A very here and now topic under discussion in the forums is riding in windy conditions. Whatever the time of year the weather can suddenly turn windy, which can and often does result in spooky horses, but the weather we are experiencing here in the UK at the moment is enough to make the bravest of horses spooky. You can’t really blame your horse for being on high alert; it’s so much harder to detect by sight, smell or movement those predators lurking behind the muck heap!
There is only one way to keep your horse calm, whatever the weather, where ever you are, whatever you are doing and that is to build his trust. If your horse trusts you he will come to you as soon as he sees you; allow you to touch him everywhere; will move confidently where you ask him to and take comfort from your calmness.
If your horse is spooky when it’s windy so much that it is creating a dangerous situation, your problems are not really about the wind they are about your horses confidence – in you.
When there is movement everywhere that is not ‘the norm’ your horse can become very unsettled, very quickly. You need to have your horse’s attention or be able to get your horse’s attention in these types of situations. To test this, your horse needs to have experienced some fear in a simulated situation.
Perhaps you could get someone to create a constant movement whilst you walk your horse around (leading in hand at first if you feel safer). The idea of the exercise is to ensure your horse remains focussed on you, paying no attention whatsoever to the moving item. You don’t want the person near to you, just have them a distance away so as not to panic the horse at all.
- Kicking a tin can
- Rustling a carrier bag or Tarpauline
- Opening and closing an umbrella
Do this every day, slowly over a period of time bringing the distraction closer.
Always back off if the horse overly spooks and stay in that spot until he is comfortable.
There is no quick fix here. In my blog ‘To Spook or Not to Spook’ I say it is a simple state of mind. The horse will reflect whatever your state of mind is … if you are confident, so will he be, if you are thinking he will spook … so he will! For me the goal would be to be able to school my horse effectively in windy conditions. So I’m not saying she will not be excited, or that she may feel a little nervous, but she would trust me sufficiently to say, ‘ok, I’ll listen and try for you, because I know there’s nothing out there that will harm me’.
I was recently asked what a rider should do to back up the leg aid if the horse is ‘whip shy’. My response was to work on de-sensitising the horse to the whip. It’s all about building confidence and maintaining that confidence as you go into more and more challenging situations. It’s the same with riding in the wind. Never, ever reprimand your horse in these situations. That is unless you want to completely destroy your relationship and punish a frightened animal for being fearful.
Use reassuring words in a low voice every time you praise your horse so that you can pull this out of the bag when you need it. A re-assuring pat when schooling easily translates into reassurance when your horse is anxious. As and when your relationship becomes really strong, all those problems simply disappear; it’s not about the wind or the whip.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster