I’ve recently started riding a fairly young horse, but he’s a bit of a diva and scared of his own shadow. He doesn’t seem to be a turn tail and flee horse, but more of a leap in the air and shoot to the side spooker.
The first couple of times I rode him, I used the school. As a diva, he needs to know who I am and what I’m going to ask of him. Likewise, I want to know his buttons, get the feel for his large gaits, and build up a relationship with him. With a secure relationship he will be more confident venturing into the unknown, and be more likely to listen to my reassurances.
After working him in the school we went for a short walk on our own, down the woods and past the fields. He was fine; his eyes were on stalks, but after peering around all the bushes he took everything in. This is a baby step; he knows the area, he’s tired from the school, and he doesn’t know me very well. But I wanted to get a couple of straightforward experiences under his belt before making life more exciting.
Once this wood route was familiar in both directions, I took him in the opposite direction from the arena, and just walked along the lane a bit to see how he responded to traffic, and also to show that he could, and would, go on hacks in different directions. I like to keep familiarity to a hack with an inexperienced horse, but I don’t want them to get one route ingrained into their mind and then refuse to go another way.
This takes us up to last week, and I sweet talked a friend into escorting us on a ride off site. There were a couple of quiet lanes, a village, woods, and open fields, so plenty for this horse to take in. Apart from looking like I was sat on a ticking bomb, the hack was successful, and uneventful. He did his best llama impression as he tried to take everything in, but when we trotted he did settle into a rhythm and I had good control. We didn’t canter as I felt that he needed time to take things in, and approaching monsters, such as pheasant feeders, at speed was probably asking for trouble! When we got home he was really tired, but I think it was an emotionally tiring hack for him.
Yesterday I couldn’t find a friend to hack out with, but such is life and this horse needs to go out alone and in company happily. However, I think the off site hack we’d done last week was probably a bit too much of a big ask for him to go alone and come back confident. So I used the familiar route through the woods, where he felt really relaxed, but continued down the hill into unknown territory. He wasn’t fazed, and I felt comfortable with him, so I could begin to relax. Then we came out of the woods into the green valley. At this point I had the option of turning left and heading home, but as everything was going smoothly I turned right. We had a little trot along the field, with a slight wobble when he hovered between spooking at tyres on the left or spooking at the fence on the right, but overall he felt good. We carried on, down a slight slope then up a hill. He settled into a nice trot and took in the scenery. When we reached the end of the field I turned and let him canter up the hill. He loved it! When we reached the woods he had a little look for deer, but he was quite happy, so I took him through these woods and back to the lane. The nice thing about this route is that if anything had gone wrong or wasn’t going to plan then I could have taken a short cut back.
Over the next few weeks I want to establish this horse’s confidence around a couple of main hack routes, in company and solo, and then mix the routes up a bit so we slowly push the boundaries of his comfort zone and widens his horizons without him becoming too stuck in his routine and hack routes.
I think this horse will love hacking with his owner once he’s seen a few more things, and then maybe he’ll stop spooking at his shadow or a leaf, which will help him in the arena and out at competitions.