One Step Ahead

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to ride all kinds of horses. It comes with the job. The type of horse I like is irrelevant when it comes to what I ride for work or for my husband, Steve. I’ve learnt the hard way how to deal with horses that are bigger and stronger than me. The trick is not to let them know they are.

(For reasons he has yet to share with me) Steve is drawn to horses of dubious character. They know their own mind and expect everyone else to know it too. Whilst Steve picks up the reins and takes them out to play it’s me that has to look after the little cherubs and get them fit.

Bear in mind that Steve is twice my size and weight and you’ll appreciate that it can be challenging to say the least. The good thing is I like a challenge. I have to. If I didn’t our horses would spend an awful lot of time on the lunge.

On the flat it’s not difficult to keep a temperamental or sharp horse occupied but when it comes to jumping life can get tricky. It’s then I need to use my head. There’s no benefit in schooling if I’m going to let them take charge every time we put a fence up.

If your horse gets stronger with every fence you jump then perhaps it’s time for you to take charge. You’ll never be stronger than he is but you are more intelligent.

When your horse gets strong he’s either hollowing with his head up or running onto his shoulders and leaning on your hand. Either way his hocks aren’t underneath him. Hard as it may seem the best thing to do is sit back and push on. Push him forward with your lower leg but squeeze into the saddle with your thigh and knee. That will push his hocks further under his body without him going faster.

(If you’re unsure how to use your thigh and knee check out one of the earlier posts on this blog – The Other Way of Stopping)

If your horse pulls there’s no point pulling back. Pull one side and then the other and you’ll only succeed in swinging his head from side to side. (Imagine trying to read this while someone pulled your head from side to side. How irritating would that be?)

Moving your fingers on the reins – as if you’re drumming them on a table – will stop you both setting against each other. Your horse can only lean on something solid. If he can’t lean he’ll have to sit back on his hocks to stay balanced.

Horses that pull or tank do it because they’re not listening. It’s a habit which can be broken. They need to be taught to pay attention to you. Here’s how -

Put three straight bar fences on the E-B line at X and by E and B on the inside track. The challenge of this exercise shouldn’t be the height of the fences. Keep them small enough that they don’t worry you but big enough to keep your horse focused.

This positioning gives you a variety of fences to jump:

The E/B fences can be jumped by riding straight down the school, from an 18m circle at E or B or by riding a circle of about 15 metres over both of them.

The fence at X can be jumped from the centre line, across the diagonals or even by riding a 10m circle from E or B.

You decide which fence to jump and from which direction but keep your options open. The instant you feel your horse speeding up or setting against you do something different – ride a 10m circle or change the rein. You’re still working him over fences but you’re keeping him guessing so he has to focus.

You’re aim is to show your horse there’s nothing to get tense about. Nor is there a time when he gets to dictate the rules. The more often you’re one step ahead of him the quicker he’ll learn you’re the boss.

The beauty of the position of these three fences is the ability to change direction at the last minute but be careful. Last minute changes have to be ridden clearly. Swing him from one line to another and you run the risk of surprising him rather than making him listen. Too many surprises create tension and that’s probably what started this in the first place!

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

Twitter – @pollson

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