By Kim Peterson, WE United member and “R” Judge, Australia
I am privileged to help many working equitation combinations on their journey, I have noticed many riders are not aware when their horse has left them mentally and is no longer working on the task at hand. If your horse is looking out of the arena he has disconnected with you and is no longer working on the questions presented to him. If the horse raises his head high whith ears fully pricked forward he is definitely not thinking in a way conducive to learning and more than likely is going to shy, this is when you need to regain his focus by giving him a job to do before flight mode kicks in. When your horse eyes out of the circle he is more than likely not straight and on the job, a good rider will work out why the horse is off the job and calmly draw him back into the work.
Many riders approach obstacles when the horse is looking away and not focusing on the job, when the horse turns back and is confronted with a scary obstacle he may shy and once he has a bad experience it may take a long time for him to become confident. A horse that rushes forward to say the bridge can be doing so because he is worried and may shy at the last moment. The working equitation rider needs to be able to read his horses body language to help him grow confident with the many challenges in working equitation. I see many riders approaching the bull , the horses body language has already told me he is fearful and may need to leave but the rider is clearly oblivious and even ignoring my advice saying “na he’s right; we’ve been around heaps of cows.” This never ends well ! I see riders asking the horse to halt for too long next to an obstacle or on the bridge when the horses body language has told me he is worried. If you execute a solid halt and then move on before the horse needs to leave you will help him gradually build his confidence. Listen to your horse and give him the help he needs to grow as a working equitation mount.
The sidepass pole is another obstacle where the rider needs to slow down and listen to their horse . Some horses rush and get their leg placement muddled out of fear and many riders are unaware why. Slow down do a few steps good steps and move on. Even move the shoulders one step sidewards to start and then move on , use your building blocks. Quit on good work do not keep upping the anti when the horse is not understanding the question.
In a nutshell to be an effective working equitation rider you need to be a good listener and know if your horse is going to mentally leave the job at hand. If you are chatting to a friend while executing the obstacle why would ýour horse remain focused and on the job, when you are not. If you approach the training session being mindful and focused on the job your horse will follow your lead. As soon as you lose focus your horse is instantly aware of it and realizes he has lost his leader . It is a team effort and both horse and rider must have their mind in the work.
Learn to be proactive and prevent problems from arising. I find once the horse has executed an obstacle once or twice , I know where things in the environment may distract him.Next time around I will give the horse some extra work to do as we pass that area, maybe bending away from the obstacle, counter bending to help keep straightness a little shoulder in etc. Put your horses mind solidly in the work and your training sessions will be much more productive. Your horse will tell you when he is ready to step up the work, be a good listener and you will help your horse be the very best he can be.
Enjoy your working equitation journey!