Jason Webb’s blog: starting polo ponies and defusing ‘flash points’

  • I received quite a reaction to my last blog and the video that accompanied it, with the comments about rearing generating a lot of social media “chat”. As far as I’m concerned, the more people that talk and share information about the problems they are having with their horse and how they are having success solving them, the better!

    The odd day of sunshine is making us all on the yard look forward to spring, even though it will take some time for our fields to return to normal. Tom, my assistant trainer has returned to work after his car accident and for the first time in a while, the “Dream Team” of a fantastic group of grooms, my head girl Gem, my manager Sarah, myself and Tom will be firing on all cylinders.

    However, it won’t last long as Sarah goes on maternity leave at the end of May and we’ll have to find a very special person to fill her boots while she gets to grips with motherhood. I’ve told her that after looking after me for 5 years, managing a newborn will be a breeze!

    Enjoying polo ponies

    For the past couple of years I have been starting a number of homebreds for the Tomlinson family at the Beaufort Polo Club, and 7 have just arrived as the first lot of this year’s batch. It is always a bit of a treat for me to work with these little horses who have been bred to have the excellent temperament, athleticism and agility needed for high goal polo. They are reminiscent of the Australian Stock Horses I grew up playing polocrosse, campdrafting and working the farm’s livestock on.

    When these ponies come to me they have been handled expertly when required, but otherwise left to grow up in a herd environment where they can just “be horses”. This, along with their temperament, means I can aim to have them stick and balling with a little neck reining, lateral work and a soft stop after 3 or 4 weeks.

    I had the added bonus of having one of the Tomlinson’s Argentine riders, Corto, to help me out for the first week. He didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish but we seemed to make each other understood by a lot of gesturing! In the photo (top) you can see how relaxed these ponies are – this was their first ride in the arena in front of some Hadlow College students who had come for a day visit!

    A bucking challenge

    Among the other horses in for training, one is proving quite a challenge. He was backed elsewhere, but he didn’t take very well to being ridden. Now, when he comes under any sort of pressure it is like someone has flicked a switch, and believe me, he has a pretty impressive buck on him – and that’s before you even put your foot in the stirrup!

    He is not a particularly nervous horse, although he is sensitive in certain areas of his body, so he will tend to brace himself and buck rather than try to run away from pressure. He has been with me for just over a week and after some fairly intensive groundwork, I’m now riding him. This is where “feel” and “timing” really come to the fore as the trick with him is to diffuse any feelings of tension or attitude before it escalates into anything too serious.

    As time goes on, I would expect these flash points to become less frequent and less explosive as he learns that I am giving him another option that will be far less strenuous for him!

    Looking ahead

    The next couple of months are going to be really exciting. I’m doing a fair amount of filming for a project I’ve got on the go and then I’ve got an interesting event in Horseman’s Calling, before taking an overdue family holiday to Texas with Penny and the kids. We are hiring a motorhome and going for a road trip taking in my UK polocrosse teammates, Danny Duhig and Rachael Gaylor’s wedding in Austin and a clinic we have lined up.

    I haven’t spent much time in the US. The last time I went with a great friend to watch the Ray Hunt Memorial event where 9 horsemen and women started horses over the weekend using Ray Hunt’s techniques and it was a really interesting and educational trip. However, I’ve had to promise Penny and the kids that I’ll try and keep away from horses as much as possible this time!


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