After the hours of effort you put into working on your horse’s athletic abilities for competing, how much are you doing to prepare him psychologically for what lies ahead at a show? Anna Haines explains
Many of us own horses with the hope of competing at some point. The thrill of riding between the boards, flying around the cross-country course at speed and, frankly, showing off all your hard work – you just can’t beat it!
Regardless of your preferred discipline, competitions are a very different environment from home, with many new sights and sounds for your horse to take in. Preparing your horse for what he’ll encounter will prevent your outings ending up being negative experiences, helping you on your way to that rosette!
Follow the crowd
Horses are social herd animals and, due to this, they often find it difficult to move away from others. This is especially common at competitions because there are so many other horses around.
The problem is that each horse is being asked to focus on his own thing, away from direct contact with other horses. Because competitions are a stressful environment, with lots of new stimuli for your horse to process, this can mean that even though he doesn’t know the other horses there, he may be more motivated to join or stay close to them.
Working him away from other horses can be started at home…
- Ask a friend to ride in the arena or paddock with you and gradually increase the distance between the two of you. Don’t go too far initially to ensure your horse remains calm and focused on his work before increasing the distance any further. The same goes for the speed at which you and your friend are working – start in walk, introducing trot when he’s more confident.
- When your horse is happy and relaxed working away from one other horse, ask some more friends to help and gradually increase the numbers of horses working near, but not with, you.
- Once you’ve succeeded in doing this at home, try it in some other locations and different landscapes. Since many competitions are held in open spaces, hacking routes can be great places to practise.
Did you know? Horses don’t generalise behaviours easily – this means that just because they’ve learnt to do something in one context and location, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be confident doing it elsewhere. Ideally, practise each element of your training in at least seven different locations to help your horse generalise his behaviour.
Find out more about what you can do to help prepare your horse for a competition environment in October Horse&Rider, on sale 22 August.