Tips for volunteering with horses

Even if you don’t own a horse, there are still plenty of ways you can get involved.

Equestrian events can’t run without an army of volunteers and it’s the perfect way to experience all the excitement of a competition and you get to watch horses all day – what could be better?

Although you may not get paid, you’ll receive training – plus refreshments throughout the day.

Many yards and stables run competitions, if you’re keen to get involved and offer your services as a volunteer here are a few of the jobs you could be asked to do:

 Competitions can't run without the help of volunteers, which includes dressage writers

Competitions can't run without the help of volunteers, which includes dressage writers

Dressage writing

You’ll sit alongside a dressage judge, writing their comments and scores as each competitor rides their test.

This is a great opportunity to learn more about what the judge is looking for.

The ability to listen and stay focussed will help, as well as being able to write quickly and neatly.

Show stewarding

This role can be quite varied and may include directing show riders to their class or marshalling the warm-up area making sure it all runs smoothly.

Staying calm under pressure and the ability to organise others will make this job easy.

Fence judging

As the title says, you’ll be sat by a cross-country fence and you’ll record refusals or falls on a scoresheet for each competitor.

A great way to get up close to all the action, it's based outside, so be prepared and take plenty of clothing and a chair to sit on, or you can sit in your car. 

Stay safe on the road with your horse

We all know that hacking on the roads isn’t without risk and with some simple planning and some road-safety know-how you’ll be far safer when you venture out. Read on for some hacking safety tips!

Be seen

hacking horses on the road.JPG

While it’s not mandatory, wearing hi-vis should be considered an absolute must when riding on the roads. Being bright and visible will help motorists to see you earlier and that is reason enough.

There’s now plenty of choice when it comes to hi-vis products and we’re no longer restricted to the unflattering hi-vis tabards of old…not that it matters! A little hi-vis goes a long way so be sure to slap some on and the more the merrier. Available in the shops are coats, tabbards, hat bands, breeches, leg and tail bands, breast plates and exercise sheets. So, if you don’t have any hi-vi, use our advice as an excuse to go shopping. It doesn’t cost the earth and it could save your life – it’s a simple as that. If you’re currently hacking without hi-vis please make a change today – hi-vis matters.

Don’t risk injury

Wear a body protector and/or air jacket and ALWAYS wear a properly fastening riding hat – there’s no excuse. You’ve only got one head!

Inform a friend

Always tell someone where you’re going and give an estimated time of return. If something happens, you can be confident they’ll come looking for you. Just remember to let that person know if you’re running late so they don’t worry.

You could even get some added peace of mind by installing an app like the Horse Rider SOS’ app on your phone. This app monitors your movements as you ride and, in the event of a fall the app will enter “Alert mode’ and kick off a rescue process. Download it at www.horseridersos.com

Be prepared

If your horse is new, green or simply inexperienced on the roads be sure you’re ready to hit the roads before you do. Have a lesson and ensure all the basics are in place. Can you maintain control of your horse and do you know what to do in the event of a spook? If not, ask your trainer for some advice to ensure the basics are in place before you hack out – it will give you and your horse confidence.

Always be alert

It’s lovely to hack out with friends but being alert as you ride on the roads is vital so take care not to be distracted as you ride. Save chit-chat for off-road tracks and be sure to thank motorists who slow down to pass you.

Report incidents on the road

If nobody knows about incidents involving horses and riders on the road, nothing can be done to combat the. This is why the BHS urges riders to report an accident or incident on the roads. With the information, it’s easier for them to lobby those in power to make a change. So, if you’ve had an accident on the road with your horse be sure to report it to Horse Accidents – it’s never too late.

Take the BHS Riding & Road Safety Test

More than 4,000 take the BHS Riding and Road Safety test each year and while it’s not essential, it is sensible! To find out more, visit the BHS website.

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.