Building the Ego

Val has always been a horse who thinks quite highly of himself. I think it’s kind of a thoroughbred thing really. Though I do try to keep his attitude in check a little bit, he does best when you let him have his ego to some extent. He performs best when he’s really confident in his own ability, and I think that’s probably true of most horses.

Sometimes we do really hard things, and it’s a good exercise for him in learning to trust me, and learning how to do his job even when he’s worried or unsure. But other times, we do things that make him feel good about himself. We might do harder turns over smaller jumps, or we might do something simple over bigger jumps.

Either way, the goal is for him to feel really good about himself afterward. I try not to push past the point where he feels confident, and there are lots of pats and “good boys.” If he wants to squeal or play a little at the end of each exercise, I let him have that moment of celebration.

The last two times I got Val out, we worked on stroking that ego.

Since Val came in scraped up around his withers and tender on Saturday, I put him on the line and free jumped him (or as best we can since we don’t have a good place to actually turn him loose).

Added bonus: even though I didn’t get to ride, I still got my cardio in running around to give him a fair approach and space on the back side of the jumps.

At first, he struggled a little bit with placing himself and not flinging himself over the jumps or getting over his shoulder.


So tired of WP desaturating my photos. He’s sun-bleached, but not this sun-bleached 🙁

After a few more times over and a direction change though, he really seemed to get it. The last few times over, he was looking pretty proud of himself and pumped up while I raised the jump. He almost pranced over me once or twice when he didn’t get the memo that I was just changing the jump, not making him jump it from a jig.


Got a little deep, so he’s maybe jumping slightly over himself, but this is pretty good for his first time jumping this height on his own.

He sort of ran at the jump the first few times over, but as it went up I was happy to see that he was really looking to set himself up for success. This horse is so smart.

Even though he was on the line for 30-40 minutes and went both directions several times, he was bright eyed and looked very happy with himself as we walked back to the barn. This pleases me because 1) it means he felt confident and not defeated by the exercise, and 2) he’s pretty fit if that much work in the hottest part of the day didn’t sap all his energy.

Sunday he was still poofy and got the day off, Monday is grocery day, and then last night (Tuesday) he was finally looking OK enough to ride, so I did a semi-private lesson through a grid. Want to hear something crazy? Somehow it has been a month since the last grid lesson, and we’ve had one other lesson in between that was mostly flatwork and flying around 1-2 courses of little jumps. How does this keep happening?


Again, the grid was fairly simple and was mostly meant to get him over some bigger jumps while building his confidence in himself and his ability to jump the bigger things. I gave minimal input and most kept him straight and between my hand and leg. Other than a little opening rein a few times and sitting up I didn’t really help him much, and he was fabulous.

As the jump kept going up I kept expecting Val to peek or feel a little behind my leg, but that never happened, and he carried himself through nicely each time. This allowed me to focus on myself more. Since I was unhappy with my own riding last time we did a grid I really appreciated this.

Each time through I reminded myself on the approach to let my weight fall down through my heels rather than jamming my heels down, but I also reminded myself to keep a tight core so that my hands could be independent and so I could keep my upper body off of his neck. even as the jump got bigger, I feel like I did all of these things so much better.

All-in-all it was a really fun lesson, and it was nice to get to really fly on my pony again. Val was feeling pretty good about himself by the end of the lesson as well, squealing and curling his neck as he cantered off on the back side, and he felt loose and relaxed as we walked out. Ego successfully built up.

But of course no day it the barn is without its snags and no pony is perfect.

See, Val’s one big issue is that he’s really spooky on the ground, and he’s really bad about setting back. That’s a great combo, I know.

The past two times I’ve been to the barn, Val has spooked and set back. He was doing much better about this, but it seems to be rearing its ugly head again. So after our ride, I made him graze with his lead rope between his legs, wrapped around his legs, etc. At first he wanted to be panicky when the rope snaked around his legs or was pulled taut, but eventually he decided grazing with his face glued to his foot wasn’t such a big deal.


This is definitely something I need to make a point to work on, but it comes from a fundamental fear of having any part of his face pulled on in any fashion, and I’m not really sure how to fix it entirely. His aversion to taking any contact under saddle stems from the same issue.

I’m thinking we’ll have to work on some desensitization, but I’m not sure how to teach his brain to just slow down and asses before panicking. Any suggestions fellow blog readers?

13 thoughts on “Building the Ego

  1. Awesome gif. I don’t know if you can teach thinking instead of panicking. But maybe turn him out with a short lead? I remember a trainer doing this with a horse that would freak out about stepping on his lead rope. He turned the horse out with a short (like 2-3 foot) lead rope attached to the halter. Kinda like a foal’s catch rope. Long enough to get stepped on, but not long enough to get wrapped around legs. The horse ends up stepping on the rope while grazing and they de-spook themselves. My horses all step on their leads and yank their faces and just blink and go back to food. They’re used to it. I’ve never had to train mine, but I do remember the trainer doing that.

  2. My TB pulls back, too. He isn’t super duper sensitive about his face, but if something seems like he thinks he should pull back her certainly will! I got this halter: and have used it a handful of times. Just enough that I know he thinks about it before he pulls back because it was pretty uncomfortable. However I don’t think it should be used every single time he has on a halter. In my experience you can never “cure” a horse from pulling back, but you can help them think about it before they do it, which gives you time to deal with the situation. I do also like the idea of turning him out with a leadrope to help him get OK with grazing and such and learning that stepping on the rope won’t kill him. I’d, of course, do this with a breakaway halter.

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