Everything Else Unbroken To Eventer

Unbroken to Eventer – Week 4: Venturing Out

Expanding our horizons - an alert and confident horse.

Expanding our horizons – an alert and confident horse.

It’s another pretty photo-free week I’m afraid but Reggie and I have had a very positive week expanding our boundaries!

I’m still lunging him every time before I ride him just in case, but instead of 15mins lunging and 5-10mins in the saddle it’s more of a couple of circles each way in trot on the lunge just to check that he hasn’t turned into a lunatic (so far so good!) then getting on. I long-reined him round the yard and the paddocks at the start of the week after a gap of 5-6 days from the last time he did this and he felt so much less spooky and so much more confident. As a consequence I’ve been adding a little potter around under saddle onto the end of our school sessions. Just a walk round the yard, up and down the drive and standing to chat with anyone who happens to be around.

I really miss my old set-up at the moment as it was perfect for breaking horses in. We lived in a small village with lots of friends in the village and quiet single-track lanes which didn’t really go anywhere so were virtually traffic-free. The lanes were also laid out in a pattern which meant you could go on a circular ride – ideal for babies as I hate turning them round to go home – I think if they’re inclined to be nappy or backwards-thinking this is the worst thing you can do. I used to spend a lot of time long-reining and in the saddle with the babies pottering round the village, stopping to chat to the neighbours and generally just teaching them to be brave and go where you ask without the worry of much more than the occasional 30mph car. Where I am now you’re straight out onto an A-road and although it’s a 40mph limit initially it’s a fast road and much too much to ask of a baby. We have a 15min off-road hack which I’m using for the moment then he’ll box up to go for a quiet hack somewhere when he’s ready for more.

I borrowed a nanny and took him round the off-road hack for the first time at the weekend. He wasn’t that impressed or bothered about having the other horse there at all – I didn’t feel he was leaning on it for mental back-up. He was slightly worried when we started off riding alongside – just keeping an ear constantly turned to the other horse – but much happier when he went in front, which is where he stayed. If he had a moment’s hesitation at any point to look at something a small squeeze from my legs soon sent him forwards again. I actually found that he was very forward thinking the whole way round, and not spooky at all which was a surprise. He was obviously ready to expand his horizons! The only ‘nearly-issue’ that we had was near the end of the circuit where we have to pass behind the back of the hunt kennels and hack for about 200yds alongside the field where the hounds are turned out for exercise. Hounds are very noisy and very nosey and inevitably when you ride past 30+ hounds will come running flat out over to the fence, barking loudly and then run along the fenceline ‘chasing’ you. When they first came running over Reggie tried to spin round and run away, however we put the other horse in front, turned Reggie back to face the danger and he went past them quite bravely, if a little tensely. I was quite impressed as I can’t imagine facing anything much scarier and at least I now know that his reaction isn’t likely to be huge and he’s likely to listen to me and take instruction.

I repeated the hack the next day solo. Ideally I’d have done another day with the nanny but she was unavailable at the last moment and having felt that he wasn’t relying on the presence of the other horse at all anyway, I was happy to take him on my own. He was foot-perfect and although we got attacked by the hounds again, this time he barely jogged when they all came running at him.

Trailer positioned with a wall for guidance. I actually moved it back a yard before I started loading as there is a drain cover just at the bottom of the ramp which could cause the horse to slip.

Trailer positioned with a wall for guidance. I actually moved it back a yard before I started loading as there is a drain cover just at the bottom of the ramp which could cause the horse to slip.

The other thing we’ve done this week is loading practice. I knew this might be an issue as he wasn’t very good to load when I bought him. Next weekend I want to take him to a friend’s place so that he can see somewhere different and thought we’d better have a week preparing so that it would go without a hitch when we do need him to load. I parked the trailer up against a wall to limit his options however he was still rather difficult. I was prepared with a lungeline and gloves (vital!) but he was really quite naughty: planting, then running backwards and standing up and spinning away if pressured. Thanks to the lungeline he never got away from me. I suspect he’s learned this trick earlier in life and has been able to get away so it will help now if he learns now that it isn’t going to work anymore. I got a friend to help and used a technique of pressure and release – we ran the lungeline over his nose and put pressure on it when he was planting or going backwards, releasing the instant he moved forwards. It took about 40mins to get him in the first time (I made sure I had all the time in the world available before I started), then 10mins to re-load him, then he went in and out pretty much straight away 3 or 4 times after that. I repeated it the next night when he went in pretty much straight away on the first attempt, and will be doing the same most nights this week until I feel he is confident. He’s going in when I ask him to now but I feel he’s just a bit nervous about it still. Horses need to be 100% confident at home before I’ll take them anywhere and ask them to load in a strange environment. At the moment I have the trailer partitions folded back and no bars in so he walks in, is asked to halt in the trailer, gets a big pat and a polo, then is asked to walk quietly out. He’s still rushing out a bit but hopefully this will stop when he gets more confident about the whole process.

Achieved this week:

  • Continued work in the school and long-reining around the yard
  • Riding around the yard and paddocks
  • Hacking out round a safe route with a nanny
  • The same hack solo
  • Started work on loading.

Rough plan for next week:

  • Keep practicing loading until he’s confident
  • Keep hacking round the off-road route – change so that he goes round in the opposite direction
  • A little trip out to ride in a friend’s school and a short hack out with her in a safe environment

 

About the author

The Eventing Vet