Q & A: Arena nerves

  • Q: Could give me some advice on my 14.2hh Welsh X Thoroughbred gelding’s behaviour.

    He is 12 years old and has belonged to me for seven years. I was told when I bought him that he loved to jump and I found this to be true. I have taken him showjumping regularly and because he is extremely fast we have won many prizes.

    However, my horse has one downfall – he explodes when competing and is now becoming dangerous. On several occasions he has bolted out of the ring and we have been eliminated. He is 100 per cent perfect in every other aspect.

    To solve the problem I have tried the following:

  • Changing his diet (he currently has 2lb of chaff, 1lb of sugar beet and 2lb of non-heating mix).
  • Re-schooling (we went back to basics).
  • New saddle (fitted and made to measure).
  • Change of bit (I’ve tried an eggbut snaffle, pelham, hackamore, continental snaffle and he is currently in a kimblewick).

    Myvet suggested he should be sedated for competitions, but this has just made him clumsy and we haven’t won any events for a long time. What do you suggest?

    A: It certainly seems from your letter that you have had some real trials and tribulations with your gelding, but I am sure that with perseverance you will be able to find a solution to his extreme displays of excitability at shows.

    Though sedation is a way to take the edge off him, it can be dangerous for both horse and rider as it is very difficult to judge the amount required. As your own experience shows, it can make a horse too docile and clumsy to ride safely. The other major problem with a prescribed sedative is that you would not be able to compete inany event held under BSJA rules, as a sedative would be deemed a banned substance.

    You have certainly considered all the possible causes and it seems that his diet and tack shouldn’t be encouraging his fiery behaviour. It sounds like he simply becomes over-excited by the atmosphere, anticipation and the sheer enjoyment of jumping!

    In order to have any success in solving this problem, you need to try and change your gelding’s association with shows and teach him he doesn¨t need to get quite so wound up. There are a few avenues you could try which may offer a solution:

  • Have you ever taken him to any events which don’t involve jumping? You may find that if he attends a variety of other events such as dressage or sponsored rides he may stop associating shows with the excitement of whizzing around a course.
  • Attending jumping clinics may also help. They provide the environment of a show but give you the assistance, support and chance to try and schoolhim in order to steady him up.
  • Aromatherapy has proved effective for calming horses and the scent of lavender can be soothing if used in small amounts. You could try putting a few drops of lavender oil on the noseband or dilute it in a carrier oil and rub it into the skin when you arrive at an event.
  • Many riders have also had a great deal of success by feeding herbal supplements which calm the horse down, but are not as severe as a sedative and are accepted by the BSJA.

    Some of the supplement and feed manufacturers will even make up a blend specifically designed for your horse’s needs.

    I hope one or a combination of these measures is the key to calming your gelding so you can get back to competing.

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