Between the brightly coloured poles, patterned fillers, wacky fence dressings and eclectic arena furniture, a showjumping course is full of potentially terrifying things for your horse to spook at. If his eyes are on stalks, not only is he distracted from what you’re asking him to do, but he’s also more likely to knock poles, or have a refusal or run-out.
While some horses are naturally more nervous than others, spookiness is often the result of a lack of experience. This means that the key to a calm, confident round is preparation at home – luckily, there’s plenty you can do to help your horse ignore the monsters and focus on the job in hand.
Have your fill
Fillers are a common sight on a showjumping course, but can be a prime suspect for causing spookiness. The trick is to introduce them to your horse gradually, so he becomes so used to them that he turns a blind eye when they appear on the course…
- Start with a simple cross-pole, with the fillers right out to the side. Encourage your horse to jump it – approaching in trot is fine, the important thing is that he stays straight and makes it over without stopping. Gradually build up to cantering to it.
- Turn the fence into a small upright and begin to move the fillers in slightly. Ride to the fence, keeping your leg on and staying positive.
- As he gains confidence, slowly bring the fillers in closer and closer to the centre, so he’s jumping over them rather than between them. This may take several sessions, depending on how nervous he is.
If previous spooks have left you nervous or worried, there’s no shame in asking your instructor or an experienced friend to do some jump training with your horse while he’s getting used to spooky fences. He needs a confident person in the saddle to help him get over his fears, but if that’s not you for whatever reason, don’t be too hard on yourself.
Remember – Spook-busting your horse isn’t going to happen in one session. Take your time, be patient and you’ll eventually reap the rewards.
For more spookbusting advice, read the full feature in March Horse&Rider, get your copy now