Listen to your performance horse to improve your results
It takes a small village to train and show a horse: owner, rider, trainer, vet, farrier, groom, barn staff etc. When working with these experts to create your horse’s optimal training program, remember that the most important member of your team is your horse! Obtaining the horse’s input will help you create the best outcome possible as you work toward your goals.
Some important topics to periodically discuss with your performance horse are:
- Where does he feel confident in his training, and where does he need more help from you?
- How does his body feel? Are chronic or undiagnosed issues affecting his performance?
- Is the tack comfortable?
- Are the rider’s nerves or habits affecting him?
- What’s his opinion of the other members of his support team? Are personality conflicts impeding his progress?
- Does he feel strong enough physically for the level you’re planning to show?
- Does he want to show? How often? Locally or away from home?
- Does he understand what you’re trying to accomplish in your training sessions, or is he confused or bored by the exercises?
A periodic evaluation of your horse’s overall physical, mental and emotional status alerts you to problems early so they can be corrected quickly. It helps you focus your energy on the most important issues which saves time and money on your training program.
Often things go well at home then it all falls apart at the show. Your horse can help you understand why. Here are some common requests that show horses have asked of their riders during my talks with them:
- When arriving at the grounds, “tell me where we’re going to go and what we’re going to do there”. He sees many types of classes occurring and feels overwhelmed and unprepared. This is especially common with horses who perform in more than one discipline, or who are stabled at multi-day shows. Knowing what is expected helps him feel confident and know when he can take time out to rest and recharge.
- When the rider is chatting with her friends between classes the energy of their conversation is distracting her horse. The personalities and thoughts of people he doesn’t know feel foreign and upsetting to him. He asks to be left in a quieter area with the groom while she visits.
- A horse who’s driven by winning becomes anxious and upset with himself when he doesn’t give his rider a ribbon. Maybe she’s moved up a level and her goal now is to get through the round without a major fault, but he’s been feeling the fault lies with him. He wants to understand what his rider values in him and what she needs from him.
- The horse reports his trouble concentrating at shows stems from feeling his rider isn’t ‘with him’ mentally prior to their ride. He asks that before going into the ring “put your hand on me and breathe with me until we’re both calm”. This simple touch and focusing technique helps the horse feel the rider’s body is one with his.
These requests may seem minor but often the smallest changes have the greatest impact. Lack of communication equals disrupts your connection and has a huge impact on how well you and your horse can perform as a team. Learning what your horse needs and wants from you helps you see changes you can implement that may make all the difference.