How to give a spooky horse confidence going cross-country

  • Building up confidence in a spooky horse can take time, but sometimes it just takes someone to give you the key.

    “He’s quite a spooky horse,” Hannah Gregson told us of her 6-year-old Catherston Dazzler gelding, Diamond Dazzler III, who she has owned since a yearling. Following her BE80(T) win at Bricky [report in H&H, 10 October], Hannah cites the reason for their success as help from trainer Tim Cheffings, who has been working with the duo for about 3 months.

    We asked Tim what it was that he’d been working on with Hannah to help build up the confidence and what his thoughts are about training.

    “With Hannah and Diamond Dazzler, it was about getting him in front of the leg and getting Hannah, who is a nice quiet rider, to be a little bit quicker to react to what is happening underneath her,” said Tim.

    To help desensitise Diamond Dazzler to spooky fences Tim works in the school with “straightforward fences” but makes them more spooky.

    “I start off with a fairly spooky filler and then put a coat or rug over the poles at each end so the horse can jump through the middle. I’ll then gradually bring them together until he’s jumping over the coats. That usually works pretty well.”

    To help Hannah get stronger and quicker in the leg, Tim has the duo doing lots of walk trot walk transitions looking for an instant response.

    “It’s quite simple stuff, but it’s made quite a big difference.

    “I don’t agree with having a battle, I like to make it fun and enjoyable. Hopefully the horse will then realise whatever you ask it to jump, it is fun to do.”

    Tim’s tips for spooky horses

    1. Practice, practice, practice. Get the horse out seeing stuff and building up his confidence.

    2. Go schooling as much as possible and take him off on long hacks, going through water if possible.

    3. Work with another horse to give your horse leads.

    What’s your USP?

    “I always get on and ride myself. I ride a huge number of different horses. I believe you can’t always see from the ground what the rider is feeling.”

    What’s your pet hate?

    “Riders who are strong with the hands. I’d much rather see riders be stronger with the leg and have soft hands.”

    Share with us your signature exercise

    “I do like to do a lot of gymnastic exercises. I’ll often set up a grid of poles building up to a bigger fence at the end. Set a couple of safety poles on the ground leading to a cross pole, then 1 stride to another cross pole, and another stride to the fence. You can build up to quite a big fence which most riders probably couldn’t do if it was just a single fence and it’s far less likely for anything to go wrong.”

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

    “Know when to part with a horse or when to keep one. My trainer Clare Samson told me this when I had a stallion that didn’t like the mud.”

    If we were to ask your pupils, what would be the 1 thing they all say you continually shout?

    “Not so fast!”

    For more information or to contact Devon-based Tim go to www.downefarm.com

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