Jason Webb’s blog: helping a tense customer

  • It feels like too long since I have written a blog, but time seems to have run away with me during the past few weeks!

    I had a very successful weekend at Total Confidence Live at the end of April. I have also squeezed in a couple of polocrosse tournaments since then, including my club’s tournament that also featured an Exhibition Match between the UK World Cup team and an invitational “rest of the world” side.

    The event was fantastic; we had secured a lot of sponsors who enjoyed the hospitality on offer and a couple of hundred spectators came along to watch the action too.

    I was really pleased with the ladies’ section, but us men had a hard match, compounded by the fact that my top horse, Banjo, got a little knock two minutes into the game and had to be rested for the remaining chukkas.

    Still, it was a good preparation for us to learn to cope with setbacks like this and the team was still able to run out comfortable winners. I have another polocrosse tournament and a horsemanship demonstration at the Equi-Expo event before I leave for South Africa at the end of June for the Polocrosse World Cup.

    The yard is swinging along really well but it is strange without Tom who was my assistant trainer for the past four years. Tom is now managing a polo yard down the road and I have taken the decision to wait to replace him until I know exactly how I want to run the yard. I have also been working with my apprentice, Annie, who starting off grooming for me when she left school. She has a real talent with the horses and is doing a good job with the quieter ones I am working with.

    Learning to let go

    Recently I have had a run of horses with tension issues, including Wally (pictured), who I used at Total Confidence Live as a demonstration horse. Wally is working at medium level dressage at home, but his inability to relax at competitions is preventing him from reaching his full potential and is getting increasingly frustrating for his owner, Gillian Portus. Many horses I get with similar issues also start to develop dangerous behaviour such as planting and rearing and Wally’s trick to get away from the situation was spinning.

    I like to find out all I can about the horses I train from the owners. What does the horse do? What situations make it worse? How is the rider managing the problem? What is he like to handle on the ground? There are a number of reasons why horses get tense such as the horse feeling threatened by humans, the horse being in pain, the horse being unsure or confused by what is being asked of it or separation anxiety when it is taken away from its mates. However, problems are usually a combination of issues that result in a behaviour that the horse chooses as his “get out” trick.

    With Wally, I felt his temperament needed constant opportunities for him to release tension while he is being ridden as he had a tendency to get into an outline and “lock” into that position. I had him on the yard for a couple of weeks and taught him to stretch his neck long and low on a cue coupled with lateral exercises to improve his suppleness. From then on, when I asked him to come forward into a contact and engage, I could hold that position for a while but when I felt him becoming tense again, I gave him the cue to stretch out again, which quickly became his “reward”. I was able to gradually build up the time between stretches until he could carry out a training session without tension.

    After Wally went home with Gillian, she took him on a local outing and I am delighted to say that they won two elementary classes with 70.6% and 68.5%. Hopefully, the cue to stretch will become Gillian and Wally’s switch to turn off his tension in the future.


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