Feel safe in open space

Keeping control of your horse in an open space such as a field or out on a hack can be challenging, particularly if he spots his friends in the next field or the freedom goes to his head.

The aim of the game is to make him think that open spaces are pretty ordinary and nothing to get over excited about, so spend as much time as you can with your horse relaxing away from the arena.

Try lunging your horse in an open space so that being in it becomes less of an ‘event. As a result he’ll become more relaxed and therefore less excited.

Try lunging your horse in an open space so that being in it becomes less of an ‘event. As a result he’ll become more relaxed and therefore less excited.

Try this

-Ride him calmly in a new field

-Lunge him in an open space or long-line him down a quiet lane

The more time he spends outside with you in a calm and controlled environment, the more relaxed he’ll become when you take him to new places and ride new routes out of your arena.

Rosie’s top tip
If you’re particularly nervous about venturing out of the arena alone, enlist the help of an experienced friend to either walk alongside you on foot or ride with you at first – but make sure their horse is a sensible, confident type who will happily take the lead.

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Jump with confidence

To ensure you’re brimming with confidence every time you jump, rider and trainer, Karen Dixon is on-hand to offer some handy tips.

Leaving the ground on top of a four-legged beast with a mind of his own is a frightening prospect and it’s bound to send you into a bit of a spin. “I know that jumping is a daunting prospect for a lot of riders, particularly the under confident ones,” says Karen. “But it’s easy to bring the fun-factor back into jumping with some simple exercises.”   

 Here are Karen’s key jumping confidence exercises:

Practise your jumping position on the flat

Practise your jumping position on the flat

Perfect your position
In order to feel as confident as possible when jumping you must first ensure you have a secure, balanced seat and jumping position. To achieve this, stand up out of your saddle and shift your weight into your heels - remember not to grip with your knees. When you come to a fence, tip your shoulders forwards in front of the vertical and be sure not to let your legs slip back as this will unbalance you. It’s a good idea to practise this on the flat before you start over fences. A few circuits in walk, trot and canter in the jumping position during every ride is a great way to perfect it. Riding over poles will help to replicate the feeling of jumping without actually having to do it, which allows you to concentrate more on the quality of your position rather than the fence, which can be a real confidence booster.

Ride around spooky objects and/or fillers in an arena or enclosed schooling area.

Ride around spooky objects and/or fillers in an arena or enclosed schooling area.

Desensitise him to prevent spooks
Rider frighteners and bright, spooky fillers are part and parcel of most cross-country and show jumping courses, so you need to ensure your horse is desensitised to all possibilities before you hit the track. Getting your horse out hacking or riding him around spooky objects in his arena or schooling area is a fantastic way to get him used to things and ensure he’s prepared for every eventuality. Scatter your fillers around your arena and warm your horse up around them. The more he sees different spooky objects in random places, the less reactive he’ll be to them.

When it comes to building confidence over solid fences, start small before working you way up to the larger rider frightener fences.

When it comes to building confidence over solid fences, start small before working you way up to the larger rider frightener fences.

Build confidence over solid fences
Fear and apprehension around fixed fences isn’t uncommon, but cross-country can be one of the most fun and exhilarating rides of your life if you’re able to conquer it. I always recommend going along to a training session or hiring out a cross-country course with an experienced friend. Following a more confident rider over a fence is the ideal way to build your confidence. Start small at first before working you way up to the larger rider frightener fences. You can even have your instructor on hand to offer guidance and support from the ground. 

Karen’s tip
Using a neck strap will give you added security and prevent you from sending nervous signals to your horse down the reins. Consider investing in one today and use it until you feel more confident.

More about our expert
Karen Dixon is a four-time Olympic event rider who competes, trains, rides and produces young horses. She also retrains ex-racers from her yard in County Durham.

 

 

 

Test and build core strength

Pilates exercises can help you to improve your fitness and strenth for riding

Pilates exercises can help you to improve your fitness and strenth for riding

Your limbs can only be as strong, effective and independent as your core tone allows. Your core is not just your tummy – it’s your whole trunk –and controls the position of your hips, seat bones, shoulders and posture. So you can see why it’s essential to balanced riding.

Here's how to test and build your core strength.

 

Pilates is one of the most widely recognised core training systems and is used by elite riders. Classes are available in gyms and village halls around the country, and there’s a wide choice of yoga or pilates DVDs you can rent or buy.

Once you’ve got an idea of the basic posture adjustments you need to make, you must work at improving them. Workout time isn’t limited to 20 minutes a couple of times a week if you want to re-educate and realign your body for the good of your horse. But that doesn’t mean you have to slave away at the gym –spend time driving, shopping or mucking out working on your body alignment.

Have a go at balancing on an exercise ball in a riding position while working or watching TV. This technique is advocated by biomechanics specialist Mary Wanless, as it aids coordination and balance, improves core tone and will give you valuable feedback about your possible riding faults. For example, which way do you always roll – to the front, back or side? Which side? Which muscles do you consciously have to activate in order tostabilise yourself?

What is your horse telling you? Many apparent schooling problems in the horse, such as head throwing, not going forward, a trot that’s hard to sit to, a canter that breaks or a horse who won’t stretch to the bit, are actually down to the rider blocking the horse. Of course, there may be other health-related issues causing these problems, so do examine them first. If there are no underlying issues and you’ve been using gadgets to correct these problems, your horse may need body work such as massage and groundwork to release all of the bracing you’ve put in and give him time to recover.

One of the simplest ridden exercises you can do to develop your balance is simply stand in your stirrups – not hover in a jumping position or lean forward, but stand – straight up as if there were no horse beneath you, and maintain your balance. Start at halt and progress to walk, trot and canter.

Avoid the most common mistakes

We don't instinctively know how to be perfect horse owners - we learn through education and occasional trial and error. Read on to discover how to avoid making the most common mistakes


1. Feeding incorrectly

It’s not surprising equine nutritionists see lots of horses who aren’t being fed correctly. The most common mistake is not feeding the correct amount because you’re not really sure how big your horse is.

“Find out what your horse weighs by using a weightape and condition scoring,” says Katie Williams, equine products manager at Dengie. “Then you’ll know if he’s too fat, too thin, or just right and you can decide what feed is most appropriate. Call different feed companies for advice to see which type of diet will suit your horse best – there are different ways to get the same result.

“Find out exactly how much to feed and pay attention to the details on the back of the feed bag. Feed by weight, not bulk, so weigh feed rather than measure it – a scoop of nuts is a different weight to a scoop of fibre.

“Feed can also help with performance and behaviour issues. If your horse has too much fizz, or lacks stamina, you can help by changing his feed.”

Check out our "Feeding For..." advice where you can find out what feed suits your horse...


2. Using the wrong tack

If you’re having problems with your horse, check your tack isn’t to blame. Jeffries’ Dave Darley has plenty of advice.

“Start with sensible tack – go for a snaffle bit and cavesson noseband and don’t change a bit because certain people use them or they look good. You may have to pay more for the best quality tack, but if you buy cheap, you can end up buying twice.

“Have your saddle and bridle fitted by a qualified master saddler – bridles can come in components and you’re likely to get a better fit than with off-the-peg. Have your saddle professionally fitted, maintain it, and have it regularly checked.

“Don’t expect tack from one horse to fit another, and if you’re buying a new horse, find out what tack he’s been ridden in before. Clean your tack with a natural, fat-based dressing, but never saturate new tack in oil. Finally, research the tack you want to use, and make sure you know how to recognise quality. There’s a useful video atwww.corporatedvd.co.uk/jeffries.htm where you can see how much work goes into well-made leatherwork.”


3. Failing to ask for help

We’ve all experienced horsey doldrums, but are you suffering in silence when you could be getting help?

“We’ve all been there, pros and amateurs alike,” says Sandie Chambers, sports psychologist with Humans and Equines. “Many riders spend time on their riding and their horse’s condition but neglect the mental side of things.

“A sports psychologist will help you take control of your mind and use it to your advantage, rather than let it destroy your confidence and limit your beliefs. They will set goals to achieve a specific well-formed outcome. We can also help make unconscious reactions more positive – for example, changing competition nerves for competition excitement.

“Sports psychologists have a bagful of strategies and techniques to help you ride better and achieve the results you want.”


4. Comparing yourself to others

If you’re struggling to progress in your competing, or at home, it can be frustrating to see your friends overtake you. But comparing yourself to other riders can be demoralising.

Young eventer Emily Llewellyn has won individual and team gold at the Young Rider European Championships, and understands the pressures riders put themselves under.

“In the past I’ve had things go wrong and felt like it’s the end of the world. What you have to do is look at riders who are beating you and break down their performance. Examine how they’re riding, why they’re winning and ask, what things are they doing right? Can you emulate them? Compare yourself to riders the same age and standard as yourself, and don’t be afraid to make friends.

“Remember, riding isn’t a race to get to the highest level as quickly as possible – stand outside the situation and get some perspective. Perspective, along with a balanced, level-headed attitude, has helped me, and should help you, too.”


5. Having the wrong routine for the horse

Horses thrive on routine. Eventer Kate Walls, who runs a competition and rehabilitation livery yard in Lincolnshire, explains that problems including weight loss, tension and bad behaviour can result if a horse is kept in the wrong routine.

“A good yard should follow the golden rules – it shouldn’t be too noisy and there should be an established daily routine of feeding, turnout and exercise, determined by the horse’s needs and not the owner’s.

“Make sure your routine provides enough exercise for your horse to do the job you want him to do – you can event up to around Novice level on an hour’s work a day but, above that, you should add hill work and fast work to increase fitness. On the other hand, if your horse is a veteran, or very young, he shouldn’t have too heavy a workload. And always ask for help if you need it. If you’re keeping your horse on a routine that makes you struggle because of lack of time, it’s worth considering moving to a more inclusive livery package, for your own sake as well as your horse’s.”


6. Wasting money

We’ve all popped into the tackshop ‘just for a look’ and come out laden with goodies. But do any of them really help our horses? The answer is ‘no’, according to Grand Prix dressage rider Lucinda McAlpine, whose horses are all barefoot, and live out 24/7 without rugs.

“I believe horses need three things – free-roaming movement, grazing and a social life. Spend your time and money on finding a yard with access to those. You don’t need rugs – the horse generates heat himself and his coat is better than any rug. You don’t need the same tack as top riders, just whatever is comfortable for your horse – mine are all ridden in rubber snaffles.

“Don’t waste your money on gadgets that promise miracle results. I maintain you don’t need to spend lots of money on farriery either. My horses are all barefoot and just need their feet trimmed.”


7. Not having proper lessons

Patrick Print, FBHS and chairman of the BHS, travels the world teaching both riders and other instructors, and maintains “lessons are crucial for developing your position and a deep, secure seat. Learning to ride well is learning to ride safely. An accredited BHS instructor will be insured, have first aid training, and a child protection certificate. Some people go to a famous rider for lessons but an exceptional rider isn’t necessarily a good teacher.”

He adds that a good instructor “should evaluate you and discuss any problems. Avoid anyone who makes you feel discouraged, demoralised, or spends all their time on their mobile phone. Also avoid someone who’s constantly getting on your horse – they should be able to work from the ground. They should also be able to teach any level of rider and talk to you in plain English you understand.”

Visit www.bhs.org.uk to find a BHS instructor in your area.


8. Neglecting proper farriery

Your farrier might be one of the most important people to be involved with your horse – that’s the view of expert farrier Haydn Price.

“I believe there are no boundaries to the ways in which your farrier can help your horse. It can be tempting to try to stretch your money by having your horse shod less often, but this can lead to soft tissue injuries like corns and, ultimately, vet bills. Farriery is crucial to your horse’s health and welfare, and it matters at every level, even just for pleasure riders.

“However, don’t feel you have to go along with whatever farrier already visits your yard. Find someone who takes the time to listen to problems you might be having and communicates with you well. A good way to choose a farrier is to ask how quickly they can replace a shoe – if it’s a week, that’s too long. If it’s 24 hours, that’s what you’re looking for, even if you have to spend a few more pounds for their services.”


9. Blaming the horse

It’s a familiar feeling – that red-faced, frustrated seething, as yet again you ask, why won’t he do what I want? It’s a feeling Intelligent Horsemanship guru Kelly Marks helps riders work through.

“Imagine yourself before a jury,” she says. “In front of them, you manage to prove that, though you’re doing everything right, the horse is still not doing what you want, so everyone agrees it’s not your fault. What then? Will your horse apologise?

“Let’s say my horse isn’t changing leads and I’m absolutely sure I’m doing everything clearly and precisely. Here’s what to check: Is he in physical discomfort? Have I got the basics in place – can he perform every step up to the requested movement calmly and precisely? Has he sufficient motivation to perform the action – what’s in it for him? Is my frustration causing the horse to be stressed and confused?

“By taking responsibility, you claim the power and put yourself in a stronger position to think through the changes to get the results you want.”


10. Neglecting rider fitness

The fitter and more balanced you are, the better your horse will be able to perform. It’s something that rider fitness expert Jon Pitts sees in his work with members of the equestrian Team GB.

“Your weight is a significant load to the horse, so if you have some to lose, increase your exercise and follow a sensible diet. Riders need good balance, too, quick reaction times and good pelvic stability.

“Don't be a hero and ignore an injury to yourself. If you’re in pain, you’ll compensate and create an imbalance that will affect your horse, causing him to perform less well. Seeing a physio can be a good idea, especially one who understands riding.

“And pay attention to everyday things like mucking out – lift properly and use your body correctly.”

Armchair confidence boosters

Being an effective rider starts in the mind first – if you think positive and believe in yourself, a better relationship with your horse will follow. To help you become the confident, fantastic rider you know you can be, follow Tina’s top tips:


Practise breathing
You might laugh, but how much time do you actually spend holding your breath when you’re riding?

Try this
Think of something neutral, like today’s breakfast. Notice your breathing rate and how your body feels – relaxed all over or tense in places? Think of something that makes you happy and joyful and notice what happens to your breathing and the tensions in your body. Now, think of something that worries you. Notice what happens in your body: where are you tensing up and how has your breathing changed? Play with thinking of the worrying thing, but breathing like you’re happy. What happens to the worry? Next, think of something fear-inducing. Focus on your breathing and count four breaths in and four breaths out, and do this 10 times. What happens to your fearful thought?


Power of your imagination
It’s all too easy to imagine something horrible happening – those ‘what if’ thoughts. Have you ever noticed that if something happens, like the horse spooks, in that moment you cope perfectly well and feel nothing? It’s afterwards when you start to feel the fear.

Try this
Take a ‘what if’ that worries you and follow it through to a positive outcome – an outcome where you remain in control, or regain control and feel safe and happy. What happens to the feeling of fear? It might not go away completely, but you should feel calmer and more relaxed.


Stay in the moment
If we’re thinking about something that’s just happened, or might happen, we lose focus on what’s happening right now. It’s easy to wander off into thoughts of what to make for dinner, for example. But your horse is only ever aware of ‘now’ – his mind isn’t wandering.

Try this
Sit in your armchair and focus on the feeling: the sensation of your legs supported by the seat and the chair back against yours. Feel your feet on the floor, and so on. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the feeling of sitting in the chair. Increase the amount of time you can spend just sitting and being aware of the feeling, until you can sit in the moment for as long as you would usually spend with your horse.


Plan of action
Let’s take two extremes: if your fear is huge and you desperately want to beat it – for example, you’re so afraid you won’t even get on your horse – set yourself a series of tiny goals.

Try this
Your end goal might be to hack out with a friend, but your first goal should be to simply mount your horse, sit on him for one minute and then get off. This is a huge step forward. Your next goal might be to mount and have a friend lead your horse for five minutes. Your next goal might be to mount and walk around without being led for five minutes, and so on. At the opposite end of the scale, perhaps you’re planning to compete up a level next season? Your action plan of tiny goals might start wit h a truth session with yourself about all your concerns in going to the next level, and then picking them off one by one to deal with. Take each one and break it down into small chunks, so your action plan ends up as a list of things you can tick off every day.

Start an ‘I did it’ diary
It’s all too easy to focus on how far we have to go, rather than how far we’ve come. Keeping a diary of every step achieved is a great way to keep celebrating successes and reminding yourself that you’re moving towards that goal. It’s good use of your armchair time and will make you focus on the positives that happen every day.

 

How to handle hacking hazards!

When you venture out you have to be prepared for the unexpected but that doesn’t mean you have to leave your fate in the hands of the gods. Here we offer some handy advice to help you stay on track during every hack using the dreaded plastic bag as an example!

We all know the one - the plastic bag flapping in a hedgerow! It's an all-too-common sight and often horses will react to by planting their feet and refusing to move an inch closer.

When to react?
The key is to react as soon as you see the obstacle ahead. Every horse’s comfort zone will be different but once your horse has reached his limits his confidence will rapidly desert him and he’s likely to slam on the brakes. Once your horse has stopped, it’ll take a lot of effort to get him moving again, so the trick is to keep him going forward.

Stay positive.
If you back off your horse will take this as confirmation that there’s something to worry about, so if you’re trotting, keep trotting.

Keep calm
Try also not to make too big an issue out of the spook. If your horse will go past the hazard, even if he gives it a wide berth, you can compromise. You’re not giving in – you’re still getting past and travelling in the right direction.

Keep him moving
If your horse does come to a complete standstill, you simply need to get his feet moving. If he won’t go forwards, get him moving sideways. Ride turn on the haunches – anything to get his front feet moving again. With any luck this will also take his mind of the spooky object.

Prevention is better than cure!
To avoid running into difficulties in the first place, try setting up some hazards in your arena or a small schooling area on grass to help your horse become accustomed to new things. Leading and long-reining your horse around and over things such as tarpaulin, cones and umbrellas will help to build his confidence when faced with unfamiliar objects.