Building a partnership with your horse is based on mutual trust, but this trust must be earned by the rider. Horses prefer calm and confident leaders; it’s far better (and safer) for the rider to guide the horse, rather than the other way around.
There’s little difference between young, green horses and spooky horses.
International show jumper Alex Hempleman breeds and produces top class sport horses. He suggests the best way to ride a spooky horse is to get it’s mind on the rider and not on it’s surroundings. Alex said, “I think the most important thing to do is to get them thinking about something else.”
Alex thinks the rider shouldn’t react to the spooky issue. Acknowledging there is something to be frightened of can make it worse. Alex said, “If they spook in a corner, I don’t pat them or tell them the problem. I want them to listen to my leg, it’s best to leg yield in before you get to the corner so they are listening to you instead.”
Sometimes the rider doesn’t realise the effect they have on their horse. If they see a potential hazard up ahead, it’s easy to tense up in anticipation of an incident. Alex said, “If the horse spooks, the rider often spooks more than the horse. If the rider has a tight hand and leg the horse wants to know what’s happening. You want the horse to forget about it.”
When Alex starts a horse jumping he always begins in trot. This allows the horse to see and process what he’s being asked to do. All too often Alex sees riders try and rush their horse by kicking them forward. This can panic a horse into making the wrong decision. Alex advises riders to think about what they are asking of their horse. “If you get the wrong answer you are not asking the right question.
“There’s no point hurtling towards a jump quickly in canter, if you trot in, the horse has a chance to look. If the horse knows to listen to my body I can then squeeze with my leg. A horse can jump a filler in trot easily. It doesn’t have to be a million miles an hour.”
The horse should be listening to their rider. Alex advises basic schooling methods while out hacking to make this happen. Shoulder in, leg yield, inside bend and inside leg all teach the horse whilst out and about. This can also be a good distraction method for the rider who might be nervous too. A rider practising breathing exercises, can have a positive effect on the horse, as well as encouraging themselves to relax and sit deeper in the saddle. Riding in company can also offer reassurance.
Alex said, “They are entitled to spook, it’s how we react to them that matters, if they are listening to you they are focusing on something else. Roads are busy these days, don’t hack with your horse’s head in the air, channel their mind. Young and spooky horses are busy in their minds, they are more alert. Spooky horses often stay spooky, they are not going to change so you have to work with them.”