Spooky Horses, part 3 - Horses that are tense and on adrenaline
These horses are spooky because they simply have too much nervous energy and don't know how to direct it. These are the ones that you can’t tell which they’re going to be on a given day, one day they’ll be fine, the next a snorting mess! They are often adversely affected by changes in the environment, a windy day, a competition, your mood and so on.
You can desensitise these horses until you're blue in the face and it won't make a blind bit of difference because they aren't actually scared of the thing, they are simply reacting to not being able to move as much as their bodies and emotions are telling them they need to.
Adrenaline is like an amplifier whatever your horses natural tendencies they will get more when on adrenaline, they will be sharper, more reactive and more sensitive when adrenaline is present. When adrenaline is present, everything is heightened it’s like CAPITAL LETTERS in a text message! As with any situation the calmer and more patient you can be the more likely you are to have a positive response from your horse.
For these horses techniques either on the ground or in the saddle that teach them to direct their energy in a positive and controlled way in order to find relaxation are going to be key. If you are not a confident rider I would highly recommend you start on the ground.
Lunging these horses before getting on to 'get the edge off' will work well for a horse that has too much adrenaline so long as you stop at the right time i.e. when the horse is relaxed.
Horses learn when you stop doing something so if you stop lunging when your horse is still tense then all you’ve taught him is how to be tense for longer.
So you can lunge your horse for 20 mins to ‘get the edge off’ but if something made him tense at 19 mins and then you stop lunging nothing has been achieved. However, if you lunge your horse for 5 mins and he relaxes, you stop and give him some thinking time you are more likely to have a nice relaxed horse in less time. It’s a small difference but makes all the difference!!
Signs that your horse is finding relaxation in motion are:-
Head lowering below the withers, even for a moment means he’s trying
Blowing out through his nose (not excited snorting!!!) mean’s he’s starting to breath more deeply
Swinging tail, starting to relax and swing through the back
Changes of direction
For some horses lunging doesn’t work at all and get’s them more and more wound up. These are the ones that end up doing the ‘wall of death’ around you with arena surface or mud flying up in clods!!
For these horses rather than trying to control their speed by pulling them back, and potentially getting them more wound up changes of direction work really well as they allow them to move their feet but keep them focussed. If you make your circles really small they don’t have the opportunity to build up too much momentum.
These small turns can be done on the ground or on the horses back and as your horse relaxes you can make the circles bigger until you can go for longer without your horse speeding up or getting worried.
Sideways or lateral moves
Sideways or lateral manoeuvres can also be useful for these horses as a way of allowing them the movement they need in order to work off their nervous energy in a controlled way until they find relaxation.
What’s important here is that when you are riding your lateral move that the horse bends his body from your leg (often referred to as ‘bending through the ribs’). I horse can bend his neck and stay tense through his body which won’t help in the slightest, in order to find relaxation, start to breathe deeply and become calmer they need to bend through their whole body.
As with the previous exercises, you can test their effectiveness by going straight again and seeing if your horse can stay relaxed or they tense up again.
I have focussed more here on patterns that involve movement as these horses usually need to move until they find some sort of relaxation and trying to ask them to stand still is often too much initially and can even wind them up!
However, when they do start to come down it’s important to give them some stand still time so they can start to process what is happening. Look for signs that they are becoming more relaxed to see if what you’re doing is working.
Signs of relaxation in your horse at a stand still:-
Licking and chewing
Head below the withers
Blowing out through his nose
Before trying any training technique it is important to rule out pain or discomfort. Saddle fit, teeth, back, hoof balance and lameness issues should all be checked by a qualified professional before applying any training.
If you have questions or need idea's to help with a specific problem feel free to get in touch with me on email@example.com
Lyla has been helping riders and their horses in the UK, USA and Europe for over 20 years. She has prepared horses for crowds of over 6,000 people with no calmers or ear plugs for venues including Birmingham NEC, Aintree, Bury Farm EC and Hartpury.
Lyla specialises in horse psychology and behaviour problems with a specific interest in dressage and has worked with horses from grass roots to Grand Prix across the UK and Europe including international competitors and Olympians from Spain, the US, Canada and the UK.
See www.lylacansfield.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
All training techniques discussed are from experience only, it is impossible for to accurately advise on horse/rider combinations without seeing them live. Lyla Cansfield & Equine Mind & Body Training strongly advise anyone considering using any of the techniques discussed to get live help and can take no responsibility for the outcome of applying any of the techniques discussed with or without supervision. Riding is a high risk sport.