If you are really experienced, and can work the horse in a very small paddock or indoor school, you will be amazed at the difference it makes if you take the horse’s bit out and attach the reins to the rings of a drop noseband. Lead the horse about for a few minutes without the bit in its mouth. Talk to it, stroke it, gain its confidence.
Now mount but keep your seat out of the saddle, and your weight forward and a little to the inside as you ride on a 20m (22 yd) circle. Keep both reins in your outside hand and stroke the horse’s neck with your free hand. Ask the horse to walk on with your voice, keeping your weight out of the saddle and forward, the reins loose and your free hand stroking.
The horse will be very puzzled, its ears flicking rapidly backwards and forwards, its muscles tense under you. If the horse trots, stay forward. Do not attempt to hold it back, just put one rein in each hand and guide it gently on the circle with your inside rein. Keep your seat out of the saddle and talk quietly.
Change direction without holding the horse back. If it canters, again keep your seat out of the saddle, stay on a big circle, sit in balance and talk to the horse and stroke its neck. When it trots of its own accord, begin to change direction frequently and go on doing this until the horse walks of its own accord. Depending on the horse (and rider), it will take from ten minutes to half an hour using this method to have a relaxed horse going quietly at the pace you want. A rider who tightens the reins or gets out of balance with the horse for even a second will hinder the progress.
I have done this myself literally hundreds of times and the results are really spectacular and often instant. I particularly remember once, when l was teaching in Ireland, I had a boy of about twenty in the class, on a very hot chestnut Thoroughbred that was creating havoc and throwing itself about. I took the bit out and rode the horse myself, exactly as described. It honestly went like a lamb and in ten minutes was relaxed and happy. The class were astounded and from then on believed every word I said and treated me with great reverence! The boy rode well enough to carry out the same procedure himself and it worked for him too.
l do exactly the same thing with horses and ponies that hot up and rush in jumping. Work them on the flat until they settle, then introduce jumping stands without poles. Never try to hold these horses back. Change direction to slow them down. When they no longer hurry at all when working between stands, put a pole on the ground and go over that, gradually working up until you have three or four very small cross poles, close together, but not in line, in the schooling area.
Never jump more than one fence at a time. Circle or change direction after each jump and always work in the same rhythm of rising trot. School the horse until it will keep this rhythm of its own accord. Trot away from the schooling area and jump other fences, coming in on a half-circle. Be careful not to go beyond the centre line of the fence in the approach, and follow the curve of the circle on landing. Never jump another fence until you have a calm horse going in the same, even rhythm. If the horse rushes, it must go back to the schooling area until it has completely settled again.
If you do not have a small safe, enclosed area, leave the bit in but put a second pair of reins on the noseband and ride with these, using the bit rein only in an emergency.
Obviously, an older horse that has rushed and been held back all its life will take longer to train, but if the rider is confident and has enough balance and feel, it is surprising how quickly even this sort of horse will improve. It is essential to be able to sit in balance with the horse at all times, and change your weight and rein aids very gradually and with perfect co-ordination. ‘Think’ what you want and be conscious of the feel and mood of the horse under you. Notice the gradual change from a tense horse with high head carriage, quickly moving ears, stiffness in the back, jerky gaits and noisy ‘hard’ footfalls to a softer ride with a lower head carriage, calmer ears and quieter, gentler footfalls.
The horse will be mentally and physically happier more comfortable and calmer to ride, so will be more responsive to your wishes. A tense horse is Often so worried that it does not listen to your aids. It then gets punished for its ‘disobedience’ and soon becomes a mental wreck!