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Hot horses are horses which get wound up easily, and which are super reactive and forward going. When they start jumping, they get more excited and even hotter. They can be a handful and not very easy to take around a track.
These horses need to be ridden and trained a certain way. Riding a hot horse successfully means establishing a way of going that is consistent. If the way of going is not right, the horses become almost unrideable.
When you ride a hot horse, you feel as though the horse is fast. It wants to go. The hot horse has a very strong desire to go forwards. This is a good thing – it means that the engine is always revving, and that the rider doesn’t have to create the energy. These horses take the rider to the fence.
The correct way of going is one where although the horse is taking the rider to the fence, it is still between the rider’s hand and leg. In fact, the thing a hot horse needs the most is the rider’s leg. Leg doesn’t mean kicking the horse forwards – the horse is already going forward on its own. But no leg means that the point of connection between horse and rider is invariably the mouth, and here are where the problems with hot horses begin.
A hot horse that takes off a little - building up steam, means that riders will automatically want to pull the reins. Hot horses tend to be triggered though, so if they start to speed up and the rider grabs the mouth, it is like pulling the trigger on a gun. The horse shoots off, grabbing the bit and stiffening its neck and body. Just like firing a bullet, once the bullet has left the gun, you can’t pluck it from the air and shove it back down the barrel.
When riding a hot horse, riders must avoid pulling the trigger. Firstly, the horse needs to be ridden quietly, a little bit neutral if you like. The neutral rider is not doing much. The neutral rider is quiet and still, yet not stiff. They are working on keeping the horse under them. They want the horse to stick to their seat and learn to stay there. This is fairly easy to achieve on the flat. For hot horses, the circle is your friend. That means that when the horse starts to get hot and take off a little, the rider, rather than trying to pull the horse back by its mouth, guides the horse onto a circle. The rider stays still and consistent, looking to return the horse to the relaxed canter (even if it is still very forward). Once the horse returns to the relaxed canter, the connection is restored and the horse is back where it belongs – under the rider.
When hot horses shoot off, they are essentially running out from under the rider. They will often grab the bit as they take off, baiting the rider into pulling against their mouths. One of the biggest mistakes riders can make is to forget what they were doing with the horse before the horse shot off. If the rider was cantering quietly and the hot horse takes off (especially while jumping) the rider tends to pull the horse back. They bring them back too far. They will end up trotting or even walking. Some riders will pull the horse up to a halt or rein it back. Here the riders have stopped the horse from running away but not restored the horse to what they wanted all along, in this case a nice canter. They have failed to get the horse to stay with them in a relaxed state. They have created more mouth pressure and stiffness, and of course blocked the horse.
When the horse gets blocked, it means that it cannot flow forward. It might be full of energy, bouncing on the spot, threatening to rear or running backwards. Riders which do this out of the corners into a jump (to stop the horse from running to the fence) end up with a horse which runs sideways or stops going completely.
Other riders manage to get a nice canter through the corner which feels controlled, but the horse shoots at the jump the last 2 or 3 strides. The moment the horse starts to shoot, the rider locks up the arms and the horse grabs the bit and runs at the jump, often hitting it. Generally these horses will land and bomb off on the other side. The riders then stop them or bring them to a walk.
Here they have broken the flow – the rhythm. Nothing settles a hot horse more than rhythm and a soft connection. Hot horses that do a lot of transitions tend to get hotter.
What other triggers can set a hot horse off? We have mentioned tight hands, or pulling the horse back by its mouth, but these horses also need a neutral and balanced rider. This means pushing the bum into the saddle or taking leg away and fading through the turn only to push the horse once a distance is seen by the rider. The truth is that any change can become a trigger and repeating those triggers conditions the horse into the wrong way of going.
Hot horses ridden inconsistently, hanging and chasing, with lots of mouth pressure or animated riders will start to become almost mad, hollow in their way of going, jump flat and ‘through’ the hand, and poor with their leg technique. They will jump at the front rail rather than up, and they will often drop their hind legs into the jumps too.
The best exercise a rider can do to break the negative way of going and stop the horse from running at fences is this:
Set up 5 or 6 freestanding fences, on the small side (80-90cm, lower if the horse is more novice). These fences should be approachable off either rein and have a good exit space. Start cantering on a flowing relaxed rhythm. The horse should be under the rider and soft in the contact. Then start to flow to the fences. When the horse comes through the corner, a very slight outside flexion can be used to keep the horse from popping the head up and locking up in the jaw and front of the neck.
Then start to canter around over the various fences. If the horse runs after a jump, guide it into a circle. As soon as the canter is restored, keep going to another jump. The jumps can be jumped in any order, and repetitively. If the horse lands on the right canter lead, let it turn right. If it lands on the left, continue left. Don’t ask for flying changes. Anything like that will trigger the horse more. You may end up jumping 20 or 30 efforts. If the horse starts to run as it starts to see the jump continue on a circle before the jump. The circles shouldn’t be too small or too big. You should avoid yanking the horse into the circle. At no point should you stop or trot. At no point should you try and fix the striding. Your whole focus is on balancing and maintain the rhythm of the canter, while not trying to pull the horse slower. The fast horse should be slowed by cantering a circle. Once it slows and relaxes continue to the next fence.
This exercise is designed to break the trigger reflex that the horse has when it gets in front of the jump. It teaches the horse to stay on a rhythm and not run out from under the rider. At no time will the rider push the horse or change the stride length. The rider may need to be in a light seat position, at least initially. A stop/start ride will destroy the exercise and force you to start again. Riders cannot get impatient or handy with the horse. At no time should a running horse be presented to a fence - the horse can have fairly long stretches of canter without having to go over a jump. As the horse settles the rider will feel the horse stop running at jumps, and once the horse can jump without running for 6 or 7 fences, the horse can be brought back to a trot. The horse should be trotted then, looking to stretch down on a long rein almost with its nose on the floor, without accelerating. A few minutes of this and the session can be ended.
The big don’ts with hot horses:
Don’t hang on its mouth.
Don’t dig your bum into its back.
Don’t ever chase it to a fence.
Don’t take leg away and fade in corners (losing impulsion)
Don’t lose patience
Don’t overface it.
Don’t land after jumps and let the horse fall around the bend on landing. Try to land straight.
Don’t ask for lead changes.