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Advice to Keep a Hunter Horse Calm at Horse Shows and in Under Saddle Classes

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Submitted by member: Debbie

I ride a 10-year-old Hanoverian mare and I want to show her in the Hunter classes. She has competed in hunter and jumper venues in the past. She is very good at home while training.  However, when she gets to a horse show, she goes ballistic! She will do well in the over fences classes (although tends to want to go faster than I’d like), but she will not cooperate in under saddle classes. When I attempted my first under saddle class, she reared, bucked, and spun around so much that I had to exit the ring prior to the start of judging. Also, after my second round over fences, she did the same thing when I got out of the ring. I love this horse and want to make it work. I ride her almost every day. Is there anything I can do to calm her down?

Answer by Linda Allen

This is a real challenge since some horses are just not cut out for certain ‘jobs.’  Since her behavior was extreme with the group of horses in the arena, even though she seems fine at home, it might not hurt to have your vet rule out any hormonal problems which are sometimes exacerbated when a mare is under stress. Otherwise you are most likely in for a protracted period of getting her so used to being around a show environment and in a group of horses that she no longer reacts with a show of nerves or anxiety.

Punishment is only likely to make the problem worse. As to being too fast over jumps, it is in a horse’s nature to hurry through any situation where they feel apprehensive. To be successful as a hunter you will have to get her to relax sufficiently while being ridden and jumped so that she is willing to accept the quiet and even pace that judges require in a hunter performance. Be sure your tack or your riding aren’t contributing to her tension and be willing to spend many months on achieving this end. As to working in a group under saddle, use good ringmanship to keep her well away from other horses – especially those that might be tense or unruly themselves.  Take her to shows and ride her without showing; doing lots of relaxed work at the walk and trot on a very light rein, and be prepared to spend literally hours doing this until she accepts this atmosphere as a less stressful part of her life.

Even with all this there is still a possibility that your mare is just not cut out for the career you desire of her. While there might be feed ‘supplements’ advertised to calm horses, and some might be worth a try, be wise and careful that they don’t contain any of the ever expanding list of ‘forbidden substances.’  Your problem, in one degree or another, is not so rare and we are a society that is always looking for quick fixes. Horse show organizations and some states work at keeping the competition field level via drug testing programs. Good luck with your mare.

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Linda Allen

Linda Allen (Hunter, Jumper, Course Design) - is an accomplished Olympic Course Designer, Clinician, Judge, Equestrian Facility Design Consultant and Author. For more than 45 years, Linda has been a fixture in the Equestrian Industry. Linda is an FEI Official International Course Designer, FEI Certified Steward and Course Director for Show Jumping and US Equestrian Federation "R" Course Designer for Jumpers and Hunters. She is a USEF Registered Judge for Jumpers, Hunters and Hunt Seat Equitation, Foreign Judge for FEI Events in Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Italy and Saudi Arabia and has been Member and President of the Ground Jury for multiple World Cup Finals and World Equestrian Games events. Visit her website:

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