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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Blow Away Your Winter Blues

Your horse’s temperament will define how best to school him. He’s likely to fall into one of two categories. Is he a hare or a tortoise?

Every rider has their preference. Some like to kick on. It can be nice to feel nothing’s going to happen if you don’t ask for it. Others, however, veer away from the ‘keeps-you-fit’ equine. They’d rather sit still and have a horse that’s raring to go at all times. When it comes to schooling each type responds to a completely different approach. One horse’s entertainment can be another’s worst nightmare.

So with that in mind are you looking for something to get you through the dark nights of winter? Winter offers little respite from the school during the week. Don’t be a martyr to the cause. A couple of nights schooling is more than enough for any horse. He won’t lose fitness overnight. Two good workmanlike sessions midweek are far more beneficial than riding every night and achieving nothing.

Whatever your horse’s temperament if you’re just looking for something to do check out this page -

Tortoise training
The lazy horse requires inspiration. He needs you to get on board every time with enough energy for the pair of you. Everything you do or ask has to be the most exciting thing you’ve ever asked for. BUT your legs should only rest lightly against his sides at all times so he knows you’re there - they should never kick. Do that and he’ll switch off as quickly as you would if someone droned on and on about nothing.

The perfect type of schooling exercises for this type of horse are short, quick bursts of speed or energy. Quick transitions and turns. Serpentines in canter with changes of leg through trot or walk over the centre line. Halt to trot transitions across the school. Halt to canter even. Anything that makes him sit up and listen, get his hocks under his body and inspires him. Even the laziest horse will respond if you’re prepared to meet him halfway. Supply the enthusiasm and you’ll be surprised how much he gives back.

For your own sake remember to take several short breaks to get your breath back. Never allow him to rest for a moment though. Walk on a long rein using regular taps with the whip to maintain his energy. A forward walk can be as motivating for him as a canter – and for you it’s a chance to recharge the batteries.

Taming the Hare
The adrenalin junkie is a different ball game completely. Assuming he’s just sharp – not naughty – you need to be his calming influence. Anything you can do to show him life is dull will help your schooling. Allow this type of horse to switch off and before you know it you’ll have a horse you can get your leg on.

Sharp horses need repetition. Too many sudden changes will only get your horse more excited. Never think a ‘good canter or blast’ will calm him down. It’s the last thing you need to do. He has enough trouble getting rid of pent up adrenalin without making more!

The perfect exercise for this type of horse requires patience. Stick your self on a 20m circle and either change pace or change shape but never both at the same time. That will be too much for his active brain to cope with. Try trotting 20m circles followed by 15m and 10m and back out again. Do that for twenty minutes without changing anything other than the circle size and without even thinking about it you’ll find yourself pushing him forward.

To a sharp horse your leg should be a comfort not a shock. It’s there to ‘hold his hand’ not surprise him. Take your leg off because you think it’s exciting him and he’ll get such a shock when you do put it on that he’ll be off down the school before you can say ‘steady’.

A ‘sharp-naughty’ horse needs something between the two. The most important thing with him is to keep him away from straight lines and too much repetition. He needs to be kept busy without the addition of excitement. This isn’t too difficult to do. Ride serpentines, changes of rein and figures of eight in one pace. Every time you feel him tighten ride a turn across the school or a small circle. Keep his brain full of your ideas and stop him filling it with ones of his own.

Winter is right here now and it’s important to keep yourself inspired. Understanding your horse’s temperament and schooling needs will get you halfway there. Your consistency will do the rest. Never school if you’re in a foul mood. It’s better for both of you if you take the night off. You’ll only spoil things and get off feeling guilty.

When it’s cold, dark and miserable out there it’s important not to lose sight of the reason you’re doing this. It’s your hobby and it’s supposed to be fun! Don’t pressure yourself or your horse into doing anything you don’t want to do. It won’t help you and it certainly won’t do anything for him either.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.


  1. Thanks for the read! I have two young horses that have gone through all three phases you're describing. Great to read about what to do when - very useful tips (and happy to know that I've been "on the right track").

  2. Thanks for the comment. Like you, it's good to know I'm on the right track with my writing too :)

    There's nothing quite a young horse to help your experience horses of every temperament. Good luck! Lorraine

  3. I have the sharp and naughty variety. Very useful tips which I'll try next time there's a 'monster' in the wood at the side of my arena.

  4. Thanks for the comment Suzanne. There are so many 'horse-eating' monsters out there! Only the other day my poor horse was under attack from a green horse eating wheelie bin!(In fairness the lid did flip open on the wind!)