Does your horse feel threatened by other horses in competition warm-up arenas? Does he jump to the side when the horse gets too close, or threatens to grow up – and even succeeds like mine? Maybe he just shows a show or feels overwhelmed by the busy crowd because he’s used to working alone? Maybe he’s just claustrophobic. No matter what causes your horse to fear, overcoming it starts with patience.
Step One: Work with One Other Horse
Begin rehabilitation by introducing him to others in a familiar environment where he feels safe. Ask a friend with a calm horse to ride in the arena with you.
- As close as your horse will allow, go next to each other in the same direction. Do this on both reins.
- Switch sides so often each time. Some horses feel “stuck” to the outer fence and need to be sure they are safe when they are between the horse and the arena.
- Then allow the other rider to climb behind.
- When it is comfortable for your horse, the other animal should go towards you – only as close as it is comfortable for your horse. Do not drive it too far outside your comfort zone at this time.
- Gradually close the gap between the two animals until you are quietly passing on both sides of the approaching horse and there is very little space between them.
This can be all your horse can take during the first few sessions. Be patient and try not to get upset. Your goal is for the horse to trust you. Pushing it a little outside his comfort zone, progress is necessary and he will realize he will not be injured. However, if you overdo it, you will destroy his already fragile confidence and find yourself in a worse position than before.
Slow and light is key. When your horse is relaxed and satisfied with steps 1-5, do the same exercises in a row and then outdoors. Don’t move up until he’s completely relaxed at current levels.
Step Two: Introduce the Second Horse
You are now ready to ride with the other two. The second horse should also be a reliable animal to increase your horse’s confidence.
- Walk between the two in the same direction.
- Leave enough space between the animals to avoid feeling claustrophobic.
- If he is uncomfortable at first, go with him on both sides of the duo, then re-enter him in the middle.
- When all is well with him, go in the opposite direction.
- The other two horses should now go towards you, with a widethe space between them so that yours can pass. If your horse is worried, let the other two peel off him. Then repeat the process until he is no longer afraid and can walk quietly between them.
- Your horse will feed your confidence: ride it firmly among the approaching animals so that he will know that he will not hurt if he obeys you.
When he focuses on you, start working in the crane and then outside, walking between the other two horses when they come to you again. Only go up when the horse is 100% comfortable with the current one. It is very important to take this slowly! Your horse will probably take longer to get used to working with two horses than he did with one.
Congratulations! You have crossed a huge hurdle. Continue the practice with the same horses, then add others or change riding friends. Your horse can even enjoy riding in company.
Step Three: Change Riding Locations
Before jumping into the show environment, check your horse’s confidence by riding in a place unfamiliar with other horses. By putting him in a less stressful situation than he will face at the show, you will also be calmer and give your horse the best chance of passing the confidence test in flying colors. Ride it in indoor and outdoor arenas. (My horse got more excited in the outdoor arena, so that’s where I focused his rehabilitation.) Doing so will make your horse comfortable both indoors and outdoors.
Step Four: Be Uncompetitive
If you’re not a particularly cool type whose nerves won’t lower your horse’s self-confidence, you may want to consider including him in the first post-rehabilitation show as a competitor. Choose a low place where he will get acquainted with the conditions of the competition again. This will allow you to spend as much time as you like in the warm-up arena without the pressure of competition. You will be more relaxed and give the horse a good experience with weird horses. Then take him to the real thing – when he proves he’s ready.
Every horse is different. You may be the one who will quickly overcome your fears, or he may be like mine and need a lot of time and persuasion! Don’t have a strict rehabilitation schedule for him. If you act as if you should fix the problem forever, it will be solved much faster than trying to force it to a specific deadline. You can miss the show season, but you would still have missed it until your horse was afraid of warming up. Stick to your goal, but be flexible about your time. Patience is key.