Just like people, some horses are naturally more highly strung than others, and there are those who always seem to find monsters and other horse-eating hazards lurking nearby. This spooky, tense behaviour can make schooling difficult and a relaxed, rhythmical dressage test can seem out of the question.
However, if you know how to get their attention, these horses are just as capable of producing tension-free work as any other. All you need is some patience, plus a few handy tools and tips in your arsenal.
If your horse isn’t paying attention to you, the best thing to do is to work on a 20m circle. The continuity of working in a small area will build his confidence far more than facing the whole arena, with all its potential hazards, at once. A nervous horse is constantly distracted by his surroundings, so the key to helping him relax is directing his focus towards what you’re asking. What makes this happen will vary from horse to horse and rider to rider, but anything that keeps him focused will help. Include lots of transitions and some basic lateral work to help establish a connection and encourage him to listen and respond.
Keep changing what you’re doing so your horse can’t switch off and go back to looking for monsters.
Focus on me
If your horse feels tense, it’s a common reaction to freeze. This means you end up trotting around not really communicating with him because you’re so caught up in worrying about what he might do. Instead, imagine you’re riding the tension out of him by occupying his brain and making things about you rather than whatever else is going on.
The added bonus of this is that if you’re focused on keeping your horse busy, it’ll keep you busy, too, and you won’t get distracted by the ‘what ifs’.
Don’t get stuck in walk – this gives you too much time to worry about what’s going to happen. If your horse is tense or fizzy, get on and get going, using lots of transitions between and within paces, and allow softness to develop as he starts to relax.
Pick up a copy of JuneHorse&Rider, on sale 2 May, for some great exercises to help your horse relax.