Introducing some variety  


Hope you are all well and enjoying some horse time! I wanted to share with you all some of the variety training that has helped my own horsemanship of late.  Circles can get pretty boring after a while.. for both horses and riders alike.  Over the last few years I’ve challenged myself to find new ways to interact and connect with my horses and its forced me way outside my comfort zone.  Now don’t get me wrong, consistency is incredibly important when training horses for a specific event or discipline, however one thing I’ve noticed is that introducing some variety in my training has helped both myself and my horses alike.    

If you have attended one of my horse training events you would have noticed some variety in the work and patterns we run throughout the event. I find that showing my students some new and interesting challenges and games reignites their training passion and keeps them growing.  Here are a few ideas for introducing some variety to try at home with your horse:

  • Try a bit of Liberty play
    • This can be simple it doesn’t have to be a grand performance, just playing what I call the foot control game through leading your horse in a halter then slowly increasing tempo then coming to halt, moving off, backing up, play with it and have some fun.  A few tips to get this started are to start in a small enclosed space, work on the loose lead rope to begin with, then transition to no lead rope, focus on trying to get your horse to mirror your energy and movement.  Ultimately you want your horse to be interested in hanging out with you and the more enticing you become (without treats) the better your connection becomes.  Give it a go and have fun, if nothing else you will figure out where your connection with your horse is really at. 
  • Riding out  
    • Whilst many reading this article will be quite used to riding out as apart of their training program, there are many students that I meet through my events where riding out is a rarity and often stimulates some fear responses.  One way I encourage my students to introduce riding outside the arena is when ending a ridden session simply open the gate and pick a simple land mark or position near by, be it the end of a lane/road or a tree that they want to ride to and return home after the days session.  Then the next day increase the distance, same again the next day and so on until you are actively ending each session with a relaxed loose rein ride out each day.  I have found that the more training and confidence you can build outside the arena the more it helps you with all other aspects of your horse training. As my mentor once said to me when I was riding a colt around in the round yard ‘the owners not paying you to do circles in there son, get that horse down the road’.  Truth be known I was checking all my boxes as this was a big strong athletic australian stock horse and I want to make sure I had a little bit of a stop button.  But as always once I got going down the road things progressed quickly and you guessed it, my mentor was right again… funny that.
  • Obstacale Play
    • This has become more and more prevalent is my training and events over the last few years.  I find that horses from all disciplines can benefit in some way from interacting and training with obstacales. This could be a simple as a barrel to ride some circles around or a bridge/block to hop on, a tarp to walk over, a ball to kick around or cavellette poles, etc.  Giving your horse something else to think about and focus on during your training can provide an added level of exposure and willingness that can be otherwise bottled up waiting to explode the next time you ride into the show environment and something appears out of your horses expectations. These obstacles can really help add some lift and drive in your horses movement also, cavellette/pole work for example can really help a wide range of horse and rider combinations. The block training that I use regularly with my horses is a great technique to teach my horses to target and relax.  I often have a low height  timber block near my working arena and when ending a session I simply ride over let my horse choose to put their front feet on the block, I hop off loosen the girth unsaddle them and let them stand and relax. This is great way to help in training the nervous/anxious type of horse to stand relaxed and ground tie.    
  • Changing Locations
    • There is no better way to prepare for upcoming events or outings with your horse than actually working in different locations.  Might sound obvious but you would be surprised to know how many people I meet who are hesitant about taking their horses to new arenas or locations.  Ive found the best way to conquer these fears is to get some likeminded friends in the same situation and trailer your horses to the new arena and ride together.  I know when I’m bringing my team of horses along for events, getting them out to local arenas really helps them with the transport process, calming themselves when they arrive, having a light and interesting workout at the arena, eating some hay whilst there (this is important, giving them the time to relax and enjoy the process).  All these little experiences add up to mature and ready your horse for the upcoming events. There is always that saying I hear when someones horse is acting out in the group environment ’if only you could have seen how well my horse went at home yesterday’.  One of the best ways to prepare for outings and events is to actually get out there and test your training away from the comfort of home.  It might show you that you are on the right track or it might show you that some things need to improve, either way both you and your horse will benefit from the experience. 

These are just a few simple ideas that I have implemented in both my own and my students training program’s from all around the world. There is no perfect fit for each horse and rider so give them all a try and see if you notice some more calm or relaxed moments within your horse’s training.  Not to mention that introducing this little bit of variety into your horse training program can really help keep you mentally engaged and passionate about the next levels to come.  Give them a try and I would love to hear how you all get on. 


All the best.



Justin Colquhoun

Hi There! I’m Justin Colquhoun. I founded Elite Horsemanship out of a dream to make real and effective horsemanship available to anyone at any level in the horse industry.