Handling Hot Horses - Part 2
Do you think that “hot” horses are man-made or created through breeding, or both? When I think of a ‘hot’ horse, I think of this as being a character or personality trait. It is like people and their personalities, some are happy to go with the flow and not easily stressed, other people are full of energy, always on the go, and very reactive to other people and their environment. Just because someone has a certain personality type does not mean they always have to act in a certain way – people can learn to manage their ‘hot’ personalities and it is the same with horses. We can train horses to manage their ‘hot’ traits. I think of ‘hot’ horses as being sensitive people with high energy levels!
Sometimes stressed, anxious or nervous horses can be confused for being ‘hot’. If the wrong question is asked of a horse, if confidence is not given to an inexperienced or nervous horse, or if an anxious horse is not managed correctly this can result in a horse that appears ‘hot’. I think a ‘hot’ horse can be managed and the behaviour improved but they will always have that characteristic. An anxious, nervous or stressed horse can often be improved with more training and with the correct work can resolve these issues.
How important is ground handling? Ground handling is important for any horse, they have to have trust and feel secure around people whilst maintaining a level of respect. They need to feel safe around you, but have enough of their own confidence that they don’t want to jump onto your lap when they are frightened or feel compromised.
How important is groundwork before getting into the saddle? I would say that ‘hot’ horses are often very reactive to what you do on the ground and therefore can be easier to start as they are more responsive to your aids and training. ‘Hot’ horses often want to be active and are not very good at standing still, so this is something they must learn. They have to focus their attention on you, rather than being overly reactive to their environment.
How do you channel the emotion and sensitivity? Keep the work interesting. I have a horse at home who can hear the sound of Velcro 60 metres away. It is important that she remains focused and uses all her ‘hot’ energy for something useful, such as her training. It is important to keep their attention and focus. With these types of horses you have to be very aware of what you are doing in the saddle and what is going on in their environment.
How do you develop trust in the horse? Reacting in the correct way every time. This is not so easy to do! If you are tired or not concentrating they are very good at taking advantage of this. Always have a game plan and know how you are going to respond to different situations. Hot horses can be easy to train if you start them in the correct way from the beginning. They are often fast learners and can be fantastic horses; they can also learn to do the wrong thing very quickly. This can be very difficult to train out of them, but not impossible. In the long run it pays to do the right thing from the beginning and not take the easy route! I also think spending time in the saddle with these horses is important, take them for a long hack out every day after they are worked. This is not always practical for someone who is time limited, but it can give great results.
What are some training tips to use at home? Exposure. Exposure is so important for any horse. Some horses you can introduce to a new environment and they will be as relaxed as they are at home. Often with hot horses it is a totally different story. I will always try to have them confident and relaxed at home before taking them somewhere new. At our property the driveway is about 700m long so we can take them out for a hack. Along the driveway they have to go past cows, mares with foals running around, stallions and sometimes swooping magpies – this all helps with exposure. Try to keep their attention when first introducing them to a new environment but keep the work simple. If you have trained them to focus on you at home this should be easier to continue when you are in a new environment.
What sort of feeds/additives do you find helpful, if any? I am not a big fan of blaming feed as the cause of a horse’s bad behaviour. It can certainly influence it, but often it can just be a simple case of too much feed and not enough work! It is important that it is balanced. I would always recommend a diet with an extruded feed, for many reasons, but most importantly for its benefits to the digestive system and your horse’s health. A low GI feed is always a good start as it is a slow release of energy – we feed CopRice which is rice based and low GI. We always try to feed grassy hay over lucerne, I feel that it is better for the digestive system, horses can generally have unlimited access to grassy hay which keeps them occupied if they are stabled or have little access to pasture. I have a terrible joke that lucerne hay can make horses ‘hallucernate’. Terrible joke… but for some horses it makes them act like they are on red cordial!
The next all important question … You have them confident at home, but no doubt taking them out is a new problem all in itself, what do you do when the horse becomes overawed during its first outing, do you have some tips to use out and about? I think lunging is a great tool at home or at a competition, that way you can get them focusing on your voice aids when being lunged with the aim of having them more attentive when you hop on their back. Bring them back to basics and make sure they are focused on you and on your aids. Don’t overreact to ‘hot’ behaviour as this can often make it worse. Have a really good plan about what you are going to do. If you know they are really ‘hot’ then don’t take them to an Ag. Show for their first outing, with a busy warm-up ring, cows, side shows, etc. Choose a low key local event – dressage or hack day where they don’t have to be under a lot of pressure. Get them comfortable in this sort of environment before you throw them in the deep end!
Shane and Mattea Davidson, Davidson Equestrian www.davidsoneq.com