The Stables

Inattentive When Schooling? Is This You Or The Horse?

by Lorraine Jennings

Is your horse more interested in what’s going on in the field next door? It’s a common fault of horses of all ages. They have something in common too – their riders!

There are many things you can do to get your horse’s attention but before you start make sure he has yours. It’s too easy to blame him when he’s slow to respond or looking across the school at a car driving into the yard but never forget that without your say-so he can’t do anything.

If your horse is easily distracted you need to keep him interested. But be warned! How you do it can have a negative effect on him too. Whilst it’s important to fill his head with your ideas so he can’t think up any of his own it’s also important not to give him too many things that will just create tension. Imagine if you were reading a book you found boring – it wouldn’t get more interesting because the pages were turned faster would it?! And starting too many different books means you never really settle into one of them.

Look on your horse’s lack of attention as a challenge – not a disaster. Keep your schooling sessions short so you can stay focused and calm. That means leaving your phone in the tack room! And chatting to friends after you’ve ridden …

The most important thing to work on is your aids. If your horse can turn his head to look at another horse trotting around the field next door then your contact isn’t there to stop him. Take up your reins and clamp your thumb down on top of them so they can’t slip any longer. Keep the pressure the same on both and if he tries to turn his head you’ll feel the pressure increase on one rein – and be able to correct it.

Just because your horse likes to turn his head or spook it doesn’t mean you should focus on his head – or your reins. Your legs are really important. They push his quarters up to his shoulders and shorten his body. A shorter body is easier to control.

Transitions and changes of rein are an ideal way to keep your horse thinking. Just be careful that you don’t do too many too quickly. All horses are different – some respond better to quick, sharp changes. Others need those changes to be slightly slower and calmer. Try one of these ideas –

Put yourself on a 20m circle at E/B. Work at any pace. From that circle, you can –

  1. go large – return to the circle on the next long side
  2. ride circles of different sizes – 18,15,12,10, 6m
  3. change pace using direct or indirect transitions
  4. change the rein by riding two ½ 10m circles EXB
  5. ride 10m circles from the four tangent points
  6. change the rein onto 10m circles to A and C
  7. change shape – squares and diamonds from tangent points
  8. spiral in and out

Any one of those ideas is enough to keep a horse focused – for one half hour session. What you don’t need to do is join two or three of them together! Throwing too many changes at him will just confuse and frustrate him. He’ll soon stop trying and start to look for ways out.

Think of all the instructors or school teachers you’ve had and how they taught or inspired you. Which ones made you listen? The ones that gave you loads to do and think about or the ones that gave you time to really understand?

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

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