to think of different ways to work on what you need to work on. There are a ton of arena exercises you can do. If you aren’t sure, ask your instructor for some suggestions.
Incorporating riding outside of the ring if you feel comfortable can also get your horse interested in work again so that when you go back to the arena he will be a more willing participant.
Lesson horses get bored, doing the same things and teaching new riders who give conflicting signals. If you focus on pushing him forward, maybe tap him with a crop to get him out of his zombie-like state, hopefully, that will help get their attention back on you. The harder you make them work, the more micromanaging you do. Constantly giving him cues, hopefully, will help him be more inclined to pay attention better.
Practicing a lot of transitions from one gate to another is another way to help keep your horses attention. If you go round and round in a trot over and over again, it is easier for your horse to go into zombie mode, stop paying attention and become easily distracted.
Changing direction, changing gaits, incorporating some halts and maybe even a back up every now and then will be another way to get your horse to pay attention.
Don’t Get Frustrated Get Creative
All horses will have days where they just seem distracted and not listening. It is just part of riding. Don’t allow yourself to get frustrated. Instead of getting frustrated or irritated at your horse. Get creative, think of different exercises to do to get his attention back.
Why Can’t We Just Create An Environment With No Distractions?
Taking away all the possible things to distract your horse is counterproductive. For one, I’m sure if you removed everything you saw as a potential distraction, he would just find something else to be distracted by.
Secondly, we don’t ask a lot of our horses. They stand around with their friends, eat and sleep most of the time. It is part of our horse’s training and job description that they keep their attention on us when we are riding and working with them. It is not too much to ask, they have the majority of their time to do whatever they want. We can and should insist that they pay attention to us when we are riding. The better they pay attention the better that both you and your horse will progress.
When we are able to give our horse cues when he is distracted to get him paying attention to us again, that is a great sign. It is a sign that you and your horse are communicating well. That you are “speaking the same language”.
Controlling The Mind As Well As The Body
Learning how to handle your horse when distracted will help you in many ways. If you show, it will help your horse focus on the task at hand. If you trail ride, it will keep your horse looking where he is going, which could help avoid him spooking or stepping off the trail.
You will generally have better control of your horse, which keeps us safer around them. Working on focusing them on us amongst distractions is important. It means that we are not just sitting up there guiding him around the ring… we are controlling the mind as well as the body.
“Speaking the same language” as our horse is what we all strive for. Keeping him focused on us is a big step towards reaching this goal.