Is your horse a bit of a live wire? Are you at your wits end wondering how they are so full of energy? Before using a harsher bit or abandoning all attempts to tame your spirited mount, here are a few solutions for you to try.
1/ ELIMINATE ANY PHYSICAL CAUSES
Before doing anything else, the most important thing is to ensure that your horse is receiving the right feed and that they are not suffering from anything. An overly nervous horse is sometimes suffering from a problem and its nervousness is its way of letting you know this. So don’t hesitate to call your vet, osteopath or equine dentist to help eliminate any potential sources of pain. Health comes first!
2/ BREATHE AND RELAX
Hot blooded horses can be extremely sensitive. They can sense any emotions you transmit to them. And if you’re tense because you’re having trouble managing your mount, and you start to ride under pressure, this will only worsen matters. So breathe, and relax. Try to take deep breathes and rotate your shoulders to relax them. You’ll soon see that your horse will also relax as you become calmer.
3/ FORGET ABOUT STRENGTH
Always remember one thing: your horse will always be stronger than you. So you need to be smarter than your horse, and not try to control them through strength. It doesn’t mean letting them do what they want, but getting them to work without constraining them too much. You need to concentrate and work with them instead of against them. And direct your and their energy to more useful ends. Read on to find out how.
4/ KEEP THEM BUSY
Very nervous horses are often very difficult to keep concentrated. So avoid circling endlessly in the school without making them work, otherwise, they’ll simply look at what’s going on around them and go off track. Make your mount work, do figures in the school, stop going in circles. If your horse is of a high enough level, work on two tracks, this is also a good way to find the right rhythm and get them concentrating. Avoid doing any quick changes of pace, this tends to hot up horses.
5/ REACT WITH TACT
Nervous horses are generally fearful and eye-rolling. They have a habit of turning away from even the tiniest leaf blowing in the wind. Stay confident and pay no attention to any starts or sidling that may occur. Don’t suddenly pull on the reins, even though that may often be your first reflex. If you’re annoyed or tense, it will make your horse nervous too and they will start to play up. So be more intelligent than your mount, stay calm, and return to where you left off as if nothing had happened. If you stay calm and fail to react to their moment of panic, your horse will gradually realise that they have nothing to be afraid of. The pressure will ease much more quickly.
6/ MANAGING YOUR WORKING TIME
It all depends on you and your horse to find the right rhythm for both of you. Some horses are much more manageable during short but intense sessions, particularly if they have trouble concentrating. If that’s the case for your mount, once you’ve reached the level of concentration you need, do your exercises without too much pausing. Even if this fails, you should continue to work. Don’t ease off your horse until the end of the session. On the other hand, it is also possible that your horse will need lots of breaks, and if that’s the case, don’t hesitate to break the work up, walking on a loose rein to ease the pressure.
7/ RIDE WITH YOUR LEGS, NOT WITH YOUR HANDS
The problem with nervous horses is that riders have a tendency to ride them more with their hands and forget to use their legs. This is quite a natural reaction, but results in: your horse becoming even more nervous, you feel like you’re going too quickly, and it’s very uncomfortable. But in reality, your horse is all hunched up, becoming tense and not covering as much ground.
So you need to drive them forwards, even though that might not seem the case. Don’t forget that any action by your hands needs to be backed up by your legs to be effective. If your horse is very sensitive to your leg movements, focus on using your seat more to direct their movements forwards. The main thing is to remember to relax the reins a little and let them move forwards. Psychologically, it’s difficult to do this, to begin with, but you’ll soon see that your horse settles and you’ll both be more comfortable.
8/ BE CONFIDENT
If your horse is nervous by nature, you need to be confident in order to reassure them and not allow emotions to take over. To do this, it can be helpful to do some initial in hand work if your horse is receptive to it. In the event of any panic reaction (starting or sidling), keep them walking or come to a calm stop, avoiding pulling on the reins or rope, and reassure them. Whether on foot or mounted, as soon as you feel your horse becoming more confident or failing to react to an external element, make sure you praise them. Talk to them to reassure them.
9/ MAKE YOUR HORSE ACCEPT YOUR LEGS
Nervous horses often find it difficult to accept contact with a rider’s legs. This is generally the cause of problems when working with nervous horses, as they are very sensitive and always in a hurry. Good news: they can learn to accept your legs! You simply need to desensitize them. Use your legs until they no longer fear them. Start from a halt, moving your legs along their body, and you’ll quickly find out if your horse accepts them or not. Gently habituate them to the contact and movement of your legs. Do this small practice at the beginning of your sessions. Yes, it might seem a bit like having to break your horse in again, but you’ll soon see that it can be a life-changer.
10/ LET OFF STEAM
If you have the opportunity, do some fun games or sport to relax. Even though horse riding is a wonderful sport, it requires great self-control. If like your horse, you have a fiery temperament, relax through some other means, and you’ll soon find yourself more relaxed when you ride. The same goes for your horse, give them regular opportunities to relax, let off some steam and play around when you’re not riding them.