Jason specialises in starting young horses (and mules!) under saddle and retraining horses with behavioural and ridden problems. Follow his regular H&H blog for insight into his techniques

It would be impossible to start this blog without expressing huge sympathy for all involved in the tragic death of eventer Tom Gadsby at Somerford Park last weekend.  It is a reminder of the risks we all take when working and competing with horses.  No matter how experienced or well prepared we are, accidents do still happen. RIP Tom.

Although I don’t compete over large fences, I have my own safety issues to deal with on a daily basis.  I work with a mix of young horses for starting under saddle and horses with behavioural and ridden problems and of these, some are severe and can be pretty dangerous.  Therefore, the facilities and equipment I use are all geared towards safety for myself, staff and of course the horse itself!

One of the most obvious differences to English trainers is my use of Australian stock saddles (see picture top and below). I use them in the first stages of my training program as they provide more security for me, before reverting to the horse’s own saddle later on.  I also do a certain amount of preliminary work in a corral, or “round pen”, which allows me to work closely with a horse without them being able to get away from me.  They also prevent overuse of the bit in the first few rides as should a horse rush or buck, you can leave their mouth alone and let the sides of the round pen slow them naturally.

SolentoTo present aspects of my work to H&H readers, I thought I would introduce 2 young horses I am currently working with.  Solento is dressage rider Damian Hallam’s new purchase and is closely related his top horse, Salut.  He has just had his first few rides (this photo is of him in his first ride in the arena) and will be hacking round the farm by the end of the week.  Although I enjoy working with a wide range of horses and ponies, starting a horse of this quality is very special and it is exciting to think what the future holds for him and Damian.

I tend to start horses in 2 stages. After the first 4 weeks I will have covered groundwork, first rides and hacking round the farm and local lanes.  I expect them to be “thinking forward” in walk, trot and canter circles in the arena and showing some lateral movement, particularly in practical situations such as opening gates.  I then like them to have a break to prevent them getting sour before doing another 1 or 2 weeks “consolidation” work with them before the all-important hand over with the owners.

The 2nd horse is a talented but sensitive young horse (pictured top), who had started rushing with his owner, which was developing into a bolting problem.  This has been caused by his fear of the rider being in his “blind spot” and a lack of trust, so his instincts to flee override any aids the rider gives.  Luckily with this horse, the behaviour had not become a habit and by going right back to basics, he is responding really well to the first 3 weeks of his retraining program.

Before riding him, I did extensive groundwork to improve his steering, desensitize him to his “blind spot” where the rider will be (shown in the top picture, which was taken at a recent Coffee Morning at the yard) and developed my ability to control his 4 body parts (head and neck, shoulders, ribs and hindquarters).  I am now riding him and after a few “interesting” moments, he has begun to truly relax and is even happily popping a fence and cantering through the fields.  He will be with me for another week or 2 before going to further his education with a local event rider.  His owners were lucky to catch the problem early as if a horse becomes a confirmed bolter the retraining process can take months.

They say variety is the spice of life so I will leave you with this picture of our newest arrival, Luna the mule, who has come to be started under saddle… check out my new hat too!

Jason and the mule

Jason