Whether it’s a change in colour or texture, your horse may be reluctant to walk across a new surface. Eloise Mayhead, the stable manager City of London’s Mounted Branch, shares an exercise she uses to train horses for patrol.

“The key is that they keep going forward whatever the hazard, surface or sound, so they’re desensitised to as many potential hazards as possible,” says Eloise. “We never let our police horses go backwards.

“It’s essential that they go forwards whatever the problem. It’s only after we’ve taught our horses to listen to our leg prompts that we introduce nuisances they could encounter on patrol.”

The exercise

“We use tarpaulin and wood to get our horses used to walking on different surfaces,” says Eloise.

Some horses struggle and find it scary to walk over unusual things, so this exercise will encourage them to walk across anything. Fold your tarpaulin up and place it in the centre of your arena. Start with a width of 2m. Weigh it down with bricks so it doesn’t fly away and stay relaxed to keep him from tensing up.

How to ride it

  1. Sitting straight, keep your eyes forward and your rein contact soft.
  2. Ride a 20m circle and approach the tarpaulin in walk.
  3. Squeeze with your legs as you approach the tarpaulin and allow him to lower his head and sniff.
  4. Ask him to move forward and if he hesitates then increase your leg pressure to encourage him.
  5. Do this until your horse is comfortable treading on the tarpaulin, and then unfold it out in increments so that he has to walk across a wider breadth.
  6. If he won’t step on the tarpaulin, let someone on the ground lead him across until his confidence grows.

Meet the expert: Eloise Mayhead is the stable manager at the City of London’s Mounted Branch, where she selects and trains police horses. 

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