It’s all systems go here ahead of our appearance at Your Horse Live 2013. I have been really fortunate to demonstrate at the event for the past 2 years. On both occasions I have started a young horse over the weekend and also conducted a spooking demonstration, and it has been great to follow the progress of the horses I’ve used since the events. Sheer Bliss (who I started in 2011) is now competing extremely successfully in endurance and Stanley (who I used in the spooking demo last year) has now embarked on a successful dressage career.

This year, although we’ve great plans for material to cover in our demos, I still haven’t decided who I will use for the starting demo as there are a number of horses that are excellent candidates. Whichever horse I choose, I will give myself 2 days to work on him (or her) on the ground at home so I have the basics covered. However, the demonstration is always a genuine 1st ride, which provides the audience with some excitement, especially if the horse decides to have a little hump! In the US, there are a raft of “colt starting” competitions where trainers have 2 or 3 days to break in an untouched horse, but given that I only have a 45min slot each day, it might be asking a little too much (and be unfair to the horse) to get to that stage without some homework first!

I will also be letting Diesel (pictured top) have his moment in the spotlight with a quick show at the end of each demonstration. Diesel flew to the UK from Australia in utero and I kept him entire until a couple of years ago. He now lives a life of leisure and luxury, punctuated by a few frantic weeks each year when I decide to use him for demonstrations! He takes all my experiments with exceptional grace and in the last couple of weeks he has learnt some new party pieces. I am not a “tricks” horseman, but watching some of the incredible shows people come up with I thought I would try a few things of my own to entertain the audience. So far we have the ‘kiss me quick’ routine down to a T and we will have plenty more to entertain the audience, come 9 November.

On the day job front, there is a real mix of horses and ponies in for training as usual. The Funnell’s ‘Billy’ is coming along really well, but it is a slower process than usual. However, we can’t really blame young horse moods for this as his training has to fit in with our cameraman, whose own day job is with the BBC. Luna the mule is also back in the yard for her last 2 weeks of training. She is great to ride now, but is still a little sensitive about her ears. I am hoping we have made a lasting breakthrough on that front, so we will see what the next few days bring.

I am also pleased to report that Solento has settled in to his new routine with Damian Hallam. He is enjoying hacking round the Buckinghamshire countryside interspersed with a weekly schooling session — a wonderful, unpressured way to produce a talented young horse and one that will stand to him for many years to come!

Of our new arrivals, I have 2 dressage prospects to start who are owned by the same client and are by the stallions San Remo and Quarterback. One of the most fascinating parts of my job is to assess the personalities and attitudes of the new arrivals in order to make a plan for their training. As with human behaviour, there is a debate about nature or nurture when it comes to horse behavior and in my opinion, it is formed both by genetics and how they have been handled, particularly in their formative years.

As the years go by and I work with an increasing number of competition horses with popular bloodlines, I have begun to pick up on breeding character traits and adjust my handling accordingly. When I think back to our homebred thoroughbreds and Australian stock horses in Australia, we only handled them when necessary until they were ready to be started at 2 or 3 years old. However, when we got them in to start, we knew from their bloodlines which ones were going to buck, which were going to be quiet and which were going to be stubborn and bolshy!

Jason Webb using a lead pony as part of the breaking process

The differences in disposition may require something as subtle as doing 1 more day’s groundwork before their 1st ride to a different technique such as using a lead pony (pictured above). With horses that are on the nervous side, using a lead pony can give them additional reassurance and also get them used to having a human above their eyeline and weight in the saddle before they are ridden and so reduce the potential for flight, rushing or bolting. It’s a technique that has enormous value and certainly makes the starting process easier for these horses.

So the next time you hear from me, Your Horse Live will be done and dusted for another year. I hope that you will drop by our stand and say hi if you’re attending and join us in Arena 2 and in the Learning Zone over the weekend.

Jason