Updated: Mar 25, 2021
Now seems like a great time to talk about hot and sharp horses. We've had a lot of snow here in the UK and this has meant that we weren’t able to turn the horses out and many haven't been able to ride. When this happens, we all know that first time getting back on, our horses might be feeling a bit fresh, we might be feeling a bit anxious and there’s just a lot of anticipation for that first ride.
What's the problem?
When looking at riding hot and sharp horses there are also some horses that are naturally more hot headed than others and there are some that are more energetic than others after a few days off. I think, as we’ve tried to breed in big movement we’ve also had to add in a more energy and we can see that when we compare the top horses now to the top horses 20/30 years ago. These horses can be more reactive because we need them to be hotter and more sharp for the higher levels. The quicker they are, the quicker their brain is and you can have a truly mega horse then.
But that’s if all that energy is channelled in the right way. If it’s channelled in the wrong way it can lead to spookiness, over reacting to the leg or other aids and just general over energetic-ness. As riders we’ve had to become better at working with this energy and so, whether it’s because your horse has had some time off or they are naturally more hot and spicy you as a rider need to have a plan or at the very least a good idea of the things you can do to channel this energy for a great training session rather than a session where you feel like you’re just a passenger on a ticking time bomb.
How your riding affects your horse
I’ve seen, in both cases, the naturally hot headed horse and the situational hot headed horse, that a rider gets on, feels nervous, and tenses up as soon as they’re up there because they can feel that energy underneath them. Understandably the horse is then straight away in flight mode, ready for anything to flick that switch that makes them leap in the air or run away. And it’s almost like the rider is sitting there waiting for the horse to do something and the horse is sitting there waiting for something to happen. And, of course, because everyone’s on tender hooks waiting for something to happen it doesn’t take much for that switch to flick and the horse to shoot off and the rider ends up with no control over their horse.
But let’s look at this situation in a different way, if the rider got on, and felt confident and straight away started to say to the horse, ‘hey focus on me, I want you to slow down, I want you to push forward, I want you to do a circle, I want you to do a serpentine’. Both the horse and riders attention switches from being focussed on what could happen outside to flick the crazy or flight switch and instead brings the attention into the arena and the training. The rider is then able to get their leg on and then they build the session up calmly and confidently until the horse is going exactly how they want them to go.
So that is the situation we want ideally. And we’ve got two main differences between the two scenarios.
1. The rider is confident and not nervous. So we need to look at how we can give you more confidence so you can they give your horse confidence.
2. We need to teach the horse to bring their attention to the rider, relax, become less reactive and give the rider more control.
Giving you more confidence as the rider
Every rider is different and what makes one rider nervous won’t make another rider nervous. Similarly what makes one rider feel confident won’t make another rider feel confident. Don’t worry about what other people are thinking or what other people would do. Think about what would make you feel more confident and happier.
I think there’s a big misconception that you are either a confident rider or you’re not but the truth is there is a scale of confidence and everyone moves up and down the scale. I know I have days where I am happy to get on anything and days where I second guess myself and really struggle with confidence in my riding. So don’t worry if one day you need to do something to make you feel confident and then another day you don't. I can tell you, that way back when I did juniors and young riders I had a horse that the week before the final premier league of the year I couldn’t get off the lunge. I honestly spent the whole week on the lunge because I just had a massive drop in confidence. Then the next week I went out and won at that premier league. Know that, if you are feeling like you don’t have that confidence, that that feeling will pass and it is just a season you’re going through.
There’s also another massive misconception that confident riders are always amazing riders and amazing riders are always confident riders but it’s just not true. I know some of my idols aren’t brave at all and likewise I know the most gutsy riders that put themselves in to be honest quite unsafe situations and don’t always get the horse going at their best. Either way the point I'm trying to get across is that your level of confidence is not the same as your level of riding ability. They are two completely separate entities.
So practically then, how can we improve your confidence. Like I said each person is individual and you need to have a think about what would make you feel happier to get on that horse and ride with confidence. If this means lunging your horse first then I say go for it. If you find your horse chucks his head up when they’re feeling a bit fresh then maybe try a martingale. Some people have a bit of a thing against them because your horse should be respectful of your leg and seat aids and we shouldn’t need external aids if they're trained correctly and, in an idea world I completely agree. But, if my horse has had a week off because of snow and I know his tendency is to chuck his head up and almost hit me in the face then I think I would prefer to have the martingale as an insurance policy to give me a helping hand! Again, with all this it’s about doing what works best for you and your horse. Try not to let other people’s opinions get in your way and do what you and your instructor think is right. Understanding whether our horse is hot or fresh
When deciding how best to train your horse its important to understand whether they are fresh or hot. If you find your horse has suddenly become more sharp or hot then do your checks of back, saddle, teeth, ulcers, their feed etc. as these can all be reasons for a sudden change in behaviour. But, a reason can also be that they've had a few days off, they're feeling a bit excited or they're performance horses and are naturally going to be hotter and more energetic.
Knowing whether your horse is hot on a daily basis or fresh every now and then will decide how you ride them and how you alter your training sessions depending on how energetic they are feeling.
A horse that is fresh is one that has a few days off and then is excited and energetic for the first 10 or 15 minutes when you get back on. They have a little more energy that they quickly get rid of and you gain full control over your horse quite quickly. If this is the case then you can mentally separate your session into your first 10/15 minutes working on relaxation and focus and your second bit of your session focussing on your training. A fresh horse doesn't need as much managing because, generally, the 'fresh-ness' disappears after a while so gaining their attention and focus is your main priority.
A hot horse is one that spends the whole session feeling sharp, energetic and spicy and you struggle to control and channel this energy in a positive way. You don’t want to lose that energy as it’s a massive strength of your horse that they give so much. It’s about being able to control the energy and turn it up and down and channel it in the right way. This includes things like being able to get your leg on and your leg not always meaning go go go, being able to create relaxation and suppleness and being able to control the speed and body positioning. Working on all these things will encourage your horse to tune into you and your aids and relax.
The last stage about understanding our horse is about working out what their 'hot-ness' means for our training.
- Does it mean you cant get your leg on?
- Does it mean they feel tense?
- Are they spooky?
- Do they not listen or focus on you?
- Are they naughty or difficult?
No matter whether your horse is fresh or sharp using the 'hot horse 4 step method' will result in a more focussed, relaxed, controlled horse. Practice the 4 steps to a focussed, controlled horse by heading to our 'exercise' blog for this week by clicking here