Tina Sederholm answers:
It is quite a challenge to get on a hot or excited horse and stay calm. As you have noticed, when a horse gets excited, the rider ‘catches’ that energy, then feeds the horse’s excitement more and so the cycle goes on. However, as the more conscious member of the partnership, you can do things to help lower your adrenalin, which will also influence your pony to be calmer.
The first thing that most people do when they start to get excited is to hold their breath or breathe in a tight way. You can practise taking deep, calm breaths when you are off your horse – waiting in a queue or sitting in a car is a perfect opportunity to do a spot of this.
Put one hand on your belly just below your tummy button. Take a breath in, and as you do so allow your tummy to push your hand out. If your hand does not move, you are breathing in a tense way. Take several breaths in and out until your hand starts moving. This is the sort of breathing that will keep you calm when your pony jumps about.
Once you have mastered it on the ground, you can try it while riding. If you can, have a brief go with your hand on your belly, standing still in the yard before you ride out. But if standing still is not an option, try walking around, breathing deeply, imagining your hand is there as a guide.
Make him listen!
It will also help if you can do some work on getting your horse to listen to you before he gets excited. If you have nowhere to school, can you make walk-halt transitions as you walk down the road? You do not need to make him stand still for long, especially if at this stage it causes him to get worked up, but at least get him to notice that you are saying something. See if you can co-ordinate your halt aids with breathing out. This will help you ask him in a calm, relaxed way.
Once you have mastered these simple things, try thinking of other ways you can influence your horse to stay calm. If you go out with friends, is he better at the front or the back of the ride? When he is walking, is he calmer on a contact, or a stretching out on a long rein? If you start thinking of solutions, you will have less time to worry about the bad things, like falling off, which might happen, but have not happened yet.
Tina Sederholm BHSII, BHS SM, is a riding trainer and author, who has evented to International level.