How many of you watch Olympic dressage competitions and are amazed on how effortless those horses performed the work. These horses coiled and released their energy at the rider's lightest touch, made seamless transitions from crisp collection to those breathtaking extensions. You sat back and thought, boy I wish I had a horse like that! However, believe it or not, that kind of power sometimes comes at a price. Many of those amazing dressage horses are very hot and sensitive rides.
The definition of “hot” may mean different things to different riders. Typically people think of a “hot” horse as one being very energetic and forward moving which may also be inclined to spook and shy at strange objects. Take it from me, who loves the "hot" horse, that a more high-energy horse can be very challenging at times to channel and while pushing those limits of control can result in big those dressage scores, but it also can be a big risk to take.
Before we can move forward and figure out what to do about the hot horse, we first must define the hot horse and what makes them hot. I own three hot horses, each one being different than the other. Some hot horses carry tension and energy consistently, unlike a spooky horse who can be sensible at one moment and explosive at another. Other hot horses internalize their energy and shut down, refusing to move forward or behind the leg. Others take over overpowering their riders and getting faster and faster. Identifying what type of “hot” your horse dictates on how you train your horse.
One thing for sure for all horses, hot or not, is that they must stay in front of your leg. Impulsion is different from speed and although some hot horses prefer to “go” than “whoa”, it can be easy to forget that this horse still needs to feel the leg aid and move forward from it.
So, what questions must you ask yourself when dealing with a hot horse who is behind the leg? Is he behind the aids because he doesn’t respond to those aids, or is it because he has a bad response to the aids - like getting faster instead of bigger, or perhaps, does he explode when the aids are applied?
Keeping your horse mentally relaxed can be a big challenge. But if you can find what he likes and what "set him off" you can manage him accordingly. I find that some horses, like my horse Phantom, go stir crazy from a lack of exercise. Winter is a very bad time for turnout and what can be a sensible horse during good weather, can turn into a basket case when there is limited winter turnout. Turnout is such a blessing for so many reasons, but if you don't have any, you may need to work with your horse more often during the day. You may need to consider upping his work routine...one normal workout session followed by some light work in the afternoon.
Ultimately, realize that horses are herd animals and always read the emotional status of their herd to know when there is danger lurking in the shadows. When you sit in the saddle, you become part of your horse's herd. When you tense, he expects trouble. You must try and keep calm and your horse will take the confidence from you. Believe me, it is very easy to let your emotions get in the way of training when working with a hot horse. Many times you feel like screaming. But know this, keep your frustrations in check and be relaxed for your horse and he will follow your lead. If you can't take control of your emotions, consider riding another day.
The next few postings, I will be providing you with exercises that you can do to help calm your hot horse. Try them and see how they work and let me know if they work for you.
Happy riding - Larissa