An Interview With Horse Whisperer Carol Sharpe - Nihi, Sumba
News & Events Interviews
Anyone involved with horses will have probably encountered 'the lazy horse' at some point in their lives. Whether you’re fairly new to riding or have been an equestrian for years, and whether you take lessons at a riding school or have your own yard full of horses, you will have undoubtedly crossed paths with the lazy horse… and then waited for quite some time whilst it plodded past! Yes, I’m talking about the horse with no “go”, the one that ignores every command to speed up and often makes you wonder whether he’s accidentally been given a sedative because very little seems to give him that oomph under saddle.
For beginners and experienced riders alike, the lazy horse can pose quite the challenge, as you grapple to keep them from stopping whilst trying not to look as if you’re flopping all over the place. I get it, because Fagan and I have been together since I was young and he is one of the laziest, most excessively chilled out ponies that you will ever meet and it’s not the easiest to persuade him to get a wiggle on! He is, however - like many horses that fit the 'lazy' label - an excellent confidence giver because you can basically guarantee that he will look after you and not get out of control, even in a wide open field or on the beach. He also gives his rider quite the workout and has taught me very well how to get the best out of a lazy horse and made me realise that we should not write them off simply because they’re not as whizzy as their more enthusiastic equine counterparts.
So, speaking from years of experience being the rider of 'the lazy horse', I’m here to give you my five key tips and tricks for riding lazy horses and how to get the best out of them…
1. Check for any pain/discomfort
Okay, this one isn’t strictly to do with riding, but it is the first thing to check before you label your horse as simply 'lazy'. Some horses naturally have an affinity for the slow lane (*ahem* Fagan) but sometimes your horse may not be wanting to work because of some underlying pain or discomfort that is making it unpleasant for them (especially if they have suddenly become more reluctant to move after previously being more forward going). So be sure to check this out and make sure your equine friend is pain-free before working to combat their laziness, because trying to make a horse that’s in pain enthusiastic to work is a) not going to work and b) just going to cause more harm in the long run.
2. Don’t kick too much
Whilst constant kicking may work for the first few minutes of the ride by giving you that much desired speed boost, your horse will quickly get bored of feeling it and it will stop being effective pretty quickly. To ensure that you engage your horse with your aids and really get them listening, use your legs sparingly but purposefully. By this, I mean don’t flap your legs every second in an effort to keep your horse from stopping, but instead try giving less frequent leg aids but making them more noticeable and confident to tell your horse that you mean business, so that there is a clear distinction between asking them to speed up and being content with their pace (after all, if you’re constantly kicking them, how are they supposed to know when they’ve done well by picking up the pace?) This will also be much more pleasant for your horse, who will certainly appreciate not being constantly pushed on and nagged to go forwards, and it will make it much more meaningful and effective when you do use your legs to push them on.
3. Try not to move about too much
This is a difficult one, because you often have to work a lot harder to keep a horse moving if it is lazy, which generally involves quite a bit of movement and energy expenditure on your part. However, keeping yourself as still and as quiet in the saddle as possible is really important if you want your lazy horse to keep his speed up. First of all, if you’re bouncing about or flapping around too much, this can distract your horse from the aids that you are giving them and make them even less responsive. Additionally, if you keep yourself balanced and quiet in the saddle, your horse is more likely to see you as authoritative because they often seem to “know” if you know what you’re doing, and tend to be more receptive towards riders that they see as the boss. If you use tip 2 and avoid kicking all the time, this one becomes a lot easier to do too!
4. Keep a good rein contact
This may seem counterintuitive, since we often associate using the reins to tell a horse that we want them to slow down, in the most basic sense. However, I have found that by keeping a good contact with your reins, you can actually help your lazy horse to go forward more willingly. You see, having that connection between your hands and the horse’s mouth gives them the reminder that you are there and that you are leading them, which can often give them the incentive and confidence to ride more forwards. Also, you can use that contact with your reins to help in asking your horse to work from behind and build up some muscle there which will gradually help them move forwards more easily and powerfully.
5. Be enthusiastic yourself!
This is arguably the best tip that I could give you, because horses really do pick up excellently on the energy and feelings of their rider. If you begin the ride by complaining and being lethargic yourself (as many riders of lazier horses, including myself, sometimes do, often adopting the mind set of “what’s the point, he’s too lazy!”) then your horse is going to notice this and pick up the same attitude, which will lead to a battle between horse and rider and a generally unpleasant ride for both parties. Right from the moment you sit in the saddle, you should really try to feel enthusiasm and embody it, giving off happy and energetic vibes that will translate into your horse and make them more likely to want to go forwards and move nicely for you – essentially, if you can get them excited and enjoying themselves then they will instantly be more willing to work. It really is a case of making it fun and projecting that fun onto your lazy horse to wake them up and give them some energy!
I hope these tips have been helpful for riders of 'the lazy horse'. They are all things that I have picked up throughout the years of riding Fagan and they have been extremely beneficial in helping me to get the most out of him and make whatever we are doing enjoyable for the both of us. Often, a bit of compromise is required on both parts. Your horse gets a bit of a wiggle on and tries a bit harder than they ordinarily would choose to, and you work a bit harder too, accepting that you two will probably never be the fastest on the jumping circuit, whilst also making an effort to up the pace just a little to make riding more enjoyable for the pair of you.