Can you help me with a nappy horse. He is great at home and if I take him out schooling/riding away from home. But at competitions he gets nappy - he will warm-up at the practise fence just fine but when it's our turn, sometimes he jibs/ does little rears and refuses to go into the jumping ring, and acts like he has never seen a jump in his life. I know that you will say I need to make what I want him to do more important to him than what he wants to do, but HOW?
Sarah, via email
Unfortunately this situation is all too common and I know first-hand how difficult it is to overcome the issues you’re having.
When I was about eighteen, I was given a Campdraft horse to ride. “Caesar” had been pushed too hard at some stage. Whenever I went into the yard at a competition, he’d rear and try to runaway. I spent months at home working with Caesar and he always went very well.However, every time I went to a competition, poor Caesar immediately reverted back to his old behaviour of rearing and running off because he expected a stressful experience.
Eventually I decided it would be better to put my time into riding a young horse without all these issues. I sold Caesar to my neighbour who rode him around his farm and neither of them ever had a problem.
Everyone wants to do their best when they go to a competition. As riders, we get worked up and nervous and sometimes ask our horses to do more than they’re able. We ask them to run faster or jump more complicated combinations than they’re ready for. This puts the horse under a lot of pressure and stress and some horses never forget – even one stressful experience can be one too many.
Some horses handle stressful situations better than others. Some horses still perform well even though they’re pushed too hard. Unfortunately, other horses never get over being pushed too hard and stressed. Next time such a horse is in a similar situation, the stress immediately comes to the forefront of his mind and he reacts by rearing or jibbing o rrunning off.
At some point, your horse has been pushed too hard at a competition. The competition atmosphere immediately triggers your horse’s memory and he stops thinking in his normal logical manner and reacts by “jibbing and rearing”.
Unfortunately, no-one can teach your horse to forget. No-one can erase any horse’s memory.
Every horse can be improved. You can go back to basics and teach your horse to concentrate on you and to move where and how you want. However, under the pressure of competition, the old memories may still come to the forefront of your horse’s mind and he may react as you describe.