A horse that sees a plastic bag as a flying monster or spots ghosts under manhole covers can be a difficult ride, both in the arena and out hacking. The City of London Police’s Mounted Branch Eloise Mayhead reveals her top spook-proofing exercises to prepare police horses for patrol.
“If your horse looks, lowers his head or sniffs at the hazard, that’s all okay,” says Eloise. “You just don’t want him to have an ‘exit attitude’ to a scary situation” – a phrase which here means rearing, going backwards and spinning around. “You need to instil enough confidence in him so that he’ll go past what’s freaking him out.
“When a horse spooks he’ll often freeze or go backwards,” says Eloise. “If he won’t go straight towards the hazard, then taking him past it sideways is a good compromise. That way he’s still going forwards and listening to your leg aids.”
For this exercise, you need to set up a line of four cones in the middle of your arena and place a hazard like a road sign or dustbin at the end of the cones.
How to ride it
- Looking straight between your horse’s ears, keep your hands low and your rein contact soft and relaxed.
- In walk, ride up the right side of the cones in a straight line.
- As you approach the hazard, increase the weight in your right seatbone and place your right leg behind the girth, increasing the pressure.
- Flex your horse away using your right leg until you see his inside eye. The right rein should remain loose but the left rein should be supporting.
- Keep his body slightly curved around the inside of your leg and don’t allow him to push out to the right.
- Continue until your horse is comfortable walking close to the hazard.
Meet the expert: Eloise Mayhead is the stable manager at the City of London’s Mounted Branch, where she selects and trains police horses.