First show woes, spurs and spooky horse


New User
23 April 2014
Hello all,

Thanks for reading my post. I'll try to make this short and sweet.

My horse (traditional ID type) and I have recently began jumping (had lessons on and off since November). Before then, we had mainly been happy hackers and spent the first year getting to know each other. (.... p.s. I am only recently back in the arena after 14 years of minimal horse contact!)

I entered my first working hunter show recently and it was OK. I know we both have a lot of work to do... I felt him spook at the third last jump, so I tried to steady myself and give him a little smack on the shoulder... in doing so, I lost my balance and we went over the jump in the most inelegant heap! Left that jump in the wrong canter lead, lucked through jump 7 and he dumped me off at jump 8 (last one).

I had a very bruised bottom and ego! The judge was such a sweetie though and came over as I scrambled to my feet and said "Hard luck!"

I know generally spurs shouldn't be used to create impulsion, but with not having a very strong leg yet, and the whip causing me to unbalance, I was wondering if any of you would suggest spurs? He is very responsive to concise, definite aids. He did a perfect turn on the forehand using the blunt end of a crop from the ground. I think he would respond well to spurs, and I could use them under the supervision of my trainer for a while?

Oh, if anyone wishes to share their "first show" tales with me, to make me feel better, much obliged :)

This is horse:


Well-Known Member
20 August 2007
Hi there and welcome!

Personally, for a horse that spooks, I wouldn't consider using spurs, or at least it certainly wouldn't be my first port of call. If what you mean is your horse, backed off the jump because he didn't like the look of it and therefore you lost impulsion due to this, then I would personally stick as you are. I find that a good short squeeze with the legs (and mine are weak too but a short burst is easy to do), and a tap with a crop are usually sufficient, however, don't underestimate the use of a good growl, so personally for the while I would stick with what you have. I would focus more on training in this instance, if he is prone to backing off, then what you really need to be doing is coming up with some really wierd and wacky jumps at home, trying to get him to the point where nothing phases him. As I said, right now from what you describe, spurs would not be my first port of call, however, I would chat with your instructor as she knows you and your horse.

With regards to a first showing experience, when I first took my mare to a WH class, she was sharp and very enthusiastic. She had just really started to jump and believed that was all there was to life, she had utter tunnel vision! My friend and I were in the same class and I jumped clear, probably by about two foot extra per jump and a few wall of death corners due to ebony being so enthusiastic, my friend had one refusal. However, when it came to the showing part, my friend did a stunning show. I however on my jumping nuts mare, struggled to keep her from bunny hopping towards the jumps, and when it came to extending the canter, Christ knows how on earth I pulled her up ;) the judge was overheard saying to my other friend who was assisting her "hmmm, was that controlled? Im not sure that was controlled!" That day, because we came clear, we were placed above my friend who's lovely boy did the most wonderful test - I was mortified as I knew we had produced the most raggedy and uncontrolled performance of the lot, but we still got a rosette! My little mare however, was proud as punch and cantered around the arena with her rosette puffed up like a peacock because she believed she had done her job perfectly ;) :D


Well-Known Member
12 July 2010
Sorry you had a hard day but sounded positive until fence 6 :)

If you're unbalanced spurs are a big no. Personally I would be working on your balance, lunge lesson are very helpful for this. Some places offer it on there horses or you could have them on yours.

Another good exercise is too double rise in the trot, to begin with you can hold mane/ neck strap to get balanced, don't hold the reins for balance. This also works well in canter, if I'm looking a bit bad one day my RI will have my cabtering around 3 strides stood up then 3 strides Sat down.

I'd also get your RI to look at your jump position and make sure you're balanced abd going with the horse with stirrups at the right length. I've found gridwork useful for practicing jump position :)


Well-Known Member
30 November 2005
No, unbalanced rider returning to the saddle after a long break should not be using spurs - there is no quick fix for spooking, you'll just have to work hard at it.


Well-Known Member
10 May 2007
A growl or series of clicks is what I would do. A jab with spurs when he's not concentrating anyway could cause a bigger spook!

Woolly Hat n Wellies

Well-Known Member
1 April 2014
I wouldn't go for spurs either. I find the voice is the most effective aid, you can change it in an instant, and you can use it on yourself as well! I frequently go round little SJ courses chanting "heels down heels down heels down" in time with the rhythm I want.

First times are made for going wrong, I wouldn't worry about it. You know what went wrong, so you can work on it, and next time will be better.

As for show woes, I could probably come up with a list as long as my arm! There was my first ever pony working hunter class, in which you had to open and close a gate which was decorated with leafy branches at either side, to make it look like a gate in a hedge. As my tiny 8 year old fingers struggled with the latch, pony failed to resist temptation and grabbed a tasty looking leaf... Pulling an entire branch out and causing most of the decorative hedge to fall down. Everyone laughed at me, including the judge.

There was my first ever attempt at dressage at Pony Club camp, on a games pony who performed flying changes all the way down the long side, every time my weight shifted slightly, prompting a telling off from the instructor for trying to 'show off'. Pony did games and jumped against the clock (whether there was a clock or not) I never got her to stay on the same leg in canter the whole time I had her!

My first go at XC schooling, same games pony, same Pony Club camp. We went flat out at the first jump, brimming with confidence, after all, she had never refused coloured poles... Turned out she hated XC. She slithered to a halt and I continued over her head, taking the whole bridle with me, and landed in a muddy hole at the instructor's feet.

Then there was our first show with the horse I now share. She set eyes on a small pony for the first time in an in-hand class, reared, and came down on my toe, snapping it like a twig. I hobbled round 4 in-hand classes, refusing to take my boot off in case I couldn't get it back on, and then got on and did a little jumping class in which she knocked down every single fence, and not just a pole off the top, she destroyed everything (it was about 60cm, and we were competing against a good number of kids on tiny ponies). I felt so bad I had to apologise to the helpers on the way out.


Well-Known Member
8 October 2013
You said it yourself, OP: he responds well to concise, definite aids. If using a whip on his shoulder unbalances you, you're unlikely to be able to give those sort of leg aids yet. Spurs would only make this worse - for example, what happens if in becoming unbalanced you instinctively use your legs to stay on board, and your spurs dig in?
Generally, horses ridden in spurs that aren't being used to refine an aid tend to end up either overreacting or ignoring them entirely - neither of these is good!

I second kokopelli, lunge lessons would be helpful. Alternatively, try working with no stirrups?

Well done on doing your first show, though :)