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Understanding your 'hot' horse and tips to help him

by Kim Keppick, e-mail

Like it or not everything you do on your horse is either training him or untraining him!

Quiet, insensitive horses are generally very forgiving of rider error but sensitive horses are not. The training your horse received before you purchased him may have driven him crazy and made him what is commonly referred to as hot. Thoroughbreds purchased from the track are often nervous because they were required to fit into the mould expected of a racehorse with little regard for the learning capacity of that particular individual. Similarly, almost any breed is susceptible to becoming hot or nervous if they don't fully understand what is required and have been pushed too quickly without a methodical approach to training.

It is very important for the rider to have a relaxed yet poised position, the ability to use each body part independently and be constantly aware of how their aids and reactions are affecting their horse. While this sounds simple, it takes thousands of hours and experiencing many different horses and situations to achieve. The reality of the fact is that many riders must make work and family their priority and understandably can't devote eight plus hours a day to perfect their riding.

Reality faced, it is still possible to help your horse improve whether your goals are successful competitions or fun trail rides. Make sure your horse has ample turn out time with lots of grass or hay and minimal amounts of grain. Horses that are cooped up and fed lots of grain simply have too much energy and want to release it by running and playing, so make sure your horse has as much turn out as possible! Lungeing your horse can make him quieter to ride but learn to do it well so you progress your partnership rather than simply letting him burn energy. A round pen is wonderful, but again, you must understand your positioning and posture to really reap the benefits. Do not expect to bring your horse along at the same speed as a professional. Because your aids and timing will not be 100% perfect, you must allow your horse time to figure out exactly what you are asking. Repetition is key, but when you achieve the reaction you want twice in a row, move on to a different exercise. You're training sessions should be short but frequent, and always repeat exercises taught previously.

Every horse at the start of his training must be able to walk, trot and canter on a loose contact. By this I mean a short rein with no contact with the mouth, keeping your hands forward and your arms relaxed. This allows you to have a loose rein yet the ability to use the reins with little effort for steering and downward transitions. It is difficult to get hot horses to relax and master this vital part of basic training. If your horse is so worried that he can't stand still with you on his back, let him eat grass with you mounted. Initially, have a ground person with a lead rope so he can't take advantage of the very long rein and run away. Your horse needs to realize that life is not full of stress when you ride. After he can stand still and hang out in a relaxed manner progress to walk and trot with countless transitions in between, until the horse 'waits' for you. At this stage all you are looking for is relaxation and rhythm, brilliance can come later. Always use the lightest aid possible to get your horse to move forward. Most hot horses relax if the rider whispers the cue to go forward. Your horse must accept contact from your leg, but will rarely need a strong driving leg or spurs.

Make sure you use a mild bit. My favorite is the Myler Combination bit assuming that you can find someone who can explain how to fit and use it. If you want a more traditional type bit go with the Myler Comfort snaffle or a french link, neither will pinch his tongue like a single jointed snaffle. Bits with a low port as seen in many Myler bits and also Kimberwicks can be a good choice. These bits work more on the bars of the horses mouth than the tongue and are sometimes readily accepted. Don't be afraid to experiment to find the bit your horse is most comfortable in. If he doesn't like it he will be even more tense and high headed than usual. Hot horses simply have not learned to yield to the pressure of the bit and not understanding why the pressure is there they get worried and stronger, riders then apply more pressure because they have trouble stopping them and the cycle continues. Force will make matters worse, your horse must understand the bit to respond correctly to it. Rein-Aid elastic inserts can help him 'get it'. The combination of elastic and leather backing interact to instantly reward the horse when he softens to the bit. The consistent release of pressure when the horse softens gives him confidence in the bit making him more relaxed and trusting.

I also like to teach the horse to back up, remember that at the beginning of each backwards step he takes you must soften the rein to reinforce the 'you give, I give' concept. If your horse does not know how to back up, use a high fence or barrier to start. Apply rein pressure and as soon as he even thinks of going back release the pressure.

Reapply the aid with consistent releases for each step and soon your horse will understand. Your objective is to teach the horse that a relaxed yield to the bit makes the pressure go away. When you can walk, trot, halt and back up quietly you are ready to repeat the same lessons including the canter with the emphasis on relaxation and no pulling. Keep the canter sessions short and circle with a downward transition if he starts getting hot or worried. Patience and time will bring results. Once you can master this relaxed, loose rein work in a quiet environment then it's time to introduce your horse to trails, shipping to other rings/quiet environments, rails/low jumps and increasing his understanding of the aids, suppleness and connection.

Sadly, months of great consistent work can be ruined in one day if your horse becomes scared and looses his trust in your judgment, so increase your demands and exposure to new things in tiny increments. All disciplines have proven methods for teaching horses the specific things required for your chosen discipline. Read books, watch videos and get help from someone knowledgeable so you ensure that your horse remains relaxed and fun to ride. Ride trained horses if that's at all possible and constantly work on your own relaxation and a correct position that flows in harmony with your horse. Take the slow approach, nobody EVER ruined a horse by going slowly with his training. Enjoy the process, because we are privileged to be able to ride and become partners with these wonderful animals.

Kim Keppick is a certified BHSII instructor who has trained hundreds of young horses that went on to be successful show hunters, jumpers, dressage or event horses including the famous USCTA Horse of the Century, Biko. An 'A' pony club graduate from Ireland and long listed for their 1988 Olympic 3-day event team she now specializes in developing partnerships with adult amateurs and their horses. Her students include riders of all levels with their own horses, many who are winners at A rated shows, Preliminary eventing and Third level dressage.

For further information please visit or e-mail Kim at


Michael Eilberg’s 10 training tips: hot horses

Horse & Hound

If you ask any professional rider how they like their horses, “quite hot” will often be the reply.

They want their equines to have the power and the will to perform. Consequently, horses are being bred to be physically imposing with expressive movement.

This has resulted in a trend for anyone who wants to make it — whether at the prelim restricted regionals or Rio 2016 — to acquire a “hot” horse.

Even amateur riders are now convinced this is the way forward, until they realise they can’t go out and win a prix st georges (PSG) by the end of the season on their wunderbeast.

So how do you cope when you find yourself sitting on more than you bargained for?

Be sure the horse is merely showing excess energy or power rather than reacting to pain — have his back, teeth and tack checked Talk to a dietician about keeping weight on and providing nutrients without building energy

Turn him out in a safe environment whenever possible

If you ever feel out of your depth, enlist the help of an able professional Don’t be greedy — it’s better to take your time and not compete for three years than rush out and ruin your confidence and the horse’s

Be patient — if you only walk in a session because he is too excited to trot and canter, that’s fine

Give a goey horses plenty of walk breaks, but keep a contact and ride shapes to keep them thinking

Make your aids black and white and the horse will learn quickly. If an animal knows how they should react to a command, they will be more relaxed about it A useful exercise is riding a square. The horse must come back to the rider to collect for the square’s corners. Give and retake the reins in the corners — you don’t want a hot horse powering round corners or cutting them To develop strength and confidence in canter, the horse needs to spend time lots of time cantering. Start on a small circle so as not to give the horse the opportunity to become too onward bound. Slowly make the circle bigger, giving and retaking the rein occasionally to establish you have control. Only then go large and, if the horse begins to take over, circle to regain control — don’t haul on the reins and potentially get into a fight.

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