Lack of confidence in handling your horse is not something to be afraid of; it’s something to be embraced and worked on. Before you even think about getting on your horse, there are so many fun things you can do with him to build your confidence and improve the relationship between the two of you!
Here are ten exercises to get started with.
1. Standing still: Teach your horse to stand still at the end of a loose 12ft line. So much of horsemanship is based on the ability to stand still. Without this foundation solidly in place, it is likely that cracks will show elsewhere in your relationship with your horse.
2. Picking up feet: Teach your horse to stand quietly while you pick up each of his feet in turn, in the order you decide. Allowing you to hold his foot up is a sign of your horse's trust in you, since he is giving away his option to flee. Picking the feet out as quickly as you can or not picking out the hind feet altogether to avoid problems can often degenerate into further difficulties.
3. Moving one foot at a time: Get your horse to move just one foot. This might sound simple, but most people don't find it so easy when they give it a go! It doesn't matter if you're moving the foot forwards or backwards. The key is in the communication you and your horse must have to achieve such a precise goal.
4. Standing over a pole: Stand your horse so that his front feet are in front of a pole and his hind feet are behind it; so that he is standing with the pole underneath him (first be sure that your horse is confident to walk over a pole in hand). Again, the learning point is in the precision, specifically how aware you need to be of your horse's movement to succeed in this exercise.
5. Backing up: Ask your horse to back up in a straight line. See how soft you can make the signals that you use.
6. Backing through the T shape: Set up 5 poles so that they make a ’T’ shape, and back your horse up through the shape, turning him either to the left or to the right. You need to be very clear and deliberate in your instructions, and monitor every step that your horse makes.
7. Lateral neck flexion: Have your horse bend his head and neck towards you, right round to give you a hug, while keeping his feet still. Most horses will try to move their feet, and it’s up to you to explain to the horse, calmly and quietly, that it’s just his head and neck you want to move.
8. Circling: Stand on one spot, and ask your horse to walk in a circle around you. Take tiny steps turning on the spot so that you are always facing towards your horse, or slightly in front of him. He should be able to walk calmly, yet with energy.
9. Moving the quarters: Ask your horse to move his quarter’s just one step to the left or to the right. His forehand should stay on the same spot, so he should not move forwards or backwards. This exercise is key in teaching you to release the signal that you are using to ask your horse to move.
10.Leading on a loose rope: Lead your horse with a ‘smile in the line’, a loose connection between your hand and the clip of the lead rope. He should walk where you choose to ask him to walk, whether that’s beside you, slightly in front of you, or slightly behind you. Whichever you choose, you should be able to walk, halt, and walk again without taking up pressure on the rope.
I can guarantee that if you are lacking in confidence in handling your horse, then your confidence will have improved once you have mastered these ten exercises. If it’s ridden confidence that you’re struggling with, watch out for Sue’s ’10 steps to improving confidence in your ridden work’ coming soon. These exercises are due to be released in detail as an illustrated workbook, so for more information on how to achieve any you’re struggling with and to be first to hear when the workbook is published, sign up to receive Sue’s regular FREE e-newsletter atwww.thehorsephysio.co.uk.
Sue Palmer, Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist