Not too long ago, I was giving a clinic and noticed that one of the riders kept saying things such as, “My horse won’t stay on the rail,” and “My horse won’t go over the fence.” The horse had been spooking at a group of auditors who were seated outside of the arena near one of the fences, and it was running out at the small fence, which was less than three feet high.
I suggested that the rider use an inside indirect rein to keep the horse’s eyes away from the crowd and control the shoulder of the horse so that the animal couldn’t move the front end of its body out of the line of the fences; and use a firm inside leg to “wall up” the horse on the inside, so that the rest of its body couldn’t escape staying in the line of fences.
After hearing lots of excuses that began with the words, “my horse,” it occurred to me that the rider’s language said it all—I am a victim of my horse. The way it is supposed to work is that the rider is the brains and the horse is the brawn. When problems arise, we are supposed to “outthink” the horse—i.e., to get the advantage by quick or clever thinking. To allow the horse to run out at a fence repeatedly is to allow the animal to outthink you.
Granted, the horse seemed upset when it ran out at the fence and shied from the auditors; but once the horse was away from that part of the ring, it was as calm as could be and would stand quietly in the middle of the arena on completely loose reins. The horse, then, wasn’t really upset, but rather disobedient. It wasn’t sure about the auditors, and it found the rider so passive in resistance to the disobedience that it was easier to run out at the fence than to jump it.
If we’re the brains of the partnership, then we have to figure out a way to get the horse over the fence without making the situation worse. The answer is to use only what it takes to get what you want. The aids I mentioned above will probably be enough, as long as you apply them as soon as you feel the horse starting to run out.
At worst, the horse may stop at the fence, but you should never allow it to run past the standards of the obstacle. Once it has passed the standards, you have allowed the horse to gain a great advantage; so do whatever you have to do to keep it in the line of fences.
At best, you are able to get over the fence, displaying anything from a slight spook to a fairly awkward jumping effort, but at least getting from one side of the obstacle to the other. Once you have gotten over a fence, it is much easier to jump it again.
If you can’t avoid a stop the first time the horse spooks and attempts a run-out, then switch your riding crop to the side of the horse that is bowing away from the fence, if it isn’t on that side already. With the horse standing in front of the fence, use the stick on the barrel of the animal, right behind your leg. Then, when you circle to make a second attempt at jumping the fence, be ready to use your stick again on the horse’s barrel if it attempts to stop or run out at the jump.
The language of success begins with the word, “I.” “I” am having trouble getting my horse over the fence. “I” am unable to keep my horse from spooking. The word, “I,” is the language of responsibility. It is an acknowledgement that the rider is responsible for the quality of the horse’s performance. If you take responsibility, then you’ll do everything you can to improve the horse’s performance; but if you abdicate responsibility, you’ll be a victim of your horse’s whims till the end.
Talk to you later! — AJ