Q: My horse seems to stop at a different type of fence everytime we go out. Just as I think we have mastered solid fillers then he starts spooking at flower arrangements. What should I do?
A: Make sure your horse is capable of going round the ring before you compete him. If that means you have to do more homework it is still more cost effective than wasting your entry fees. By hiring a school and practicing over a course you are doing a lot more good and putting a lot more positives into your training and there will be no pressure on either of you.
Remember to always finish on a good note no matter how small. If your horse really does not like something and you end up just managing to get him to walk past it, that is a concession from him and you can come back to it again another time until his confidence is restored.
Q: When schooling, at what point do you say right we’ve done enough?
A. Whenever you get a positive. Your horse is telling you all the time what is going on, what is happening, so listen to what he is saying. For example imagine at the start of a schooling session he is jumping in a style that is a bit sticky, he is getting a bit close and not making a nice shape over the fence. Then as you work through the exercises he gains in confidence and starts to bascule over his fences. You have now got him to a stage where you can finish your schooling on a positive note for both of you. Be sure to reward him!
Q: Recently my horse wouldn’t jump at all and was being quite naughty about it so took him for a hack instead. What should I have done?
A: Firstly rule out that your horse is not telling you that he is in pain rather than being disobedient. If you start off where he won’t jump something at all then you need to make sure that when you finish the session he is jumping something — maybe not confidently but he is jumping the fence and on more than one occasion. Make sure that on the next day you come back to it again to reinforce what you have just done and to re-establish the confidence for both of you.
Q: How do you achieve that?
A: Be prepared to lose the battle but always try and win the war. What you want to achieve is that your horse finishes his schooling session feeling that he has not got away with his disobedience. Never finish with the horse having done something naughty or incorrect. Do not be proud. Be prepared to drop the fence down in height and technicality and make a concession. Do that so the horse feels that he had to comply with you in the end and you feel that you've actually finished your schooling session on a good note.
Q: How do you improve the horse’s understanding of what you as the rider wants?
A: Training is all about sending the right messages across and it is a very simple thing. If the horse starts to learn that when he does something right he gets a pat and praise and when he does something wrong he gets a nudge of the heel or he might even get a smack of the stick in extreme cases, he then starts to clearly work out what is reward and what isn’t. When I train riders, it is not about using big long words and making them think I am intelligent. It is about making them understand what I am asking them to do. That can take into account varying forms, even breaking the message down into very simple terminology and finding something that they can connect with such as an analogy about driving a car, or riding a bike, anything that gets the message across
Q: How do you get your horse used to jumping in noisy rings? Do you take him to events without competing him?
A: The answer is no and the reason for this is because he has learnt his job in quieter rings and shows. When he starts to compete in competitions with increased levels of atmosphere and outside interference the one thing he is, is comfortable in the ring and this will help him to cope and to do his job.
Learn your skills in a small and quiet environment and gradually go to bigger and busier competitions.
This also applies to riders. If you are new to competing start at small, friendly local shows and then gradually progress to larger venues and county shows. Then you progress until you reach international level and have literally thousands of people watching you!
If I have a particular problem with a horse at a show I will sit down afterward and analyze what has gone wrong. For example in two classes he spooked and stopped at the same fence which had a very unusual filler. There are two ways in which I can overcome this problem:
Firstly, I can work on this at home and recreate the situation as best as I can or secondly, I can go and hire the equestrian centre and school over the course. At many show centres the course is available for hire the day after an event. With no pressure I can take my time with him and school him round the course until his confidence is regained.