It’s that time of year again — still cold, but brighter days to inspire riders everywhere to tack up and get out riding. But what if the thought is as exciting for your horse as it is for you? Sharp, fresh horses can be off-putting, triggering nerves and perhaps causing you to delay getting on board.
BHS level four coach Stef Eardley explores ways to help you stay confident when your horse is feeling fresh and spooky.
1. Eliminate the risks
It’s not uncommon for a rider to get nervous when they’re forced to ride a fresh horse, so eliminate the risks as much as possible by lungeing before getting on, or making sure he’s been turned out before you ride. Don’t overdo the lungeing though — a quick spin to let him work off any tension should do it.
2. Keep breathing
When you’re riding a fresh horse and feeling nervous, remember to breathe. Breathing deep and slow can help you calm down. Try singing while you ride to help you relax, too.
3. Let him go forwards
Sometimes keeping a fresh horse in walk doesn’t work — it can even wind them up more and make them trickier to ride. If this is your horse, consider making him knuckle down to work by trotting on and working forward into a contact. J
ust make sure you give him time to warm up first, and don’t do too much too quickly.
He’ll soon settle as he works off that excess energy.
4. Go out in company
Ride with others who can offer moral support and advice if things start going haywire. You’ll instantly feel more confident and many horses relax in company.
5. Ride and lead
Ride and lead if the opportunity arises and you are properly equipped and competent enough to do so. You could ride the more sensible horse first and then swap over halfway onto the more excitable horse. This will give the latter a chance to chill out before you climb on board.
6. Have a lesson
Have regular lessons with an instructor you trust. It’s not a bad idea to let your instructor have a sit on your horse every now and then to get an experienced viewpoint on why your horse may be acting how he is, and what can be done to address it.
7. Enjoy yourself
You should look forward to riding, and if there’s any doubt that your horse isn’t right for you, seek advice from an experienced professional or friend you trust.
Meet the expert: Level four coach and grand prix dressage rider Stef Eardley competes internationally and has represented Great Britain. Stef is also a freelance dressage trainer and para trainer.