Dan Greenwood’s tips on dealing with a spooky horse

  • The value of watching someone else riding your horse can never be underestimated and if that person is a top rider or trainer, such as Dan Greenwood, the learnings can be significant.

    Pauline Parker’s six-year-old gelding, Delius had to be retired from a recent dressage competition because of his “fear of boxy letters”.

    Pauline began working on his spooking at home and has regular lessons with Dan Greenwood. But, when Dan rode Delius recently for the first time in a few months, she found it really useful to see how he handled Delius’ spooking from the moment he got on.

    “He felt great when I got back on,” she told our reporter at Allens Hill, Worcs, where the duo won the prelim (76.36%) and the novice (71.77%) classes on 17 January (see full report in 30 January issue).

    “Spooking isn’t an issue, connection is the issue,” Dan told H&H. “If a horse is connected it doesn’t spook.”

    We asked Dan to share how he believes a rider should deal with a spooky horse, whether in the competition arena or while training.

    1. Don’t worry if your horse’s head comes up — that’s fine, they’re allowed to take a look.

    2. Keep a contact on both reins, that’s the main thing.

    3. Try to keep your legs on, moving the horse towards that contact.

    4. Think where you want your horse’s feet to go. From the point of view of a test, you want to keep going on your line.

    5. Be realistic. If your horse is spooky, you don’t want this to become the focus of your test. Don’t confront the problem, think to yourself “I’ll get the horse through and on to the circle” or whatever.

    A snapshot of Dan’s training philosophies:

    What’s your USP?

    I think I’m very flexible. It’s not my way or no way, it’s what suits this horse and this rider, and that can vary.

    Also, I do try to explain how you should feel. For example, I try not just to do a shoulder-in —  it needs more angle, or whatever— I try to explain how it should feel, too.

    What’s your pet hate?

    When people anthropomorphise — “If I do this, he does that. He thinks this and he thinks that” — the list can be as long as your arm. Move on!

    Share with us your signature exercise.

    I guess it would have to be 20m circles, spiraling in and out in shoulder-in and shoulder-out, in trot and in canter, focusing on the rider being able to ride the horse equally between two legs and on two reins.

    What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

    From Carl [Hester, who Dan trains with], take the long view. There is a bigger picture, it’s a long road and grand prix is the aim. Treat each competition as a stepping stone to the next competition.

    If we were to ask your pupils, what would be the one thing they all say you continually shout?

    I have never told anybody to make their reins longer, shall we say?!

    If you’re interested in finding out more about training with Dan Greenwood, visit www.dangreenwooddressage.com

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