Strategies for Sensitive Horses
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.