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

It’s been an exciting week! Damian Hallam is with us at the moment so we can “handover” Solento (pictured below). He is a half brother to Damian’s top horse, Salut, and came straight off the Belgian fields to us to start under saddle. After a week of groundwork he has had a further 5 weeks of ridden work.

Damian riding SolentoAt first I concentrated on the basic controls and creating forward energy before getting him used to the “real world” from the outset. I hacked him out alone and in company around the fields and local lanes and have done other desensitizing exercises such as carrying plastic bags around on him.

In the last couple of weeks before handover, I start to introduce more work to develop rhythm, softness and balance. I also tend to introduce training aspects in a practical way, such as teaching lateral work whilst opening and closing gates. All of this is intended to create a confident, willing horse that is able to be managed in different environments and who is ready to go on to be trained according to the owner’s aspirations (in this case very high ones!).

Solento has been an interesting horse to work with, not least because he has so much quality but also because he has been fairly suspicious of me throughout the starting process. Although he has not done anything wrong, he has been working with some tension in his body that will be alleviated with more miles on the clock and the development of trust in his rider.

I am very happy to say that the handover is going well and Damian had a smile on his face after the first ride. I am also enjoying picking Damian’s brains about the dressage world and training techniques – we even got my little Australian Stock Horse demonstration horse, Diesel, doing some pretty cool stuff yesterday!

Much as I enjoy working with horses like Solento, one of the most satisfying aspects of my job is turning around horses and ponies who have developed behavioural or ridden problems that prevent their owners from being able to enjoy them, whether for hacking or competing. I have built up a pretty wide repertoire of solutions, but every now and then I get a new problem to solve.

A Connemara arrived last week that has developed an unusual, but very specific problem of spooking at an arena surface when it gets churned up. However, he will jump over the scariest fence and is unruffled by the usual spooky objects such as umbrellas and trots over tarpaulin without hesitation. After some initial ground work and assessment of the problem, I decided to start with an exercise that changes the scary spot of ground into a good place to be.

Once he spooks at a bit of ground, I ask him to step onto it, whereupon he gets to relax. After I feel a release of tension, I take him away and make him work hard through riding small circles with changes of direction before bringing him back to the problem spot where he gets another rest. I keep repeating this process until he starts to look for the problem area as knows he will get a rest from the hard work, therefore turning the “scary spot” of the arena into a good place to be.

The next few weeks sees us preparing for the winter months when I will hopefully get more time to travel around the country for some demonstrations and clinics. I have also just booked tickets back home to Australia for a flying visit for my little sister’s wedding. I also love checking out my dad’s homebred youngsters (pictured top) whenever I get back to the farm and deciding which one I would pick!

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