It has been a little while since my last blog when I arrived back from Australia at the end of April. I have been flat out catching up with work and the bank balance! I have been enjoying working with lots of fabulous horses from a national dressage champion to the wonderfully long-maned cob, Angel — I really enjoy the variety of horses and aspirations of their owners.
Our haylage has just been cut, so the big bales are fantastic for cantering spooky horses round! I have had a little run of horses in for problems in the warm-up arena, so it was interesting to really fine-tune my programme for educating horses with this kind of issue.
As with all training, you start small and increase your questions as your horse learns. The pressure in this situation is having another horse near them, so the first thing I check is whether I have absolute control over my left, right and forward, so I can show them the best place to be when they are worried. When I first introduce another horse, I get an idea of my horse’s comfort line; this is how close another horse can get to them before it affects their concentration, or way of going, and gives me a starting point to work from. In simple terms, my retraining programme then follows these steps:
1. Follow another horse, reducing the gap as your horse become comfortable
2. Contact; make sure the other rider can give your horse a rub while standing still, then on the move
3. Ride in a pair next to each other, reducing the gap as your horse becomes comfortable
4. Passing each other left and right. This is where you are likely to get most resistance and anxiety, so start at your horse’s comfort line and reduce the gap as they settle. Make sure you do this exercise on both reins and both sides (i.e. passing right to right, and left to left)
5. Open plan; this is what you are working towards, when you can do steps 1-4 in random orders, with small gaps between the horses, and with an increased number of horses in the arena
Although my real passion will always be starting young horses, it is incredibly satisfying to turn problems horses around for their owners. I was reminded of this when Bear came to stay while his owner, Vikki, was on holiday.
Over the years, I have worked with some very difficult horses that I have thought would never ‘come right’ for their owners and Bear was one of them. He was one of the most nervous ponies I have ever worked with and came with an ingrained bolting habit. For anyone who has sat on a bolter, it is the most dangerous situation you can get into, as they run ‘blind’. I was very honest with Vikki, and didn’t think he would ever be right for her, but a few years on, he is an absolute delight, with kids and novice adults alike jumping on him! I take my hat off to Vikki and the owners of other difficult horses I have worked with, for their perseverance and faith they showed in their horses once they had got them home. It can be very daunting to re-establish a partnership with a horse that you may have been scared of or hurt by, but as they say, the best things in life don’t come easy, and it makes it all the more satisfying when all the work pays off!
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I have had my own ‘case of perseverance’ with my polocrosse mare, Sea Breeze. She won best playing pony last weekend, where she was brilliant throughout (pictured top). Penny bought her unseen as a just-broken three-year-old from a polo stud, where she was obviously going to be too ‘hot’ for polo — and I tried to sell her two weeks later as I couldn’t be bothered with her shenanigans! Five years on, I’m so glad she didn’t leave then. She is still a little on the crazy side, but she is everything I want in a competition horse; perfect conformation, speed, agility and a massive heart, there’s no way she’d ever give up on me! The best thing is that I have a recipient mare arriving carrying her embryo that is by our young Australian Stock Horse stallion, Haydon Oracle. Hopefully it will have all the talent of its parents, but a little more chilled out than Breeze!
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