Today I want to share a training tip I have been learning and developing with the help of Jeremy and Shauntel since moving to Washington. It is a bit different than I have been taught in the past so it has taken awhile to get integrated in my every day riding. But I have seen an amazing change in Sjapoer and our riding since beginning the change. Anyone who knows Sjapoer is aware of his personality. His intelligence and sensitivity are part of what make him such an amazing horse. This sensitivity is paired with movement and power. I am very lucky to have such an amazing horse. BUT…yes there is a but! With power, motion and sensitivity comes a lot of work to stay focused and to stay in the saddle at times. Sjapoer can have a back cracking spook; and he is always, at any moment, without notice, ready to spook. So I have had to be tense and ready every second. This fear or lack of ability to read and control his spooks led to a lot of tension in our riding at times. It competitions and even in practice this meant days of brilliance and days of heartache. No one who knew Sjapoer will believe that I can now ride him in the walk with a loose rein, one handed with confidence! Yep, can you imagine that for even a minute?
So what do I do? At the onset of every lesson I start him with his head low and round so he is focused on work and not on his surroundings. If he has a lot of energy in the beginning with his head low and long I do a lot of stretchy posting trot circles to warm up. When it is safe we go to canter to run some energy out of him. Then we do endless transitions of walk-trot-canter. The frequent transitions in warm up keep him busy. He doesn’t have time to distract himself. The biggest change though has been in the philosophy of “getting him to go by the ghost.” I have always been told when Sjapoer spooks, to make him go by the object directly again. Perhaps giving him a tap or a half-halt directly before the spot of the spook to get him to know I won’t take him being afraid and to give him something else or perhaps bigger to fear. Sometimes this meant attempting to go by a flag, or a shadow, or an invisible monster a dozen times. At times each pass escalated the event. Now when he gives a big meaningless spook I don’t go directly past the spot. I go to the other end of the arena. I get his head low and his neck long. I do lots of quick transitions until he is focused on our activity and has completely forgotten the event. Then we go by again. Rarely has he ever remembered he was upset before. This keeps us from spiraling and increasing tension to the point where the entire lesson time is lost. Next time, give it a try!