Eventing Shorts: Fixing the Problem Horse – Don’t be a Dictator

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

How do I fix a problem horse? Don’t be dictator. Be a cheerleader!

“My horse keeps refusing jumps. In fact now he won’t even go over a pole on the ground.”

What do you do when he refuses?

I squeeze harder, or tap him with the whip. Then what do you do when he jumps it? Nothing, he’s supposed to do that!

“My horse tramples me when I’m leading him and he has no manners.”

What do you do when he acts up? I give a tug on the lead rope. I scold him and tell him no. What do you do when he walks nicely? And he behaves? Nothing, he’s supposed to do that!

Is he?? They do that because we teach them to do that for us. But I’m pretty sure in the wild there are not horses standing quietly and cross ties, loading themselves in trailers, or teaching themselves nice canter transitions.

The best way to fix a lot of these problems is celebrate every single little victory. Your future jumper walked over a ground pole? Give him a big pat: “You’re the best horse in the world! You’re going to the Olympics! Good boy!!” Step up to crossrail … “Good boy! Best horse in the world!” Build their confidence as you build the task.

Your problem horse stopped when you asked him to … from a walk? “Good boy, you’re the best horse in the world!” Don’t take the simple things for granted. As someone who deals with these so-called problem horses and young horses on a daily basis I can tell you from experience that there are many horses that will not stop when you ask. They will not walk over ground pole. They will not simply walk when you ask him to walk. Do not take this for granted.

Think of your horse like a cat. A 1,200-pound somewhat aloof animal that may or may not want to play today. If they are interested, confident, and trust you, they can do anything.

When you’re training, celebrate every correct answer they give you – they will remember! That halt from a walk will become your halt X, salute, at your next event. That ground pole will turn into a Prelim trakehner.

Teach them to BELIEVE that they can jump the moon and in the eventually they will.

Amy Nelson has been riding hunter/jumpers and eventers for 25 years and is based in Rochester, IL.  She retrains OTTBs, problem horses, and trains eventers at her own show barn, Hummingbird Stables.  She competes with OTTBs in upper level eventing, has qualified for the AECs at many levels, and has competed in the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover.  Her goals are to compete at the one-star level this year, and eventually four-star. You can follow Amy on Facebook here and on Instagram at @amynelsoneventer. Check out more of her “Eventing Shorts” on EN’s Blogger’s Row