This weather certainly brings out the best in us, but it also means that your horses may be feeling particularly full of themselves after the long, wet winter! Much of this is down to management, so it may be worth thinking about these tips:
1. Grass. Due to the increased fructans (soluble carbohydrates) that are produced by the grass for growth during this period, energy is released quickly into the horse’s bloodstream (which can cause excitable behaviour) and can also cause problems such as laminitis and digestive upsets. Therefore, although it is tempting to turn your horses out as much as possible, it may be beneficial to limit the amount of grass he has access to as he becomes accustomed to the grass.
2. MOT. This is a great time to do an MOT on your horse; get his teeth, feet and back checked over, and make sure your tack still fits as he may have changed shape over the winter. In other words, make sure you have a healthy horse before you expect him to come into work.
3. Get the freshness out! Don’t get on a fresh horse and expect everything to be fine! Every Monday after they have had a break, I give the horses on training a little extra groundwork to release any excess energy and this is what I would recommend for horses coming back into work for the first few days. Although it can feel a little time consuming, lunging or long reining your horse first can save you hours in the long run. When you are doing this groundwork, let them have their heads and if they want a buck and a squeal just keep them going forward with regular changes of direction and they’ll soon calm down into a decent rhythm.
4. Get Focused. Make a plan before you go for a ride about what you are going to do and what you want to achieve. It is easier to stay positive and ride “forwards” if you and your horse have a focus, so set up some bollards, trot poles and other obstacles in the arena or field and ride a pattern or course through them. It is also sensible to stay within your comfort zone until you feel your horse has settled into his work, so avoid situations and environments that your horse finds excitable or more stressful until your partnership is strong enough to overcome and potential problems.
5. Disengage the Hind End. This exercise can diffuse the “ticking time bomb” that you horse may have turned into! Flex your horse’s neck and head laterally with one rein (let the outside rein go slack). If he is excited, this will be enough to make him step over with his hind end in order to stay balanced. However, you may also need to use some inside leg in order to disengage the hind end and make him pivot around his inside foreleg (see photo). By moving the hind end in this way, you are taking away your horse’s power whilst still allowing his excess energy to be released through movement.
Tune in next month when I go into more detail about “Disengaging the Hind End” and why it’s such an effective tool in our training and management of horses.
To learn more of Jason’s techniques please see his online training website www.yourhorsemanship.com