December 18, 2017


“Holding on to anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.”               Buddha

            Anger. It seems to permeate our society. We see road rage, spousal abuse, child abuse, and anger management classes. Why has anger become such a problem? Or was it always there we are just more aware of it now? Do you ride angry? I know I get angry at my horses sometimes. Sometimes I get angry at clients- mostly when they break the rules or don’t pay on time (or at all!). I’ve been angry with my kids, siblings, parents, spouse, dogs and even a chicken or two. What makes you angry? How do you handle it? Does your horse bear the brunt of your anger? Do you hold on to your anger? Or do you let it go?

            Lately, around the ranch here in good ole’ southern California, it’s been hot. Really hot. Upper 90’s- low 100’s kind of hot. Every day for over a month now. When it’s hot, I schedule my lessons for the early morning or late afternoon hours, when it is cooler. Now that doesn’t leave me much time to ride except during the hot part of the day. Therefore; I haven’t put a lot of wet saddle blankets between my horse and me. Yesterday, it was slightly cooler (only 85!), so I saddled up for a ride. Now I didn’t have high expectations for my mare because she hadn’t been ridden much lately. I figured I’d just hop on and do some bending exercises, walk, jog, trot and canter a little. I certainly didn’t expect her to work at peak show form, just respond to the basic cues and do what I asked.

            Surprise! She didn’t really think that was necessary. She figured since she had all this time off she finally had gotten her wish of being a Trophy Horse. You know the type- hired for their looks and don’t have to work for a living. Well this is a pretty mare, but I still expect some basic compliance under saddle. Especially when I’m not really asking for much beyond basic obedience. When I mounted up, it felt like someone had hidden a basketball under my saddle. I walked her in circles until her back finally lowered to its normal position, then I asked for a jog. That went just fine with her picking it up promptly and keeping a nice, slow pace through the circles and reverses I asked for. After that, I asked for her favorite gait- the medium trot. Now this mare is 16.1 and loves to trot. It’s been the one gait I can always count on and today she didn’t disappoint. She lengthened her stride to a lovely speed that I could easily post to. Around and around we happily went, loosening up both of us along the way.

             Most of our ride was now complete. I just needed some canter and we could quit for the day. It was already getting too warm for my taste so a few laps at canter was all I had in mind. I brought her back to a nice easy jog and then asked for the first canter. I started with her best side, a right lead (which is different than most horses, I know). This is what I got- She threw her head up, grabbed at the bit and trotted. Quickly. Not the nice, long strided trot we had before. Not a nice easy canter. Noooo- she gave me a short, choppy, quick trot along with a huge dose of attitude! I pulled her back to a jog and cued for the canter again, this time with a little more enthusiasm. Now she pinned her ears in anger and sped off at the fastest, choppiest trot she could muster. This time when I asked her to stop, she refused. In her anger, she grabbed at the bit and kept on trotting down the rail.

            OK, fine then! You want to be angry, I can show you angry! I started yelling at her at the top of my voice!

             “Oh yeah? Don’t want to stop, huh? I’ll show you who can stop and who can’t! Now I said Whoa! You had better stop right now!”

            While all this yelling was going on, I ran my hand down the right rein, pulled hard to my right hip and booted her with my left leg as hard as I could, executing a one rein, emergency, pulley stop. Now this really wasn’t an emergency. I knew I could ride out the pitiful attempt at running-away she was working up to. But, hey. Enough is enough! She disobeyed and that made me angry. She was angry too, which she proved by trying to run off. There’s that word again- ANGER. With all the yelling, pulling and kicking I was doing it sure seemed that I was incredibly angry. But was I really? Was she angry? Or just trying to get out of some work on a hot, summer day?

            After she finally came to a stop when I used the pulley rein, she stood quietly while I took a deep breath and readjusted my reins. Next, I resettled myself in the saddle. Then I took her back out to the rail, put her back in a jog, and once again asked for the right lead canter with the same result- faster trot, head up, etc. So I tapped her just behind my left leg with my whip. Off we went in the ugliest, bumpiest, choppiest canter you have ever seen. No impulsion, no head set, no frame. But- it was a canter and it was on the correct lead. Under normal circumstances, my first response would be to fix the canter. Keep riding it until it got better, but not today. I let her go in that awful, horrible canter for about 10 strides, then I transitioned back to walk.

            “Good girl! That’s better! ” I cooed and rubbed her neck.

             Does that sound like the actions of an angry person? Of course not! I wasn’t angry. I just made all that noise and did all those corrections to let her know I wasn’t going to allow her to misbehave. Once it was over and done with, I let it go. I moved on. On to the next thing. Or perhaps back to the first thing. But either way it was without anger.

            Next time you ride and get less than stellar responses, correct the horse. Then let it go. Don’t expect another bad result to the next cue. Expect a proper response. Chances are you’ll get it. Or at least a better one what you got before. If not, do it again. Then let that one go and start over. Again. And again. And again. As often as you need to until you get it done. Always rewarding the baby steps in the right direction. Never, never letting yourself get angry. If your anger gets the better of you, step off and go have a cool drink. Calm yourself down before you step back on. Only two emotions belong in the saddle- patience and a sense of humor. Never, ever anger.

Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg is a Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor and Clinic Instructor. Cheryl graduated from Rawhide Vocational College and Fullerton College. She is also an AQHA Professional Horsewoman. Cheryl has been teaching riding and horsemanship for over 30 years, training students from beginner up to world level competition. Currently she and her husband own and operate CRK Training Stable in Yorba Linda, CA. We welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to share this article with your friends, but rights to publish this article are restricted.



  1. Excellent advice, Cheryl! It applies to so many aspects of our dealings with ourselves, others and our other four-legged friends.

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