Strate­gies for Sen­si­tive Horses

Practical Horseman - - Inside Your Ride -

If you hap­pen to be on a sen­si­tive and/or claus­tro­pho­bic horse, busy warm-up rings can make achiev­ing the re­lax­ation and pre­pared­ness that you hope to bring to your test dif­fi­cult. It’s your job to make the world a safe place for him, so de­vise a strat­egy to pro­tect him from un­nec­es­sary warm-up stress.

Start with your show and class se­lec­tion. If you know a show has a rep­u­ta­tion for hav­ing a high-en­ergy at­mos­phere, think twice about tak­ing your horse there. For ex­am­ple, if you have a Grand Prix horse who is a real hot tamale, in­stead of sign­ing up for the evening Freestyle, where the bright lights and fes­tive VIP tent might send him over the edge, choose the Spe­cial the next day. Don’t let things like po­ten­tial prize money stop you from do­ing what’s right for your horse.

I’ve seen many timid horses put into warm-up arena sit­u­a­tions that are not ed­u­ca­tional or con­fi­dence-build­ing. Be­cause a sin­gle bad ex­pe­ri­ence can have a last­ing im­pact on a horse’s ca­reer, I’m ex­tremely cau­tious about when and where I show young horses. My re­cent Grand Prix part­ner, Galant, is a per­fect ex­am­ple. He was very sen­si­tive when I be­gan work­ing with him as a young horse. I knew he had the tal­ent to be­come a top-level horse, but I wor­ried that he wouldn’t be able to han­dle the high-pres­sure CDI warm-up sce­nar­ios, where you some­times have 10 horses packed into a 20-by-60-me­ter arena. I skipped the Young Horse Dres­sage Na­tional Cham­pi­onships that he qual­i­fied for as a 6-year-old, think­ing that his con­fi­dence level wasn’t high enough to cope with the chaotic warm-up at­mos­phere there. That de­ci­sion paid off years later when his well-de­vel­oped con­fi­dence al­lowed him to nav­i­gate CDI warm-up rings flaw­lessly.

Your job as your horse’s pro­tec­tor con­tin­ues when you ar­rive on the show­grounds. From the mo­ment you mount, keep a light con­tact with his mouth, imag­in­ing he’s a fish on the end of a line.

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