Help! My horse is strong — what should I do?

  • Four-star event rider Coral Keen provides one H&H forum user with some helpful advice on how to manage a strong horse

    Q: How to cope with a strong horse: “I own a 14-year-old 15hh Welsh x confidence-giver. I took him to an eventers’ derby event (unaffiliated over a BE80 course but with no dressage) in May — he absolutely loved it, jumping clear, but was so strong. I entered a second one and he was so strong I had to steer him into a hedge to stop after fence two of the cross-country and retire. I did a riding club working hunter class last Sunday, entering the 2’3” class as a warm up for the 2’9”. He started off sedately but around the final jump he tanked off. I was meant to canter the long side showing extension — my plan was to just keep him under control, but my horse had other plans and showed more extension than necessary — it took us a lap to pull up. I withdrew at that point and didn’t do the other class. In lessons we are working on keeping him off his forehand, using half halts and not getting into a pulling match, which is what tends to happen. My horse is a lovely, kind boy with no mean bone in his body — he just finds it all massively fun and can’t see any point in listening to the monkey on his back telling him to slow down! He is fine hacking and is better controlled in lessons as he doesn’t have the excitement of other horses flying about. It’s frustrating as he is fit and up to event at 80cm, but I can’t do it with no brakes. Bit-wise we have tried a Waterford (no effect) and a NS elevator (overbends). He is fed on a small amount of speedi beet, micronised linseed and salt and minerals. What can I do to get him under control?”

    A: Go somewhere where you can train and try jumping a fence and pulling up, then canter in a straight line and pull up. When I say pull up I mean stand up tall, use your body use your voice, step into your heels, bring your shoulders back and pull on both reins at the same time. The moment the horse stops give the rein instantly and reward with a pat. You will have to start with being quite physical but use your body as well. But the more you do it the more you should just be able to draw your shoulders back, step into your heels into your stirrups and use your voice, so you do not need to be so reliant on the hand.

    Continued below…

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    I think you will probably need to have some type of bit in him that is enabling you to do that. If he is ignoring you and running through the bridle then that isn’t going to work. So, depending on how he pulls, there are various bit options. If he pulls with his head down, he will need a gag of some sort that will bring his head up. If he runs with his head in the air than you want to have something with a curb action and something that will bring his head down. I wouldn’t be too keen on over-biting a horse. They are usually strong as they are lacking confidence or balance, but usually the latter. By working on cantering and halting, it is basically an exaggerated half halt, so eventually you should be able to use your body, voice, shoulders for the horse to come back. But you may need to use a slightly stronger bit initially to be able to do this.

    With regards to feed, just be careful with the speedi beet. You could maybe just pop him onto a low-calorie balancer of some sort to take out any sugar or anything that might encourage him to be excitable.

    The first competition you go to next time out, just make sure it is really low key and you can go and have a bit of a school round without any pressure and it being too exciting for him.

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