A Young Horse in a New Environment ~ Lessons with Coco

For my third lesson with Sue Byrne I decided to mix it up a little bit…I brought Coco to Darielle’s yard. It was our first time doing a schooling session outside of home and it was definitely an experience…

A New Environment

Monday of the June bank holiday and it was lashing rain all afternoon. There was a show on at my own yard which I had been at since early afternoon so I was already pretty soaked before I’d even left my yard. I loaded Coco up and we headed over to meet Sue & Darielle who had just finished a lesson with Dante.

As soon as we arrived and I unloaded Coco, she was already sceptical about her surroundings. She had a look around, taking in her new surroundings, smells and sounds which is absolutely what I expected. I quickly tacked her up and began the walk up to the arena…this was not an easy walk. The whole way there she was looking at EVERYTHING. She spooked about 3 or 4 times, with me quickly moving out of her way each time for fear of being flattened! We eventually got to the arena and I hand walked her around the track a few times so she could check out the bushes, the corners and the signs on the fence. I did this until she began to relax which she did (thankfully). And so it was time to mount up…

Jumping Coco_2

Before I go any further there’s one thing I feel you should know about Coco, something I have come to learn after 8 months with her: that which is not scary when I’m on the ground beside her can suddenly become the scariest thing in the world once I’m on her back. So I mounted up and of course everything became uber scary all over again. Now, it didn’t help that just as I started my lesson, someone decided to go into the trees in one of the corners and start chopping wood. (It’s actually amazing how many different sounds can come from chopping wood!) It also didn’t help that one of the dogs from the yard decided to bolt into the arena! And it reeeeally didn’t help that the rain started to get worse! BUT…these kind of new experiences is exactly what Coco needs to learn and grow so on we went with the lesson.

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Dealing with a spooky youngster:

Throughout the lesson Coco spooked at a lot of different things but there were two corners where she was adamant there was something trying to kill her. The corner with the man chopping wood and the corner with all the bushes.

We approached the corner with all the bushes first and at the first sign of spooking I straight away kicked her on and gave a lil GEET ON” to show her that I was not going to tolerate this sh*t. She walked on and I believed the battle of this corner was won.

On to the wood chopping corner which was just a nightmare. She wouldn’t even get within 10 metres of this corner. I brought her around on a circle a few times and each time she spooked away until Sue had the genius idea of walking over to the corner. Once Coco saw that Sue was there she walked over, hesitantly, but she walked over and into the corner with Sue leading the way. It was one of those moment that really reminded me that she is still such a baby (I think I even said that to Sue at the time). I really take for granted how good she is for a 4 year old. 

One massively helpful tip Sue gave me when dealing with a spooky corner is to bend her head to the inside so she can’t look at what’s spooking her. This has been a god send, however doing this and keeping her straight was no easy feat. Because she was spooking, her hind end would swing out so I would have to keep a really strong inside leg to make sure she didn’t just run to the inside through her shoulder. 

Jumping Coco_4

Eventually we got to the point where we could do a few laps of canter past the corner and she would pretty much ride past it without the dramatics. At the start any time she got to that end of the school she would get very short and bunny-hoppy and try to nap to the gate but with some serious pushing on my end I was always able to push her forward. At some point the chopping stopped so we were able to relax and not worry about that anymore (THANK GOD!).

Next, Coco started spooking at the bushes corner again (it obviously offended her at some point while she was dealing with the other corner). Again we used the method of bending her head to the inside which did work but it was hard to keep up so we decided not to dwell on this too much. A lot of the time the best way of dealing with Coco’s spookiness is to take her mind off it with some poles or even better JUMPING!


Sue put up a small upright with a trot pole before it so I brought her into that and she jumped it nicely. Where the jump was placed meant I had to ride into it from the corner with the bushes so I had to do my best to make sure she had a decent approach. This sometimes meant I had to turn for the jump a bit sooner than usual but generally it worked out. 

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Letting Coco figure the jump out for herself

We removed the trot pole and started cantering into the fence and as we got into it, Sue pointed out that I had a tendency to pull Coco back just before the fence. This was my reaction to her picking up the pace before the jump and me trying to place her so I had to force myself to stop this and let her figure the jump out for herself. When I did this it resulted in a flatter jump but it meant Coco had to figure out the stride without me which would make her a smarter jumper in the long run. 

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When the fear took over…

We started jumping the upright from the other direction and for some reason she just would not jump it. There was something freaking her out from this side so when I brought her into the fence she started drifting out to avoid jumping. I asked her to jump it 3 times and she refused every time. Eventually I realised I needed to get tough so I brought her into the fence, she was all over the place trying to avoid jumping but I kept my leg on and gave a bit of a shout to drive her over the fence and she finally jumped it! I gave her a big pat and a well done when we landed and brought her straight back into it. This time there was no holding her back..she launched herself into the jump clearly with new found confidence.

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As the lesson got on we tried her over a few different fences. One was a jump on the diagonal with a filler under it. I was expecting her to take a look at the very least but she didn’t bat an eyelid. She bombed herself over it which I was delighted with. She is seemingly a brave horse where it counts! Eventually we created a course of 4 fences. I did it a number of times as a way of testing how Coco jumps best. We tried 3 different methods…

Jumping Coco_5

Don’t interfere

We did this the first time we jumped and it wasn’t our best round. I set Coco up in a nice rhythm and ensured my leg was always on but not pushing for a stride and that was it. She didn’t meet the jumps very well and got quite flat into some of them so we decided to try something different.

Moving her up and creating a fast pace

Next we tried the round at a faster pace. I moved Coco up and created some more energy into the fences while still letting her figure the jumps out for herself. We pretty much demolished the course!

Holding to the Fence

The last time we did it, I tried picking her up and holding Coco to the fence. The difference in her jump was incredible. She used herself properly and lifted her back legs clean over the fences whereas before she was dropping her hind legs and jumping with her fifth leg” as Sue called it! So this is definitely how I need to ride Coco around a course.

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One thing that I found from jumping our first course was that Coco is a bit of a drifter. Every time I landed after the second last fence and made my way way around to the last jump she would drift through her outside shoulder and start bunny-hopping away..almost as if my outside leg just didn’t exist! I never once made it from the second last fence to the last, one straight after the other. I always needed to circle her back around. So this is something we definitely need to work on.

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To wrap up, this was definitely the toughest lesson I’ve ever had with Coco but it was also the best. Coco was such a challenge but it just meant when she did something right it was so rewarding. I really got a glimpse of the talent she has and I also realised that I still have the determination I need to handle my youngster and push her to where she needs to be. 

What to work on for next time:

  • Set up course of poles with tight turns to try and tackle her drifting 
  • Coco’s canter transitions are still quite bad so I need to put more focus on fixing this issue
  • I need to plan more schooling session or just days out of the yard so Coco can get used to being in new surroundings and seeing that she’s not going to die!

Thank you to Darielle for standing in the rain and getting some videos for me! We were all well and truly drenched by the end of the day!!

Hope you enjoyed reading about my most recent lesson with Coco. It seems we’re just getting started!



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