A common problem faced by dressage riders is that of losing their horse’s attention.
This can be particularly problematic in the competition environment and can lose you many marks during a test.
So, what can you do to persuade your horse to listen to you more?
Why does your horse lose his concentration?
Before you can begin to work on making your horse more attentive, you need to understand what’s causing him to lose focus.
There are many things that can cause your horse’s attention to wander. Often, the horse will be distracted by some outside influence, such as another horse misbehaving in the warm-up area, or a flapping advertising banner outside the arena.
Unfortunately, when a horse is focussed on something that worries or excites him; he will automatically enter ‘ flight mode’, and will usually become tense and off the aids.
If you have a young horse, much like a human child, he will find it difficult to concentrate for long periods, so make sure that you include plenty of breaks in his schooling sessions and keep each lesson brief.
Even the most obliging horse can become bored. Don’t get into the habit of endlessly repeating the same exercise, or your horse will just switch off.
Be very aware of your riding and ask yourself;
- Are you continually ‘nagging’ with your lower leg, so that your horse has become ‘dead’ to the aid?
- Are your aids clear and correct? Could the problem be that the horse doesn’t understand what you’re asking him to do, and consequently does nothing?
- Are you so ‘busy’ with your leg and hand that the horse can’t ‘hear’ you clearly because of all the background noise you’re creating?
Horses that become tense and ‘hot’ when distracted are a problem for the dressage rider because without relaxation and harmony between horse and rider, none of the scales of training can be achieved satisfactorily.
Hot horses often have sharp, curious minds, and a tactic that can be effective in bringing their attention back to you is to challenge them with difficult exercises that make them think.
Try riding quick-fire combinations of lateral exercises, for example, a few steps of shoulder-in followed by a 10-meter circle, then some steps in travers, and then a half-pass.
Next, change the rein through two 10-meter half-circles, and repeat the exercises on the other rein.
Make sure that you never ride more than half of a long side without putting in some sort of exercise or change of direction but ensure that each movement is ridden smoothly and in a calm and consistent tempo.
Although transitions area great way to re-gain your horse’s attention, it’s probably better to avoid riding too many, especially within the paces, as this can sometimes serve to make a hot horse even more onward bound.
Unless your horse has been extremely frightened by something, this strategy usually works well.
Don’t expect the work to be of fabulous quality if your horse is tense; the object of the exercise is to bring his attention back to you.
When he settles and starts to work through properly, you can demand better quality.
Although a laid-back horse is in many ways easier to present in a dressage test than one that becomes hot and tense when distracted, the chilled-out type can lose focus in different ways that can be just as problematic.
The most effective strategy to adopt with a ‘lazy’ horse who switches off is to give him plenty to do; trotting endless 20-meter circles will only send a laid-back horse to sleep!
Transitions are a very useful tool that works well with lazy horses.
Don’t allow your horse to take more than half a dozen strides without making a transition, either between the paces or within them.
Include plenty of direct transitions in your repertoire too; walk to canter, halt to trot, etc.
These exercises can really get an inattentive horse on his toes and waiting for your next instruction.
Insist that the upward transitions are sharp and crisp and occur when you ask for them, not several strides after you apply the aid.
Downward transitions should be ridden forward, for example, the horse should not simply be allowed to jog from trot into walk, but should step forward into the transition and then march on with purpose and energy.
Lots of changes of direction are very useful in keeping the laid-back dude focussed on his rider.
Try riding figures of eight in trot, asking for a brisk, working trot on the short sides, followed by a bold, medium trot across the diagonal.
How you get and keep your horse’s attention largely depends on the character of your horse and the cause of his lack of focus.
First of all, work out why your horse loses his concentration, and then use the tips above to help bring his attention back to you!
- How to Sharpen up a Lazy Horse
- How to Ride a Horse That is Sensitive to the Leg and Rushes
- How to Keep Your Horse’s Attention Whilst Riding
- How to Deal with a Spooky Horse