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Jackie Poirier

4 October 2022

Synonyms for control include authority, discipline, domination, force, and management.

               How much control do you need to ride a horse? The easy answer is none.  What you really need is to be in control of your thoughts and have basic riding skills! Can you ride the trot, canter, and jump a two-foot course with confidence? If so, and your horse isn’t beyond your riding scope, what you need are communication skills, and a sense of humor. As a coach, I’ve told riders again and again how to fix a problem, but it’s hard to rewire the mind of a rider who clutches at the reins in a death grip, driving the horse mad.


  Here’s the thing about control, it’s an illusion.

                This blog cannot address all the reasons why riders are fearful and seek control. I can only talk about Moe because he can be a frightening horse because he is unstoppable. Literally, unstoppable even at a walk. He’s also mentally sensitive, so getting mad at him will make him fearful and one thousand five hundred pounds of fearful is a dreadful thing to deal with. To compensate, I’ve learned to control my thoughts and to be clear with outcomes. Outcomes are boundaries for me, such as not taking off at any speed, not kicking dogs or other horses, etc.

Learning what Moe hates, like sweating, has been valuable. If Moe won’t stop with a verbal command or rein aid, I make him sweat. That could include trotting/cantering around the loop until he begs to stop. It takes time on my part, and I need to do it while being emotionally neutral, but he remembers the lesson. Circles have also been good friends of mine. I learned the hard way that pulling on the bit was the wrong way to speak with him. Practicing outcomes and reading what really is happening helps too.

                One day, Moe and I, were out in the early morning for a trail ride. We had cantered up an S bend hill which blindly exited onto the country road which had no soft shoulder. It was a cold, wet November day when Moe stepped over the barrier and walked onto the road. It was a scene from the Horse Whisperer. We barely had taken two steps when an eighteen-wheeler flew over the rise traveling at eighty kilometers an hour. I thought I was going to die. The truck driver’s eyes and mine locked briefly as he tried to move his truck over and away from us. I looked down at Moe’s head and his ears were soft, neck low, and apart from a small cringe as the air from the passing truck hit him, Moe didn’t think it was a big deal. Moe and I had been riding partners for fifteen years when this happened, and our communication skills were honed. Moe said it wasn’t a problem, so it wasn’t a problem.

                Some horses are trained not to think, only do what they’re told. I want my horse looking around at his environment, assessing danger with me, asking questions, and working out solutions. Is it harder always negotiating with him? You bet, but when my life is on the line, I’m happy to give him the control.

                On your next challenge with your horse take a moment and think about outcomes. What do you want versus what you are getting. Learn what works with your horse. If your horse likes to take off at the back of the arena, and you want a different outcome, what should you think about? Personally, I’d be thinking circles… (while being emotionally neutral).

                It’s a complicated topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your horse have forged your partnership.

Jackie Poirier

Jackie Poirier


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