If your horse spooks at a motorbike revving or a pheasant flying out of a bush, your entire ride could be quite nerve-wracking. While avoiding spooky things is more or less impossible, building up your horse’s confidence and working on their focus will help to contain their reaction. Eloise Mayhead, stable manager for the City of London’s Mounted Branch shares one exercise she uses to prepare police horses for patrol.

“All horses need to get used to objects suddenly entering their comfort zone,” says Eloise. “Even something as simple as a gust of leaves can spook a horse, but it’s important that they keep going forward.”

In this exercise, you’ll need a friend or family member to gently roll balls towards your horse’s feet and then kick a football. It’s important that you roll the balls towards their front feet to start with so they can see them approaching.

How to ride it

  1. Stand your horse in the middle of the arena. Keep a soft contact on the reins and stay relaxed in your seat.
  2. Ask someone to stand a few metres away and gently roll tennis balls towards their front feet. Allow them to react by lowering their head and sniffing.
  3. If they’re comfortable with this and stops reacting, stay relaxed in the saddle, keep your hands low and your eyes forward and walk them round on a 20m circle with the person standing in the middle.
  4. Ask the person on the ground to gently kick a football across your horse’s path as they walk on the circle.
  5. Squeeze them with both legs to encourage them to keep moving forward.
  6. Do this until they don’t react to the ball as it crosses their path, then repeat on the other rein.

If your horse shies away from the balls, ask your helper to roll them a few metres in front of them rather than towards their feet. For some horses, it can take a little longer for them to become comfortable with this.

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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