Managing the Un-Managable Horse

A lot of polo players prefer to find horses off the track with a knack for running with the crowd. Maybe they weren’t the fastest race horses, but they’re brave, and don’t mind bumping elbows with the pack. These horses tend to make great polo ponies after some quick retraining, but they also naturally have a hot disposition. Race horses need to be hot and firey and ready to go at any moment, which can make retraining them for polo difficult. Here are some suggestions for managing a hot-tempered horse:

1. Understand the Problem

It’s important to understand that a horse’s natural reaction to any kind of stress is either fight or flight; neither one is acceptable on the polo field. Training a horse is all about understanding their natural tendencies, and then working with the animal to explain to them that we want them to ignore their natural tendencies.

2. Practice Harder at Home Than Away

If you work your horse harder during practice games at home, they will be able to take the tougher competitions in stride, and you’ll be better focused on the game.

3. Warm-Up

Warm up your horses before playing. Whether this means getting to the field an hour early to stick ‘n’ ball your horses before the game, or stick n’ balling 5 minutes before each chukker, it allows your horse to relax, focus and be better prepared for what lays ahead.

4. Ask Simple Questions

I love using lateral flexion every time I get on, as a way of asking the horse a simple question that they absolutely know the answer to. This allows them to build confidence, and relax, knowing that they’ll be able to answer every “question” I have for them.

5. Trailer Work

For absolutely new horses to polo, it can be extremely beneficial to bring them to games and just leave them tied up to the trailer. This helps them get used to the noise, the rhythm of the game, the smells and sounds and actions of a polo match. If there’s time left over or before you may take them out to stick ‘n ball briefly.

6. Line Play

If your horse is play-ready, you may play around with the line-up. Some horses will get nervous being tied to the trailer for lengths of time, anticipating when they will be ready to go. Others will be electric after a long trip and come off the trailer wired. The former would do better played first, the later would do better played last, after they’ve had time to come down.

7. Start and Stopping

Some horses get wound up if asked for a lot of short stops and hard goes. Be mindful when playing these horses that a half circle may do them better then a hard stop and turn. You should always prefer a half circle when it makes sense, to save your horses’ mouths, backs and joints; it’s a lot more stressful on the body to stop short and turn hard.

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