In our training, we use all kinds of attributes that can help the horse. Often these not complicated things, but objects that you encounter in daily life or things that we make ourselves (such as a stick with plastic). In this article we discuss the fitball and how you can use it in your horse’s training.
A handy size to work with is a ball with a diameter of 50-60 cm. It makes it a lot easier if you fashion a handle around the ball with duct tape. That way you can move the ball with one hand and you will be less likely to drop it.
On the body – The goal of obstacle training is to teach your horse how to handle exciting situations. You want him to learn to stand still instead of running away, which is often a flight animal’s first reaction. Working with a fitball can be one way to teach him this. The difference between the ball and, for example, the bag stick is that visually it is a larger object, which can be more exciting for the horse. This makes it a great way to prepare young horses for their first rider later. Another advantage is that you can put pressure on the horse’s back or against the belly, which again helps the young horse to get accustomed to the feeling of a rider.
During this exercise you use the approach and retreat technique to desensitize your horse.
Movements around the body – Once the horse is used to the sight and feeling of the ball on its body, you can start practicing with movement around its body. For example, bounce the ball next to the horse a few times before you put it on its back. Does he find this a bit exciting and does he move away? Try to keep bouncing with the ball while at the same taking more distance from the horse until he can stand still again, then walk away with the ball to reward him. You can also roll the ball over the horse’s back from one side to the other (use a third person for this). This can be a difficult exercise for the horse because the ball will move from one eye to the other. Pay close attention to your position and safety, because the horse could jump towards you when the ball rolls to the other side.
Football – Some horses are very interested in following objects. Even horses who find an object very exciting may think it less scary as soon as they find that they can move it. A ball is of course perfect for this exercise. Have someone walk in front of the horse, rolling the ball away from the horse. If the horse stands still, the ball also stops. If the horse moves towards the ball, you roll the ball forward again. As soon as the horse realizes that he has to go after the ball, you can see if he dares to touch the ball. Does your horse still find this a bit difficult? It could help to put the ball between two groundpoles and have the horse walk through them.
Horses can also really enjoy playing the ball themselves. You can then put the ball in the paddock and see what they will do with it. Note: not every ball can withstand playful behaviour! If your horse thinks playing with the ball is a fun activity, then you should consider purchasing a real horse football. These are made of sturdier material, so they don’t puncture as quickly.