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Friday, 25 November 2011

Energetically Challenged?

Would ‘energetically challenged’ be an apt description of your horse? You’re not on your own. Many riders prefer to be in control of the forward gears but as your confidence grows it’s only natural you start to feel a bit frustrated.

Many people think the less excitable equines just need a kick or a smack and everything’s fine. If only it was that easy! There’s a knack to drawing your equine tortoise out of his shell. The good news is it’s something you can learn.

If you want your horse to change his ways the first thing you have to do is change yours. You’re going to need bucket loads of energy and self discipline. He doesn’t need a telling off. He needs a reason to get excited and you have to give it to him.

Your arrival on the yard should be energetic and cheerful. Even if you feel like curling up in front of the fire you need to bounce down the yard and greet him with a grin on your face. Inspire him from the second he sees you.

Once tacked up make sure he walks with purpose to the mounting block or school. Walk alongside him and use your whip behind you to chivvy him along. Never allow him to shuffle to the school. This is FUN! Start as you mean to go on.

You can be forgiven for thinking you need to go as fast as possible to inspire your horse but stop right there! The only thing that will do is tire you out and unbalance him. Walk is your ideal pace. Get him motivated in walk and the rest is easy.

Lazy horses will often ‘offer’ the next pace up. How often has your horse jogged when you’ve kicked him on in walk or hopped into canter when you’re trying to get him trotting on? Don’t be too grateful! If he offers a pace you don’t want be quick to correct him. He needs to work harder at the pace you’re in not do the next one badly.  

The way you use your leg, spurs and whip is essential to your horse’s training. Your calf muscle is the part of your leg that sends him forward. Your heel, spur and whip are there to back it up NOT get him going. Check out – before you ride. It shows you how to get the best out of your horse without kicking.

If your horse ignores a squeeze from both calf muscles use both heels together. Use them once – hard. He should shoot forward. Be quick to praise him. If he doesn’t use your whip once directly behind your leg. Don’t be tempted to use your whip on his quarters. That’s just telling him off. You’re teaching him to move off your leg. Smack him on his quarters and he won’t understand your exact reason. Repeat the heels together and then the whip as quickly and sharply as you can until you get a reaction. The instant you feel any forward movement on his part use your voice to praise him and keep your leg still.

Your rein contact is essential. Without it you’re wasting your time. Imagine a bottle of coke. Shake it up with the lid on and the drink fizzes inside and the bottle expands. The energy is contained within the bottle and by slowly opening the lid you can release it. Take the lid off and what happens? The drink fizzes and goes flat. The energy you create with your legs needs to be contained too. Your hands are that lid.

A lazy horse is often unfit. Regular exercise will get him fitter and his energy levels will increase naturally. Keep schooling sessions short and intense. Half an hour of focused full on exercise twice a week is better than an hour once a week of half hearted enthusiasm.

Do everything in short bursts. Trot a 20m circle and then canter one. Walk two circuits and go again. It may not seem like a lot but done well it will have a huge effect on your horse. If everything he does from now on is done quickly and positively he’s less likely to feel like it’s an effort.

Walk in between exercises – even on a long rein - should always be forward. It’s your time to get your breath back not your horse’s. If you’re feeling tired you can guarantee he’ll decide he is too. If you’re up there geeing him up he’s far more likely to feel inspired.

The more you can do to encourage your horse to put his hocks underneath him the better. Use 10m circles and three loop serpentines which encourage him to work harder with less effort from you. It’s essential to remember not to kick constantly. He must go forward from a squeeze from your calf. Every time you find yourself kicking go back to walk and re-establish the aids.

Direct transitions are good to get your horse going but only if he’s listening to your leg. Start with simple walk to trot or trot to canter transitions. Limit yourself to ten strides in each pace as you work your way round the school. The quick changes will motivate him without you having to kick on too hard.

Never compromise your position to get your horse going. Leaning forward, flapping with your legs or throwing your reins at him will only unbalance him. That not only makes things harder for him it also gives him the perfect excuse! Read - to see how to use your body to maximum effect.

It can take weeks to convince your horse you really mean it but it works on all horses – even yours! You have to be consistent and really want to sort it out. If you put in the time you’ll still have a horse that wants you to tell him when to go but you’ll also have one that doesn’t expect you to work harder than him!

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

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