Problem 2: A Horse that is Afraid or Distracted
Riding the Symptom: While your horse is worrying about a tractor or his friend whinnying in a paddock, it's easy to get distracted yourself. The tractor and the whinnying are totally out of your control. You can't force your horse to be attentive. Instead, change your focus and notice the real problem.
The underlying issue: Concentrate on the elements of the problem you do have control over, which is your horse's lack of suppleness and that fact that he's no longer on your aids. He has undoubtedly stiffened his body, probably lost his bend and might not be round anymore. If you focus on putting him on your aids in a supple way, you will automatically start solving your problem.
Think of the unbelievable distractions that horses manage to deal with at the Olympics and other high-level competitions. It's not that these horses are braver and quieter or that the riders are stronger, but those horses have been trained t focus on the rider instead of on the distraction. Those horses have learned to trust their riders and have confidence because the rider has never punished them for what amounts to being a horse.
When I first got my best Grand Prix partner, Weltgraf, I couldn't even ride him outside. But, at the end of our career together, I could have ridden him in the Macy's Day Parade. My problem with Graf was not solved in a day or even a year. It was a long-term project. He didn't become brave because he was older. He's still as hot as he ever was, but he learned to trust me and turn to me as his partner. When I asked him to go on the aids, he found his balance physically and mentally.
If you're having this problem, and something is spooky at one end of the ring, it's not a failure to stay in the safe area of the ring. The point is that you want your horse to go more on your aids. You may get to the scary area today, or it may take longer. You'll never get it by alienating your horse or forcing him. I don't believe in facing the horse with his fears. Don't tackle anything unless you're going to be successful.
Rider position: Keep your body in the shape you want the horse's body have with clear aids asking for flexion and bend. Keep your outside aids there but passive so he will want to go to them. Then you will be clear about his flexio, the positioning of his nek and the bend throughout his body. Also, be clear about his line of travel, his rhythm and his speed. Working on these qualities helps him relax and focus on you rather than on the current distraction. (See "Exercises for Problem 2" below.)
Exercises for Problem 2
For a horse that is afraid and distracted, don't just ride around. Any exercise requires you to use your aids and help him concentrate on you instead of the distraction. All exercises put him on the aids, but my favorites are the figure-of-eight and the serpentine because both require frequent changesof bend. Be sure your aids shape him in correct bend to the right, half halt before your change of direction and then shape him to the left.
The result: When the horse is correctly bent, his body will begin to relax. As he becomes more supple and on the aids, he'll start to turn to you and forget his other concerns. If you're consistent in your methods, he will, over time, turn to you sooner. He'll develop trust and confidence in you, and it will be mush easier for him to turn to you rather than turning to his distractions.
Baumert, Jennifer and Beth. "Are You Riding the Problem or the Symptom?" Dressage Today May 2010, pages 51-52