I would like to give a little background so that my question will be as clear as possible: I own a 13 year old Cob X Frisian gelding (15.2hh) ride & drive called Roger. I have had him since he was a youngster & trained him myself in all disciplines (XC, SJ, dressage, driving, etc.). He is not a nappy horse, and will hack out alone and ride in the arena alone; he is also fine in the field alone or as a herd member. He can be a little shoulder barging with people he doesn’t know though. Ridden wise, he isn’t spooky, has gone through a lot of natural horsemanship work, rides in a snaffle, and will take novices and advanced riders. He hasn’t ever refused any jump at all, and has been socialized at shows on a regular basis but I don’t think enough to sour him.
However, as he’s gotten a little older, he has a tendency to lift his head out of the rein contact in canter, barging through his shoulder entirely when jumping (this is usually to get to the nearest jump as he loves to jump, or just to go in the direction of the other horses). This never happens at our home yard, or if we go to ride at a friend’s yard. It only happens at shows, and only in show jumping. We have had a full vet check, teeth check, master saddler check, farrier check, etc. and there are no signs of any discomfort in any area. I can get him around the course when these things come up, but I want to find a way to try and make it better for both of us, and I don’t like to move up to a harder bit, as he has a very soft mouth. Also, this happens regardless of who rides him.
My question is: How do I stop him from barging through his shoulder and having to wrestle him around a corner to get him to another jump (and this only happens when near the crowd side of the arena)?
I hope you can help, as I’ve been stuck on this for quite some time.
All horses become “show smart” and change their demeanor over a period of time in the show arena. They know the difference, the same as you do! As you become slightly amped up to do your best, communication between you and your horse changes.
To alter behavior, you must alter your technique, preparation, and tack. Here are some ideas for you to draw from that have worked for me and other successful trainer / showmen.
1-Before a show, attempt to work on the basics to a greater degree. Even though you feel that you have a handle on them all, go over stopping, backing, full turns, leg aids, and collection. No matter how good you currently consider each, work to make them even better and sharper.
2-Change your show warm-up. If you gallop to prepare, instead long trot, etc. Try varying your routine. Add more bending, flexing, or add tighter circles, etc.
3-Prior to a show, sample different bits to get a different feel on your horse. Remember, bits don’t make mouths tougher, hands do! You can enhance your horses performance by giving them a new feel in the mouth.
4-Be sure when you turn, you use your direct rein slightly, then add the neck rein to contain the shoulders. Many great jumping trainers spend time riding in one hand, working on the neck rein. When they return to two hands, the horse has enhanced steering.
5-Enter schooling classes to work on certain aspects of your performance that you have difficulties with in the show arena.
I hope you find these suggestions useful and that you transform your horse back into the form he is capable of.
Ride well and be happy,
Al Dunning of Scottsdale, Arizona, is one of the most respected horsemen in the industry. Al and his students have garnered 48 world and reserve world championships. He has held numerous national leadership positions and earned multiple honors including induction into the AzQHA Hall of Fame. His 50+ years of experience as a professional trainer has led him to produce books, DVDs, clinics, Team AD online mentoring, and AD Tack, selling all the tack he uses as well as his books and videos. Al’s ability to reach people comes from his love of horses and out of respect to the mentors in his own life. For more information, visit https://www.aldunning.com or www.aldunningsadtack.com.