My name is XXXXX XXXXX thank you for using Justanswer. I am glad to help you with Chopper’s nervousness at shows. The show atmosphere is exciting and stressful for both horses and people. It sounds like Chopper is sensitive and therefore anxious about the unknown. It can be a common problem with very intelligent horses.
Having worked primarily with Arabians I understand what you are going through. The first advice I have is for you to try and stay calm because if you are excited and anxious Chopper is going to pick up on that and figure there must be something to worry about.
The other thing, and this will take time as all training does, is to take Chopper out and work him in different arenas and places as often possible. Have a routine so that everything is as familiar as Chopper will feel safer with his routine being the same every time. Give yourself plenty of time for getting ready to ride or drive so you and Chopper can avoid those last minute hurry-up situations that often occur at shows. Call around nearby stables and ask if you can pay a ring fee to work in their arena. Go to the show grounds when there is no show. Get a friend to come along so you’ll have another horse working at the same time. This could take months, but the more often you can get out in a new place the sooner Chopper will start to think of going someplace new as a normal occurrence.
Also do lots of trail riding/driving. Teach Chopper to relax with suppling and stretching exercises. Take Chopper to some shows and don’t show. Just work out in a warm up ring or around the grounds, an then just “hang out.” When you do go to a show, go early and warm up with those exercises before the show.
To make those warm-up exercises interesting a book like 101 ARENA EXERCISES:
A RINGSIDE GUIDE FOR HORSE AND RIDER by Cherry Hill has some good routines that may be helpful.
A word about nutrition: I think you are on the right track about grain, or sweet feed adding to Chopper’s anxiety. This article might be interesting:
A word about supplements – if your horse is getting a balanced diet, which a good quality grass and legume hay should provide, he does not need supplements. In my experience I have not found “relaxation” supplements to be of any help.
I hope my suggestions will be helpful. If you need further clarification on anything I’ve written just use the reply button to ask for more information and I’ll do my best to help. Bookmark this page and come back to let me know how Chopper is doing.
Hi Donna thank you for the advice it is very helpful but where I live in western New South Wales there are no riding stables with arenas and our local show is held once a year. I mainly do breed shows which do not have the rides ect of agriculture shows so therefore are alot calmer but Chopper still stresses. We do try to keep to a routine at the shows but he is usually over the top before we get there. I have found with him that since breaking him to harness he is calmer when we put the harness on him than if he is just saddled. I will get hold of the book that you suggested and try some different exercises with him. I also do not like 'calmer' drugs but do you have any suggestions on a natural supplement that would help him in the float. He does not move around in the float but will get the shakes and sweat. Thanks again for your assistance
I just now realize what you mean by "float" here in the States a horse trailer? Some horses are claustrophobic and do better in a stock trailer that has a more open design (slats on the upper part of the sides) or windows. I had an Arabian mare that would really go nuts in a trailer if the partition went all the way to the floor, but was fine in a trailer with a divider bar and open underneath. She really loved to just not have a partition so she could stand at a slant. She needed room to spread her legs to balance. But put that partition in and she’d climb the walls.
Also, if you have given him any kind of calming agent that could be interfering with his ability to stay balanced while riding in the trailer. I really cannot recommend any herb or drug to calm Chopper. They can in fact make matters worse.
If you have your own trailer it will help to feed him in it, load and unload him when you are not going anywhere. Keep it parked where he is turned out so it becomes an everyday familiar thing to him.
What you say about him doing better under harness than saddle makes me wonder if the saddle fits him correctly? It may be causing him discomfort or pain. Or if the harness includes blinders then if could be he is not seeing what is going on around him and so he's less prone to become excited.
Try to figure out what is triggering Choppers anxiety – fear of the other horses, is it because of the negative experience of the trailer ride, is he being asked for work beyond his training, did he get his belly full of hay before leaving? Finding the problem is the key to solving it.
I do think your best solution is getting him out to different environments as often as possible. If not an arena then parks, nearby farms, parking lots, anyplace away from home. Showing him that few times a year probably seems new to him every time.
Another bit of advice is using leading and groundwork to establish you as Chopper’s alpha herd mate. This will help him feel safe with you in charge. Spend fifteen –thirty minutes a day leading him. Be sure he stays perpendicular to you with his shoulder at your shoulder. Don’t allow him to lag behind or rush ahead or try to pull on you. Use some of those arena exercises while leading – figure eights, circles, backing, turning, walking, trotting, going through obstacles.
The biggest thing to remember is this is not a quick-fix problem. It is going to take a lot of work and time.
Hi Donna, yes in Australia we call a trailer a float or horse float. When we are not going to a show Chopper does not stress in the float. He knows when a show is on because of the baths and then locked in the stable the night before to keep him clean. I have tried changing this routine but he always seems to know. I am hoping next year to do more shows as I really want to get him ready for our state welsh show then the national show. He has competed at the state show and did really well gaining 8th out of 32 in the dressage, 2nd in the novice ridden and then winning the open ridden section D gelding. I will be showing him in harness at the next state show. I will work on your suggestions. His saddle has been checked and all is OK, yes he does wear blinkers in harness and I think that this helps him. Also he just seems to enjoy pulling the cart. Thanks again for your advice.
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