In the cold months of the winter it can be really difficult to ride and there are only few possibilities for variations. This is the perfect time for special ground training disciplines which help the horse to overcome his fears.
The wooden seesaw
If a horse learns to cross a seesaw this can especially help for riding tours and for entering a trailer. Through the training the horse learns to keep his balance while walking over a swinging and uneven ground what especially can help if he has to cross a bridge or enter a horse trailer. Generally it is really important that the horse has enough time to get used to this object so that he can sniff at it. In the first step the horse has to cross a simple wooden board. When this exercise is successful the rider can build a wooden beam underneath the board so that you construct a seesaw. When horses try to walk over the seesaw the first time they often get into panic and try to jump off the seesaw. Through their hectic movements they easily can hurt their legs at the edges of the board. Therefore it is crucial that horses wear bandages so that their bones and joints are protected. Intensification of the exercise: The horse stands on the seesaw and bobs up and down. Extreme intensification of the exercise: The horse stands in balance on the seesaw. Some horses really enjoy the work with the seesaw. The training with the seesaw also is part of the trail in the western riding discipline. Here you can find a video.
The clattering bag
The clattering bag is a great exercise for horses which generally react easily frightened when they hear unknown and loud noises. This exercise helps the horse to trust the rider and so to not run away. For this training you simply need a bag and noisy objects such as tin cans or crackling paper. In any case you need to avoid any sharp objects because this can easily injure the horse. In general there are several possibilities how to get the horse in contact with the clattering bag. Here we want to present two methods.
- Horse and rider are alone on a riding paddock. The rider takes ground rods and lays them down in a square. Then he guides the horse into the square where it has to stand alone (do not hold the horse with the rope). This exercise will only work out if you already successfully did some concentration and discipline trainings before (e.g. “Wrap horse into lunge”). The fixed markings on the ground help the horse to orientate himself, to concentrate and to stand still. When the horse had enough time to get in contact with the bag (sniff at it) the rider can slowly begin to shake it. Many horses react easily frightened and will try to step out of the square and run away. When they do so the rider has to start again at the beginning of the exercise. This means that the horse needs to step back into the square and pay completely attention to the rider. A success will only be possible if the rider carefully praises the horse every time he behaved in the right way. Treats are good aids to accelerate the whole process. When the horse got used to the noises the rider can shake the bag more heavily and in the end run around the horse while making loud and clattering sounds. Intensification of the exercise: Tie the bag around a long stick or other long object. Then try to softly touch the coat while the horse continues to stand still in the square. Extreme intensification: Take away the ground rods and touch the horse with the clattering bag. The horse should have learnt to keep on standing and control his natural wish to run away. In the end it should be possible to touch all parts of the body with the bag.
- Horse and rider are alone in a round pen or on a paddock. The clattering bag lays in the middle and is covered with fodder (muesli, apples, carrots, ect.). When the horse first notices this hill of treats he will directly start to eat. While he begins to dig his nose through the fodder the horse will suddenly nudge at the clattering objects and make noise. Most of the horse are frightened and run away from the fodder. However after the first shock the horse will not be able to resist the temptation of the treats and will return to it. While eating again and again he will nudge at the bag and hear the clattering sound. Soon he will connect the noise with good tasting fodder and with treats. The rider generally should try to take a backseat because the horse needs to decide on his own when he feels ready to get in contact with the bag and the noises. He should never try to force the animal to do something it is not ready for. However the rider can intervene and praise the horse when he is nudging at the bag without running away. In some cases the horse begins to enjoy the noise of the bag and keep on playing with it even when there is no fodder left. These horses bite into the bag and shake it with their mouths or paw into it with their hooves- they just found a new toy!
Many horses are afraid of the spray bottle. Especially the sudden wetness on their coat and the sibilant noise completely irritates the animal. However it can be really helpful if horses are used to the spray bottle (e.g. if you need to spray a certain substance on the coat in summer). After the first contact between the horse and the bottle (sniffing) the rider can start to spray the water on the ground. At the beginning the water should not touch the body of the horse but instead hit the ground far away from the animal. The horse gets used to the sibilant and unique noise. Only when the horse keeps calm and does not try to run away or become nervous you can go on with the next step: spray directly next to the legs of the horse and every fifth or sixth time also touch the hooves and legs. After some time you can incremental increase the frequency. This exercise requires a lot of patience and repetitions because many horses react easily frightened and only slowly get used to the noise.
During a nice ride through nature the weather can always change and it can suddenly start to rain. Then it is really likely that you meet other strollers with an umbrella. Many horses are irritated by the colorful and big object. Therefore it definitely increases the safety of the rider if your horse is used to umbrellas. For this training unit horse and rider are alone on a paddock or in a round pen (horse runs around freely). The rider tries to get the entire concentration and attention of the horse. Then he slowly begins to put up the umbrella. It is crucial that all movements are slowly and carefully so that the horse does not get frightened and simply runs away. When the horse got used to the umbrella you can go on with the next step of the exercise. The rider is in the saddle and a third person takes the umbrella and walks around the riding place. At the beginning the person keeps a certain distance to rider and horse and carefully puts up and down the umbrella. While he continues with these movements the distance slowly becomes smaller and smaller. If the rider notices that the horse is irritated and only concentrated on the umbrella the rider can try to get back the attention with the help of certain training units (e.g. Leg-yield). At the end of the training unit it should be possible that the person with the umbrella can walk directly beside the horse while putting up and down the umbrella. However you always need to keep a safety distance to the horse because the end of the umbrella is really sharp and can easily hurt the horse.
The tarpaulin is one of the most difficult training units. Therefore we recommend to do other exercises before so that the horse already is trained in concentration and discipline. Especially a good relationship and confidence between horse and rider are very helpful. In general horses are really averse against anything on the ground and always try to run away from new and unknown objects which are laying on the ground. Firstly the rider needs to roll the tarpaulin (2 x 4m) into a narrow roll. The horse needs enough time to get in contact with the new object (sniffing). It can always help to use fodder and treats to accelerate this process (scatter it on the tarpaulin). The horse learns to connect the new object with a positive and pleasant experience. When the horse lowers the neck this is sign of well-being.
When this happened several times the rider can continue with the unit and slowly try to guide the horse over the tarpaulin.
The first reaction mostly is jumping or running away and this behavior requires an immediate reaction of the rider: The rider should try to stand in front of the horse and turn him back to the tarpaulin in the shortest way. It can be helpful to take the rope really short and to give short, loud and precise commands.
The horse needs to understand that running away will not help him and that you expect him to do the exercise. Only when the horse does not seem to be scared anymore and is able to walk over the rolled tarpaulin the rider can begin to enroll it. Then the horse even needs to step on the tarpaulin when he wants to walk over it. Intensification of the unit: When it is windy the tarpaulin makes great noises. Then it will be even more difficult for the horse to overcome his fear and step over the dark object on the ground. A success of this exercise is a success for the relationship between horse and rider because crossing the tarpaulin for the horse is a real act of faith. This requires a lot of praise and treats.
Wrap horse into tarpaulin or blanket
This training unit is an intensification of the exercise just described before. It can only be successful if the horse already is completely used to the tarpaulin. In small steps the rider starts to touch the back and hind quarters of the horse with the blanket or tarpaulin. You can continue this exercise by simply touching more intensive and cover neck and even head. It is crucial to do all movements slowly and carefully and obviously the unit can only be successful if you continuously repeat it again and again. In the next step the rider guides the horse with the robe and trails the tarpaulin in the other hand. In this situation the horse has to deal with to apparently threats: Through the corner of his eyes he can see the dark and long object and with his ears he can hear the grinding noise.
General guideline: it is crucial to give treats and praise the horses.
- Lunge Training Course- Field Report No 1- Practical Lunging
- A recipe for success: Praising your horse
- The importance of the right communication between horse and rider- how to understand the body language of the horse
- Ground training: exercises with colorful ground bars activate the awareness of horses