Distracted and Dangerous
One of the main reasons horses don’t pay attention is you are not ‘leading’ them. If you don’t have a purpose or a plan in which to engage your horse, they are likely going to be focused on any potential dangers around them. They will feel like a lone horse and we all know that a horse on its own is vulnerable and will be particularly nervous and tense.
Have a plan for worst case scenarios!
First you need to have a plan for worst case scenarios, indications of bucking, bolting, rearing. To keep safe if you feel any bad behaviour coming on, you need to be able to ‘take away the power’ by doing a one rein stop/disengaging your horse’s hindend, in simple terms this is bending his head to the left or right until the hindend steps over but in reality there is a little more to it and it is wise to teach your horse it correctly. I have full training videos on my Your Horsemanship website in how to correctly teach your horse how to disengage both on the ground and under saddle and it is key to having good control. It is not a case of simply pulling your horse round in a moment of panic, afterall we are not stronger than them especially when their flight instinct kicks in this is not the state of mind to start training them. However if they have been taught how to disengage then you have a very powerful tool to use in those “moments” and in time with the right work I often find those “moments” stop happening!
If your horse is also tricky when led from the ground, practise yielding their hind quarters away from you to achieve the same effect. Make sure to practise both these exercises at home so you have them in your toolbox should a difficult situation arise.
Use Challenges to keep your horse focused
Once you are confident you have good controls then it is time to give your horse some challenges starting with something simple. It could be something as easy as going around a couple of cones or markers until you feel good rhythm and an ease in their steering. What giving yourself a challenge does is give you and your horse a focus. Keep setting new challenges to avoid boredom for both you and your horse, I have lists of challenges on my website that you can access for free. Boredom or lack of leadership will often result in your horse testing you for something to do until he accepts that you are in control and is happy to wait on your commands.
Out & About – getting focus and controlling unwanted behaviour:
If you are at a show or on a hack you may have to think up some patterns without the help of any arena markers. Design some warm ups with plenty of turns in them to keep your horse busy and thinking, and his attention on you. We want him focused and listening, he needs to be waiting for your next cue, ideally thinking where am I going, what are they going to ask next rather than taking things into their own hands. Moving your horse’s feet is a sure way to get their respect and lots of changes in direction with good forward motion helps channel any nervous energy into a job. Moving feet is what a dominant horse does to get it counterparts to submit to their leadership. They use gestures backed up with a kick, a chase or a bite to get other horse to move their feet and do their bidding be it leave the food / mare / foal / me alone. You have to adopt this attitude “I’m the leader” and your horse will benefit from it.
Warm Up Arena:
For eventing you are often dealing with very fit horses at big events where there is a lot going on. These types of horses for their job need to be quick thinking and physically fit which means they can have a certain nervous energy about them! Some of my top event riders best horses are their trickiest ones so to get the best out of them they learn to manage them and find what works for them. When working with these horses the aim of the warm up is to gain focus and to get the horse confident and settled before asking anything of them. By the time they are ready to compete we want their horse “connected” to them and listening ready for action. At events it is very easy to want to look correct and pretty but if your horse is tense and not listening to you then address this first before you try and gather them up and get them working as you’d like. As a rider it can feel like all eyes are on you but at the end of the day, the warm up is your time, do what you need to do and what works for your horse before you gather them up and ask too much of them.
If you take anything away from reading this please remember if you have a distracted horse then:
Don’t try to be ‘pretty’ about it and don’t feel that just because you are at show that this ‘settling down’ time with your horse needs to be in a perfect outline with you on the perfect diagonal etc. It is about getting your horse listening to you. Once you have achieved this you can go ahead and work in an outline and show what you are both made of, but getting your horse to recognise you as the leader in this strange environment should be the first priority.
If you would like any support or advice then I am in my forum most days, go to www.yourhorsemanship.com and drop me a line!