For the last two weeks, we’ve talked about riding the dull, lazy horse. While I go into much greater detail in my Equestrian Masterclasses, I hope it got you thinking about how to connect with these types of horses and get the most out of them.
Now, let’s talk about the other end of the spectrum: the hot, spooky, nervous horse.
If you’ve clicked on this article because you have a horse that fits this description (or your horse turns into a spooky horse when you arrive at a show, for instance), the very first thing to ask yourself is this: am I generally safe on this horse? As much as I’d like to say, “stick with it and work through it”, that’s not always the case and sometimes it’s better to leave it for another day, get some professional advice, or even ask your trainer to take the reins temporarily.
With that established, I’d like to give you three principles to think on while you work with these types of horses.
- Energy will go up and down. We’re trying to make them think slower, quieter. We’re looking for moments where they bring their energy down, and rewarding that shift. However, at times the energy will be high enough that trying to force them to come back down will only create more problems. In those moments, it’s better to redirect their energy towards doing something productive and where you’ll be able to find a moment to reward them.
- Try to catch them when they’re doing something right. It’s more effective than punishing them for doing the wrong thing. Reward hot horses frequently, but do it in moments of relaxation and calmness to reinforce that mindset. If you are trotting your nervous/fast horse and offers to step into a relaxed walk, for instance, take it and reward that down shift.
- The goal with hot/tense horses is to get an appropriate response to the amount of pressure we’re using. It’s not to change who they are, or make them into a dull horse. Generally, a hot horse will give you too much response, whereas a dull horse gives you not enough response. Your lower leg should always be present on the sides of a hot horse. It doesn’t have to be adding pressure, but it should always be there. Eventually they will learn that the leg doesn’t always mean “go faster”, and that can be a big paradigm shift in the way some of these horses view the world.
A bonus pointer that I have for riders who are learning to ride these types of horses is this: do not sacrifice your position to accommodate the horse. If you’ve naturally got a more forward-seat style, like Anne Kursinski, that’s fine as long as you’re secure in the tack and the horse can’t pull you forward. But often, I see riders who normally sit very tall and upright in the saddle try to “soften” themselves to a nervous horse by tilting their upper bodies forward, and I’d like to see you not do that. We’d like these horses to get comfortable accepting our aids and bodies where they are, and not destabilize ourselves because we think it will help them.
Ready for the next step? Build a better partnership with your horse with Tik’s help.