With the 2019 season looming, I am reflecting on some of the things I get asked the most often. Number one has to be; How do I cope with Pat being so SPOOKY? And the answer is, I have struggled with it for many years, seven in fact! But I have learnt a few things that help and a lot of things that definitely don’t help!
If like me, you have a horse that just simply won’t take your word for it that jumping fillers and XC fences WILL NOT KILL THEM… you might find this useful, even if it’s just knowing that you’re not battling alone.
FIRST THING’S FIRST
DO NOT GET CROSS. I know it’s frustrating, I know you want to scream ‘Trust me you pillock’ right into his ear hole whilst beating 10 bells of Sunday out of his backside… but please understand that this will ALWAYS MAKE THINGS WORSE.
If you have a horse that is genuinely afraid, hitting him, getting stressed and cross and tensing every inch of your body will NOT help one bit. The best thing to do is get off. If you can’t deal with things calmly and methodically, GET OFF.
BE SUPER POSITIVE
Remember that old saying; “throw your heart over the fence and your horse will follow”? In my experience of bringing on young horses and spending the last 7 years with Lord Spookington, if I commit to a line, a fence, a decision, a pace, a turn or a transition (and I mean REALLY commit), we will get there. It might not be pretty and it might take a lot of encouragement, but I have never had a refusal at a fence that I have ridden for with 100% unwavering confidence. If you are unsure in your decisions on a spooky horse, this will result in a lack of trust.
Lower the fence height, to poles on the ground if you have to, just so you are 100% confident and committed. And remember, don’t ever feel embarrassed to take it down a level if you do have a wobble… you’ll both be better off.
DON’T PUT IT OFF
If you have areas that are particularly challenging, things that your horse finds more scary than others, don’t avoid them; do them MORE. I have found that the more we get out and see the better he is. I never feel confident jumping corners or fillers so I practice them as often as I can. I HATE dressed fences on the cross country, so guess what I have on order for the field…? Yep, 4 plastic flower boxes and several old banners!
De-sensitising and making less of an ordeal of these things will definitely help you out for shows and competition environments.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE
If you ask a him a question that is answered with the required response… PRAISE your horse. Make sure he knows that was what you wanted, take the pressure off and pat him. Building trust with tons of positive bricks will soon mean you have a faultless and solid wall built up from all those good times.
Get some help. If you are struggling, never be afraid to ask. No-one ever has all of the answers, we all have different experiences and different tools in our bags. It’s ok to ask for help, wanting to better yourself for the sake of your horse’s happiness is commendable, don’t feel like you have failed. You haven’t – quite the opposite.