Most of us have had a confidence crisis when riding or handling an excitable or tricky horse, but when you’re armed with the correct tools, the situation becomes much more manageable
It’s that time of year when, because of the short daylight hours and waterlogged fields, many horses are spending much more time in their stables. On top of that, light restrictions, weather and ground conditions often limit how much riding we can do, all of which can result in horses who are, quite literally, chomping at the bit to get out and do something.
Whether you’re clinging on to the end of the leadrope while your horse launches himself on the way out to the field for his allotted hour’s turnout or sitting perched while he jogs sideways up the road, flinging his head and snorting, it’s not a lot of fun. The temptation is to avoid doing it, maybe only riding a couple of times a week instead of most days, but the less your horse gets out, the more the problem will escalate, so the only thing for it is to crack on while keeping yourself as safe as possible.
Getting on board
When you’re riding there are various different scenarios that can light up your fresh horse, sometimes leading to behaviours such as bucking, rearing, spooking and even bolting. If your horse can be a handful to ride after a few days off or on a sharp, frosty morning, these tips will help you stay safe and in control…
- If you have a ‘safe’, quiet route, stick to that on days when your horse is feeling sprightly
- Don’t go anywhere potentially exciting – avoid wide, open spaces or anywhere where you’re likely to encounter other riders having a blast
- Use a neckstrap – you can hold it all the time if it makes you feel safer
- If you’re feeling nervous, your horse will pick up on it and be more likely to react in an unfavourable way. Check that you aren’t perched forward or hanging on the reins and that you’re breathing
Coping on the ground
Horses aren’t only exuberant when ridden. Freshness can cause them to become bargy in the stable, drag you around the yard or leap around on the end of the leadrope, but there’s lots you can do to help rein him in, leaving you feeling more confident…
- Lead your horse using a lunge rein and bridle so if he has a leap around you can keep you distance but still hold on to him, and you’ll have more control.
- Having treats in your pocket or hand will help distract your horse from the excitement of wherever he’s going, then you can reward him with one for good behaviour when you reach your destination. Be careful not to reward bad behaviour, though
- Just like when you’re riding, make sure you’re not sending nervous signals to your horse. Check you’re not gripping the leadrope and keeping a solid contact on it, and make sure you’re breathing. Try gently singing or talking to him can help keep both of you calm
- It can be worrying when your horse starts whinnying loudly and frantically to his friends, but keeping another horse in sight can help prevent this situation occurring
There’s lots more helpful tips for boosting your confidence in the Spring issue of Horse&Rider, get yours now, on sale 9 February.