Whether you’re a Jumper or Dressage rider, the holidays can be a great time to crack the next level of your horse’s competition schooling.
In between shows, it can be difficult to set time aside to really work on learning new movements, riding tighter turns or riding related distances. When you have a few weeks of uninterrupted work, it’s a good time to teach the horse new things.
For instance, with a Dressage rider, this could be cracking the counter canter or really breaking down the shoulder in when you have the time to do it properly, without confusing the horse or compromising your show preparation.
For a Jumper, you may want to focus on jumping a certain type of fence such as a triple bar or water jump, or you may need to work on your horse’s technique when faced with an upright to upright combination.
It could even be something much broader such as shortening and lengthening the canter at will. However broad or specific the issue, the December period is a good time to tackle it.
2. Spook-busting and desensitising
If your horse is the spooky type, it was inevitable that there would come a time when you’d want to try and solve it!
Of course, you’ve probably been slowly but surely desensitising your horse with every ride; showing them the scary plastic bag, riding past a coloured drum in the arena or hacking out in new environments.
However, December is a good time for a desensitising “boot camp” for the types of horses who still spook at the same tree after seeing it for the hundredth time.
The method you choose to desensitise your horse is down to your own preferences, but many have had success with gradual exposure to specific stimuli.
For instance, for a horse scared of a horsebox or trailer, this might be parking it nearby his field as a first move, followed by asking him to walk near it, then next to it, then to sniff the ramp or put a foot on it, then to walk over the ramp and so on.
Many others advocate using the horse’s curiosity to encourage him to move towards an object that he’s scared of. When the horse approaches, the object is moved away.
This seems to build the horse’s confidence and decrease the ‘scary’ factor of the new object as the horse no longer thinks that the scary plastic bag is chasing him!