Filling in the blanks!

Horses filling in the blanks!

For a horse, training can be a guessing game; if he does the right thing, he gets a reward, which may be a release of a certain pressure, a rest, a scratch on the withers, a food treat or anything else that the individual horse will enjoy. As the horse becomes more established understanding different cues from the rider/handler things become easier, however he still needs us to keep our intensions clear so that he knows what is required of him. Failing this the horse may well have to guess a way of filling in the blanks.

I recently taught a jumping lesson where the lady that I was teaching was doing very well, until the landing side of the fence, where the horse was shooting off, with the rider totally out of control, often heading for the entrance gate to the field!

Both horse and rider were showing a balanced approach; looking ahead, a quality canter with a good rhythm; she kept her position in the saddle secure with her deep core muscles strong and they were jumping the fence in good style.

After jumping the fence a couple of times, I asked her to tell me how focused and aware she was whilst jumping the fence;

• What was happening at each stage of the jump; approach, jump and get away?
• Is she ‘staying in the moment’?
• Were there moments when she lost concentration, blanked out or was unable to recall clear details of what happened?

This would lower her effectiveness and ability to improve or influence the horse. Awareness and focus are especially important when jumping as it can all happen very fast!

She found that her awareness level was significantly lower on the landing and getaway. She had been putting so much effort into the approach, take off and the jump that she was totally forgetting about the getaway!

I asked her to pay more attention to the landing and gave her a pair of wings to turn between on a half 25meter circle. This would be quite a challenge as the last few times her horse had taken total control and headed at speed away from the jump; She came in with her usual good balance, jumped the jump well but instead of finishing there, whilst jumping the jump she looked towards the pair of wings and as she landed, was heading towards them in a controlled and balanced canter as she had on the approach.
When I asked the rider what her awareness level was for the landing was this time, she said it was closer to where she was on the approach and the take off. She jumped some more fences being careful to plan her landing and getaway including how she was going to stop and where at the end of the course of jumps.

Once she had a plan on the landing side of the fence the horse was very happy to do as she asked. Before this there were no clear instructions, so her horse felt that he had to take control, filling in the blanks with what he would like to do- in this case it was go home and see his stable mates!

It is really important for us to keep our intentions clear to the horse and be sure that he understands, at all times, both when in hand or riding. If the horse is not sure what we want he will have to make it up the best way he knows!