Horse Training for Calming a Startled Horse

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When your horse loses his cool, you shouldn't lose yours as well. You need to have your reactions planned well in advance of a meltdown because you won?t have any time to think of just the right thing to do if your horse jumps sideways on a trail ride or pitches a fit in the middle of the warm-up ring at a show.

Sudden explosions are more likely to occur in crisp winter weather, especially since horses can't get turned out or ridden as regularly as they are in warmer months.

Most horses enjoy a ride in the brisk weather. Some get over-exhuberant.?

The traditional method of coping with this behavior is to give the horse something to do to take his mind off things. Basically, put him to work. Many try to calm an overly tense, inattentive horse by riding in a small circle, but it doesn't always get the job done.

We've found that a clover-leaf pattern at the walk, where you ride 10-meter loops while alternating with straight lines and changes of direction, keeps the horse's attention better than one continuous circle. This pattern is also useful for suppling a horse and can be done at the walk in the snow and mud when winter footing is less than optimal.

If you don't have a dressage ring, visualize a large circle (about 66 feet or 20 meters across) like the face of a clock, with reference points at 3:00, 6:00, 9:00 and 12:00 and the center where the clock hands turn.

If you do have a dressage ring, picture a circle that touches B (3:00), the centerline toward A (6:00), E (9:00) and the centerline toward C (12:00), with X in the middle. You will ?draw? four clover leaves to the right and change direction to draw four clover leaves to the left.

Start in the middle of the clock (X) and walk about 33 feet to 12:00. Make a half circle right to 3:00 (B) and turn straight across the circle for about 66 feet to 9:00 (E). Make a half circle right to 12 and turn straight across the circle to 6:00. Make a half circle right to 9:00 (E) and walk straight across the circle to 3:00 (B). Make a half circle right to the centerline (6:00) and turn right toward the middle (X). This will put you where you started, having completed four clover-leaf patterns, all to the right.

After that fourth leaf is completed, you'll start to change the bend at X and then turn left at 12:00. you'll ride the same pattern in reverse, making four half-circles to the left, interspersed with a straight line of about 66 feet between each half circle. Keep on walking four clover leaves to each direction until the horse settles down.

Practice by visualizing this pattern on a piece of paper, and then you may want to walk it on foot in your ring. Try out the pattern on horseback during your warm-up period on a day when your horse is calm.

With practice, this method will then be ready to use in the future without any fuss if your horse becomes suddenly tense, like in the winter.