Why so stressed?
It’s common for ponies to become a bit more difficult to manage at a show or an event, and there’re many reasons why.
Shows are very unnatural situations for ponies – there’s lots of other horses and ponies they’ve never met before, lots of people, loud noises and l things to see which they’ve never experienced. We expect our ponies to cope with a day out at a show with little training or preparation for the situation.
Travelling to events can be stressful for your pony because he has to leave his companions who he feels safe with. If a pony travels to a show with a yard mate and naps to him, it’s because he feels secure with his companion in an unfamiliar place.
As riders, most of us get nervous before competing and change the way we behave – often without realising it! Do you get more anxious, do you rush around when you’re preparing to ride or are you quicker to lose your temper than normal? Your pony won’t understand why your behaviour has changed and so he’ll feel anxious and tense, which could cause him to change his own behaviour. This happens because ponies have evolved to recognise behavioural changes of their herd mates, so they can respond quickly to potential danger. It’s because ponies are so fine-tuned to change, that they respond to our behavioural changes as well as changes in other ponies.
Don’t be surprised or annoyed if your pony acts differently at a show than he does at home – try to understand his behaviour and adjust things to make the situation as stress-free as possible for him.
What can you do?
It’s important to always consider how your pony thinks and feels when at an event. It’s easy to focus on how well your jumping round or dressage test will go and, without meaning to, forget how your pony feels.
To make going to a show less daunting for your pony, make sure you prepare him for the things he might encounter before taking him out to compete. For example, if he’ll be leaving his field mates, make sure he’s used to leaving them for periods of time, so he’ll be less stressed about it on the day of a show.
Putting the time into preparing your pony for events will make him less anxious and happier when he’s there, which will benefit both of you.