‘The 5 minute fight’
I would like to bring your awareness to the 5 minute fight or 5 minutes of resistance that a lot of riders encounter when riding their horse and believe it to be quiet normal and expected. I want you to sit back for a moment and ask yourself a few questions – is the horse a very forgiving animal? Do they give and give some more? Are they very sensitive creatures? Are we teaching/explaining it to them in a way they can understand? Is each individual horse different – in its learning, physical abilities, strength andemotional capacity?
Think about their survival instinct – ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’. Our perception of ‘fight’ is often the extreme – bucking, rearing, pigrooting, biting etc. and our perception of ‘flight’ is often extreme also - taking off, pulling away etc. I want you to look at the subtleties of ‘fight’ & ‘flight’ i.e. rushing a little after a transition - ‘flight’, having to go faster in a particular gait- ‘Flight’, holding onto the bit - ‘fight’ , feeling cold backed or stiff through the back - ‘fight’, holding tension anywhere in the body – ‘fight’, throwing the head up in the air ‘fight’. These subtleties of ‘fight’ and ‘flight’ are protective/coping mechanisms, to protect themselves physically, mentally and emotionally.
How often do you hop on your horse and there is a process of resistance that has to be ‘dealt’ with before you are able to get the work that you are asking for?
Is there always a particular movement that is difficult? i.e. halting square, transitions up or downward
Is your instructor always working on the same things with your horse i.e. getting them to engage especially in a particular gait or movement, but it is not such a problem in other gaits or movements?
Do you have to lunge your horse first otherwise they feel tense, stiff or tight through the back or may buck or be ‘naughty’ when you get on?
Does it take a while for your horse to warm up or to soften through their back or to soften to the bit?
Do they hang on the bit and are you constantly working to get them off your hands?
Or is there a particular movement every time that the horse resists or struggles with i.e. lateral work one way, flexion to one side, canter lead, jumping a particular type of jump i.e. a spread or you have to lunge your horse before riding?
A few years ago when I still had time to ride 5-6 times a week, I had a thoroughbred that I was retraining off the track – my instructor was teaching me to get him to do a ¼ canter pirouette turn to improve his hind end engagement, improve his canter and prepare for flying changes – well he picked it up so easily - one way! but do you think either of us could get him to do it the other way!!?? Nope , so we kept trying- adding in different variations of the exercise and we improved it – He was such a giving, willing, forgiving horse like the majority of them are and he did not once complain with a kick, buck or any nastiness. I took him to Ian Bidstrup and followed his recommendations – that problem was gone! It was not him resisting – he just physically could not do what I was asking for!! I could have just stopped asking for the exercise or changed trainers but that was not the underlying primary problem!
I have had quite a few clients say to me that they have 5 minutes of resisting when they first get on or first go into a particular gait and then the horse settles and works well.
A client recently commented to me – I thought the 5 minute fight every time I went into the canter for the first few times in a ride was normal, after a few transitions he would be fine, but then when you changed my saddle the resistance was completely gone and I realised it was not normal!
We have to ask the question – ‘Why the 5 minutes of resistance???’ Often the answer I hear is ‘they need more work/training’, ‘just work them harder’, or ‘find a new instructor’. I beg you to ask the horse – listen to what they are telling you – look for the underlying cause so that there is NO ‘5 minute fight’ or you understand the underlying cause of it.
Underlying causes of the 5 minute fight
- Saddle fit issues – may be the saddle, the type of saddle blanket, rib pain, girth discomfort, saddle fit.
- Body soreness/stiffness especially joint pain
- Feet pain/imbalance
- Gastric ulcers
- Emotional trauma/memories
What happens after the 5 minute fight – if the horse is very unhappy the 5 minute fight will become the majority of the ride or progress from just resisting to bucking, rearing, stopping etc. or they may not want to be caught to be ridden. But most horses are very giving and forgiving and they will learn to cope – it is a survival mechanism – they will figure out how to brace or ‘cheat’ through their body so that they mostly appear to be coping with the exercise or improving throughout the ride – but what I find through the body is patterns of resistance that have built up to compensate for the initial underlying issue. Initially if they have a problem in the lower back (secondary or primary) they will be resisting then they will brace in the lower back and lift their hind legs higher so that initially the resistance reduces and that cold backed feeling has gone and they appear quite active with their hind legs – but their lower back is rigid! They will tighten a muscle or group of muscles to stabilise the joint that is not moving as well as the others and compensate by moving another joint in that leg more. They will load or fall through a shoulder, or they will suck back in the base of the neck, hollow in the back and appear to be softer on the hands.
If you are having any degree of the ‘5 minute fight’ with your horse then I recommend you contact your Qualified Equine body therapist to help you identify the underlying cause and keep searching until you find it – don’t allow anyone to tell you it is just the horses behaviour until you have ruled out every other possible option!
I hope you have found this article to be helpful.
My passion and mission in life is to educate people to see more then we see when it comes to all animals and to really see them!!
Dr. Raquel Butler BVSC, mETAA, mBTAA, mCIVT
Integrated Veterinary Therapeutics
Phone: 0435 813 505