Confident and Relaxed 

I am meeting some fascinating owners and horses and settling into the new challenges presented to me and although the problems are varied, there is one common theme that runs throughout, owners who are desperate to get their relationship with their horse back on track and a desire to start enjoying their riding again.

It is interesting listening to owners trying to prioritise the problems they have, some are small, and others feel like they are facing a mountain.  Although I understand where the owner is coming from, my reply is always the same, ‚Äö√Ñ√∫there is no such thing as a small problem, you simply have a problem‚Äö√Ñ√π and the sooner these are dealt with the less chance there is of your horse requiring more attention.  

I have discovered that for many owners the big stumbling block is the feeling they ‚Äö√Ñ√∫ought‚Äö√Ñ√π to be able to deal with many of the problems they face and often they feel they are failing in some way by having to ask for help.  The truth is, not asking for help is the failure and chances are, things will only deteriorate and take longer to resolve the problem. There are many reasons why things can start going wrong and even the most competent rider and owner, over time, will at some stage experience problems where they have questioned their confidence levels. 

On a daily basis I support riders of all capabilities, from the top event rider to the leisure rider; all of which need the right support, advice and facilities to help find the right solution for them and their horse.  My philosophy is simple, the sooner you ask for help, the quicker you get back to enjoying what you love, YOUR HORSE. It is vital that the owner feels they have been listened to, they usually know their horse better than anyone and assumptions should never be made. 

Having listened to the owner I store that information away for reference. I never get onboard thinking I know what is going to happen, which can then influence how you approach the horse.  I have no preconception as to what the horse might or might not do; I ask the question then wait to see what answers he gives. Each horse is treated as an individual and is asked confidently and nicely.  It really is as simple as sitting quietly and waiting to see what unfolds.  I will ask the same question until the horse gives the correct answer.  This may mean ‚Äö√Ñ√∫re-phrasing‚Äö√Ñ√π how I am asking in case the horse is struggling to understand what is required of him, and only as a last resort should it be necessary to give one sharp smack.  

There is a saying ‚Äö√Ñ√∫when knowledge runs out, aggression steps in‚Äö√Ñ√π, in other words someone has lost their temper!  This is absolutely unacceptable and will never truly resolve the problem, more likely to magnify it.  By being clear and consistent you are giving the horse every opportunity to comply and come up with the correct answer.  If there is any cause for concern about soundness, soreness or other physical problems I work hand in hand with the relevant parties to ensure the horse is physically fit and able to do what is asked of him. Trying to work a horse that is in pain is not only cruel but will only add to the problem.  My partner Laura is an Equine Massage Therapist so I am fortunate enough to be able to ask her advice and if I am in any doubt, I will ask Laura, with the owner's permission, to check the horse over.

Case Study

The Welsh Section D with attitude

I received a call from a very despondent owner, who absolutely adores her horse and was not a novice rider or owner.  Unfortunately this lovely horse did not have the foundations firmly in place and as a result was motivated by fear and just galloped without concern for his or his rider's safety.  I later discovered he was only 6 and had been recently broken.  In the space of less than 2 weeks he had galloped through a post and rail fence, managed to part company with me and ran me into the fence.  He had no mouth therefore did not have any steering or brakes, a bit like a runaway tank, not good for anyone!

So the big question, how do I decide whether this was fear/pain related or behavioural? 
As I have previously said, there is a fine line between a horse being genuinely scared or being downright naughty; get it wrong and you can make the situation worse, which means listening carefully to the owner and the horse.  Sometimes it's instinctive and other times it is more logically thought through, this was the case when I asked the owner if the horse had ever been long reined before, which he had.  The big surprise was how soft his mouth was and how easy he was to long rein; it was like dealing with a different horse.  It was therefore a reasonable assumption that he was running away through fear.  This chap just did not have a mouth when ridden, no steering and was bordering on dangerous so we needed a plan and quick. 

As part of the process he was lead round on a lead rein, this was eventually removed and I was able to walk, trot and even achieve a rather wobbly canter with some control - all within two weeks.  The route of the problem was lack of education causing loss of confidence.  Unfortunately, just as we were starting to make progress he came down with laminitis.  So, what happens when we start again?  I am reasonably sure he will revert back to type, but with the same consistent approach he will hopefully make ground more quickly, so watch this space to hear how we get on.

It is really important that we are consistent in how we communicate and handle horses, this reduces confusion and sets out clear ground rules, whether on the floor or on their backs.  This will give a firm foundation to return should things not always go according to plan.

In the coming months Johnny will introduce you to a lovely little filly he is about to start working with.  You can join us on our journey from unbroken to her first competition.  We will share with you how and why Jonny does things, including dealing with unexpected hiccups along the way, warts and all!