Assessing your horse

Bomb proofing Evaluation Assessment


How does bomb proofing my horse have anything to do with my goals and desires that I might have with dressage, jumping or even cutting? Any horse that’s been conditioned to be comfortable with a multitude of distractions and frightening circumstances will be easier to deal with and more relaxed under pressure, no matter what their job. I too often see people setting high goals in competition with their horses but am unable to ride them past some rubbish bins on there way to the arena. I lost count at the number of emails I receive from equestrians not being able to ride their horses outside a contained area in their backyards without their horse blowing their top. DO YOU REALLY WANT TO LIVE YOUR LIFE THIS WAY?


Bomb proofing your horse simply means that you and your horse will participate in a structured, systematic process to help you and your horse become better accustomed to many different circumstances, noises and spooky objects that you will face on a daily basis. This program will help your horse to become more pleasurable to be around, submissive, confident and respectful of you, so both of you will have a SAFER relationship together.


Before you begin your bomb proofing course we need to evaluate you and your horse’s strengths and weaknesses as honestly as possible for you and your horse’s safety. Assessing everything from breed, sex, personality to the hours you have spent in the saddle will help us make an informed decision whether or not your horse is suitable for you in the short term. This evaluation process will also uncover what skills you have or might need to sharpen or replace to achieve a solid bomb proofed horse.


Be as honest as you can, remember that the past doesn’t = the future. For an accurate evaluation you may need to saddle up or even take a few days to answer this assessment properly.

Assess Your Horse’s Personality

The bold, confident, friendly, thinking left brained extra vet is the type of horse we all want to own—but if they are not that way now, you can teach them to be—right? Education will always make your horse more pleasant to ride, and constructive experiences will definitely add to his confidence, but your horse’s disposition and personality will only improve if you make this education a part of your everyday life. Otherwise, your horse’s personality will stay the same and never change. Bomb proofing is valuable, but not a miracle cure if you don’t make it a part of you and your horse’s life.


You can probably get your horse used to cars rat-ding by on the road, or teach him to stand in the cross-ties, but if he’s a worried, teeth-grinding, gen­erally flustered beast, that is likely how he will remain. Timid, shy, and nervous horses will con­tinue to rely on the rider for confidence more than bolder animals might. What does this mean to you? If you’re high-strung, nervous, or lacking confidence, you may be better off with one of those animals that are just this side of asleep!

A lazy or stubborn horse will need more motiva­tion from the rider, but this type of animal is usually suitable for a greater range of people. A smart, quick-thinking horse can be harder to train, although very quick reactions may be an attribute in some disci­plines, such as jumping and cutting. Some horses, though, think too much for their own good. When the “thinker” decides he doesn’t want to do something, he may have several tricks to get his own way, like chang­ing strategies and trying to capitalize on any weakness.

Horses possess an endless array of tempera­ments—but suffice to say, the more complex and difficult your horse’s character is, the greater your skill level will need to be.

An “extremely tense” horse gets 0; “often unmanageable” is a 1; “accepting of new situa­tions,” a 2; and “unflappable” rates a 3.


0      is extremely tense, nervous, and uncooperative to the point of actually being dangerous (rears or bucks for example).

1       accepts a few new situations after schooling; is often unmanageable; tends to become tense and act up when presented with different circumstances.

2      accepts many new situations without concern; possibly has a few known issues, but is gen­erally manageable under most conditions.

3      are unflappable, willing to go through every unknown situation without blinking.


Assess Your Horse’s Manners

When you groom and tack up your horse, does he stand quietly? How are his ground manners in gen­eral? Does he accept the bit willingly? Does he flinch when a hand is raised next to his face? Does he recoil when the bridle slides next to his ear? Is he head shy? Will he pick up all his feet? How about cross-tying? The general demeanor your horse exhibits can lend many clues as to the complexi­ties—or lack of them—in his personality.


The horse that scores the best in this section possesses existing training, a quiet attitude, a general accept­ance of whatever is being asked, and a mild curios­ity. However, if your horse is an uneducated animal with bad manners, this doesn’t mean he necessar­ily possesses a bad attitude. For example, let’s say your horse is rude, stepping on you when being led and treating your toes with as much respect as if they were leaves on the ground. If your reaction is simply to shuffle further out of his path, this is an indication that you rattitude may be the one that needs adjusting.

Of course, your horse is definitely not the head of the herd—that would be you—but countless peo­ple are uncomfortable with the politically incorrect concept of dominating another creature, even if the other creature happens to weigh in at over 600kg and has no qualms whatsoever about kicking or trampling them.

If your horse is simply undisciplined or unschooled, his problems may be “fixable” in a reasonable time period. If your horse has never been shown an alternative for pawing—even when his hooves have come dangerously close to you—he may not know that pawing is an undesirable habit, and that approaching the situation with some lateral thinking maybe all it takes to fix this situation. On the other hand, he may be a nervous creature, tortured by the very idea of stand­ing still, prone to fidgeting and fretting. Watching carefully and paying close attention to your horse’s reactions will help you figure out if he’s an aggres­sive bully, nervous, or if he’s just used to getting his own way.

But it all counts. Let’s go back to the above sce­nario, where your horse is trampling you while being led. Instead of merely tolerating his bad behavior, you get after him. An animal that reacts by moving away and treating you with a bit more respect certainly scores higher than one who reacts by pinning his ears in anger. A horse that vio­lently spooks away when chastised similarly should score lower—because, besides bad behavior, he is also displaying a bad (or at least a volatile) attitude. However, the animal that politely keeps to his own side of the path and never tramples your toes to begin with scores the highest of all, even if the only reason he does so is because of prior schooling.

The horse that has a mind of his own scores 0; a fairly minor bad habit gets 1; desires to please scores a 2; and amenable and obedient gets a 3.



0     has a mind of his own; is very difficult to lead and runs over the handler, kicks, and bites. People may describe him as dangerous to himself, to other horses, or to people.

1       has fairly minor bad habits that need to be constantly corrected: steps on the handler; is difficult to cross-tie and tack up; and resents picking up his feet, for example.

2      desires to please and responds well to correction, but continues to sometimes try evasive action to avoid performing in fairly common situations.

3      are very amenable and obedient under saddle and on the ground; stands quietly, leads well, is well-behaved for the farrier, and veterinarian.


Assess Your Horse’s Sex

If we start with an equal number of mares and geldings, more geldings will successfully finish the training. With their breeding parts and hormones intact, mares and stallions have a greater tendency to be herd-bound, moody, and difficult.

Geldings and spayed mares score a 3; mares rate a 2; and stallions get a 1.


1                      Stallion

2                      Mare

3                      Gelding


Assess Your Horse’s History

Knowing your horse’s history is helpful in under­standing their behavior. Many times a horse’s traits— both good and bad—are a direct result of their handling. For example, if a person “bangs” the bit into his horse’s teeth over every jump, the horse quickly learns to protect his mouth, either by rushing, or refusing to jump at all.

Of course, sometimes an equine’s past experi­ences with humans will add to his confidence instead. Many people “imprint” their foals—start­ing right after they are born—with positive experi­ences. This is the ultimate in bomb proofing your horse, and I wish everyone did it.

You can make a more educated guess at the cor­rect strategy for your horse if you know his past. A horse that refuses to get on a trailer because of an accident will need to be schooled differently than one that is refusing because he prefers to spend the day in the pasture instead of at a show.

If you know he’s been handled very poorly, give him a 0. “Had a mild traumatic event” scores a 1; “no evident bad habits” gets a 2; and if you know he’s had compassionate owners in the past, who’ve neither spoiled nor abused him, give him a 3.


0      You suspect a very traumatic background involving physical abuse; he possesses an ingrained bad habit such as chronic rearing, or striking out.

1      You suspect some traumatic or negative event in the horse’s past, but it’s nothing that would cause him to be considered dangerous or unmanageable.

2      There are no particularly bad habits evident; some exposure to a variety of different tasks.

3     Your horse has a history of positive events: imprinted as a foal; top competitor; has per­formed a variety of tasks.


Assess Your Horse’s Education

When you ride, your physical body communicates to your equine the task you’d like him to perform. Like any other language, though, this is one that must be learned—not only by the rider, but also by the horse.

Do you think it’s only natural for your horse to move away from the squeeze of your calf against his side? It’s not necessarily true. For example, an uneducated horse often swings his haunches into leg pressure, instead of away from it. You might wonder why, but his instincts are easy to explain. The way your horse (and his ancestors before him) would deal with a predator clinging to his side—or simply an annoy­ing bug—might be to edge up to a tree and squash it. To the un educated horse, your leg is no different than that fly burrowing into his skin for a feast—it bothers them, and he would like it gone, by one means or another. The horse has to learn that your leg or your hand, or whatever aid you’re using, is requesting a response instead of merely torturing him. Often, this simple logic is ignored.

In order to answer the “education” section of this assessment, you may have to saddle up and go through each question. It is divided (and scored) in three parts: Forward Movement, Sideways Movement & Bridle Acceptance.

Forward Movement

First of all, does your horse move forward from the leg promptly and willingly?

This is the most basic, neces­sary concept that your horse needs to understand and is the foundation for all of your other riding.

Give him a squeeze with your calf. How does he respond? Does he move forward? Maybe you need to add a tap of your heels to get him moving. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you are an inexperi­enced rider, a super-sensitive horse tuned to listen to the slightest contact of your legs may be difficult, if not impossible, for you to ride. You may need a horse with thicker skin, or at least a lazier tempera­ment. Sometimes, it is beneficial to have a horse whose responses are duller and more sluggish and who won’t react to the accidental slipping of your leg, or grabbing of your calf. If he responds reason­ably, he scores a 3.

Does your horse proceed ahead when you ask, but act angry about it? A horse that merely shows some aggravation—perhaps pinning his ears, adding a swat of his tail—might be demonstrating his dis­pleasure, but if he still moves ahead, he ultimately also demonstrates his obedience and knowledge. Give him a 2.

Or, does your mount react by doing more than only warning you? Does he act upon his irritation by adding a buck? Does he refuse to move, and backs up a step—or even worse, rears—telling you in clear terms that he has no intention of being your slave? If you get any of these reactions, your horse is con­fused or being disobedient—he gets a 0 either way. This type of reaction tells you he will need some education or at least some discipline, because a horse that is hesitant to obey during normal circum­stances will almost certainly rebel under stress.

How easily and eagerly does your horse move forward from your leg pressure?

0      He is extremely resistant: either backs-up, rears, spins, really resists, or conversely bolts or moves forward uncontrollably.

1       He is sluggish to the leg: requires frequent applications of leg, spur, and whip.

2      Although not sluggish, he still must be ridden with some kind of extra prodding from spurs or whip.

3      He moves forward willingly with no need for spurs or whip.

Sideways Movement

If your horse understands what both legs mean (go forward), you can test his knowledge of what one leg means (go sideways). Go ahead and push into a walk. Without letting his walk get faster, try to scoot him over with your leg. Does he ignore you? What happens if you use your leg harder? Does he just speed up, pulling on the bit?

Try facing your horse’s head toward a fence, where he can’t go faster—in fact, where he can’t go anywhere except sideways or backward—and ask him to move over again. Keep his head facing the fence, and tap with one heel. Does he shuffle over, or does he just splay his legs wider or even try to climb the fence? I’m not ask­ing for anything sophisticated here. However, if he doesn’t understand, this will need to be address before you can progress.

Give your horse a 3 if he already understands how to move sideways from your leg, and a 2 if he needs prodding with whip or spur. He scores a 1 if he’ll move, but is sluggish about it, and a 0 if it is a skill that he needs to learn.


How easily and eagerly does your horse move sideways from your leg pressure?

0      He is extremely resistant: refuses to move sideways when you ride him: even refuses when you push against him from the ground.

1      He is sluggish to the leg: will move sideways, but requires frequent applications of spur, whip, or rein; steps on himself; doesn’t cross his legs.

2      Although not sluggish, he still must be ridden with some extra prodding from whip or spurs; will cross his legs over, and performs leg-yields, turns-on-the-forehand, for example.

3       He moves sideways willingly; no need for spurs or whip.

Bridle Acceptance

Another important part of your horse’s education is his confidence to move forward into the bridle. Simply put, when you pickup on the reins dose your horse yield to the pressure of your hands, flex at the poll and relax his jaw? The educated horse will understand that if he softens to the pressure of the bit, the rider’s hands will soften back.

When you ask your horse to make a downward transition, does he pull his head in the air and push his nose out? Perhaps he might plunge his neck forward for a piece of grass dragging your butt off the saddle? Or does he submit graciously, reducing his gait? Obviously, this last response is the desirable one.

How about if your horse is gazing off into the sunset and you ask him to look the other way, does he willingly comply, or does he brace against the bridle? You can feel his response. When you place some feel on the reins the uneducated/disobedient horse’s mouth will feel like you are trying to pull the Queen Mary into dock. The educated/obedient horse flexes and follows the direction of the pull.

The uneducated horse will tend to raise his neck so that the muscles on the underside of it are large and more developed than what’s on top of the neck-to protect his mouth whenever he feels the bit. He may travel that way all of the time under saddle so he can evade the contact. His defensive, stiff stance freezes every muscle on his top line, from his poll to his tail. This shape affects each step he takes, making his trot jolting and difficult to sit.

Horses that yield to the bridle can also be recognized by his profile. His neck arches, his back relaxes allowing you to sit much deeper and more comfortably in the saddle. His hindquarters swing freely, his nose is relax just in front of the vertical (so his nose extends just forward of an imaginary line that runs from his ears to the ground) and he’s moving calmly in a consistent rhythm, then we could say that he’s giving to the bit.


Educating your horse’s mouth is an important part of your bomb proofing toolbox. Submitting to the bit is a way of making him obedient and help­ing him to relax. Score him a 3 if he responds to light contact; a 2 if he is not steady on contact; a 1 if he has a sluggish response to it; and a 0 if he pulls against you, ignoring your commands.


How does your horse accept the bit?

0       He constantly pulls, drags, and resists; unceasingly tosses his head; cannot tolerate the slightest rein pressure; grabs the bit; has an extremely insensitive mouth.

1        He has sluggish response to rein contact: will flex and bend, but only after a great deal of work.

2        Although not sluggish, he does not maintain steady, comfortable rein contact all of the time.

3       He flexes willingly; responds well to light rein contact.


Total your results for your horse

Assess Yourself

I remember Clint Eastwood declaring “a man has to know his limitations.” So should you.’ Taking stock of your abilities will help you have fun and keep you out of trouble. It’s not always easy to look at yourself critically and honestly, so you might want an instructor to assist you.


It takes years to develop into a talented rider, and though some people learn more quickly than oth­ers, sheer mileage in the saddle does count. Do you have the ability to get along with an array of equine personalities? Are you talented enough to “explain,” to even an uneducated horse, what you are asking for? Do you control your legs and hands well enough so that you don’t offend the most sensitive horses? Learning on one animal that you trust and know is fine for starting out, but riding different horses can be a real wake-up call. What if you climbed on a strange horse and tried to ride the same way as on your familiar horse? Would you be able to get the same outcome?

If you’ve just started riding and have ridden only a handful of horses, mark down a score of 0; if you’ve been riding for fewer than two years, or have ridden only a very limited number of horses put down a 1. If you have been consistently riding for at least ten years, and have ridden so many horses that you’ve lost count, you get a 3. If you’re some­where in the middle—an intermediate rider who has ridden many horses, perhaps—you earn a 2.


How long have you been riding, and how many different kinds of horses have you ridden?

0      You’ve just started riding: can walk, perhaps trot.

1       You’re a beginner: have been riding less than two years; have ridden a very limited (fewer than five) number of horses.

2       You’re an intermediate rider: returning to the saddle after a break of several years; ridden many different horses.

3       You’ve ridden consistently for at least 10 years; considered an experienced or professional-level rider; have lost count of how many horses you’ve ridden.


Strength and Fitness

Riding well takes agility, strength, and balance. It also takes a fair amount of sheer fitness. Your over­all athleticism will certainly affect your ability. Give yourself a 0 score if your favorite sport is eat­ing potato chips and a 3 if you’re fit and trim. You can rate yourself accordingly for all the fitness lev­els in between.



How physically strong and fit are you?

You are:

0       highly sedentary: have an injury that may affect your riding ability.

1        sedentary: no debilitating injury; cannot get on a horse from the ground without  assistance.

2        generally fit: can mount without assistance, but prefer to use a mounting block due to lack of strength and agility.

3        physically fit and active: no need for mounting block.


Experience at Training Horses

By “training,” I don’t necessarily mean bringing along upper-level eventers or advancing your mount to the stage where he can win a ribbon at the National Horse Show (though it’s great if you have that ability). The question is, have you ever taught new skills to a horse, like how to trail ride or jump a log on ground? Any training experience you’ve had adds to your skill level, because it assists you in understanding how horses react and think. It also helps you to judge the easiest ways to get the job accomplished.

If you’ve only ridden school horses, or your horses have always been more experienced than you, give yourself a 0. If you’re training your horse as you are learning (and feel it necessary to have a trainer in order to teach both yourself and your horse), score yourself a 1. If you have furthered the training of several horses, or are comfortable train­ing your horse without a trainer, you earn a 2. Pro­fessional trainers, and people who have started, and brought along multiple horses, get a 3.


What kind of experience do you have actually training a horse?

0     You have only ridden school horses or well-trained horses with more experience than you.

1      You are training your horse with the help of your trainer, as you yourself are progressing as a rider.

2      You are comfortable training your horse without the assistance of a trainer.

3       You have trained horses from unbroken foals to experienced competition horses or worked with a variety of horses with different problems or bad habits.


Dedication and Patience

Horses thrive on repetition and continuity. A sys­tem reassures horses with its reliability. Dressage riders perfect movements through endless repeti­tion.

While a car may perform the same way no mat­ter how it was driven the last time, a horse is alive. Your horse has a memory, and he knows what has been proven safe and what has not been proven safe. Adapting a horse to frightening objects often takes patience, time, persistence, and repetition.

If you are impatient and just want to just get on and go and have your horse get over his problems yesterday, you’ll have a much harder time schooling him (give yourself a 0 score). If you have patience and the temperament to work until he is confi­dent—even if it takes longer than you think it should—give yourself a 3. If you’re somewhere in between, score yourself accordingly.



How patient are you?

You are:

0     very impatient: apt to use whip or spurs at the slightest provocation; dislike repetitive tasks; want to move on quickly to the next issue.

1      fairly patient: able to work through issues; look for the quick solution to problems.

2     patient: able to work through issues, but get frustrated after ten or fifteen minutes.

3       very patient and able to work through problems using repetitive tasks.


Ability to Read Your Horse

Can you feel it coming, or are you caught off guard when your horse “blows up”? Okay, so you know he’s going to spook when you hack past the same scary “post thing” that always makes him shy—but that’s your experience talking. How about the time when he was suddenly five feet off the ground? Did you anticipate that one?

The best rider is the one who is attentive to his horse. How do you score? Can you recognize each muscle twitch? Do you watch him? Notice if his ears are riveted forward, his nostrils flared? Do you catch when he edges sideways, skin trembling, and feel what his body’s doing?

The better you are in this category, the easier you’ll find the bomb proofing program. A

certain amount of jumpiness is just “being a horse.” This is because horses are “prey animals” and have being eaten by cougars and bears for millions of years.

If you’re always surprised by your horse’s behavior, give yourself a 0, and if you feel that you usually know what he’s going to do before he does it, give yourself a 3.


How well can you predict your horse’s behavior? This is a tough question, so there are only two answers to choose from.

0     You are constantly surprised by your horse’s bad behavior, easily intimidated, and unable to formulate an effective response when the horse does something unexpected.

3      You possess a strong ability to predict your horse’s behavior, and even in new or unusual situations, you have an idea of what your horse is going to do.



This is the big one! Do you ride comfortably or are you like a cat on a hot tin roof? Do you love just being around horses, but when it comes to actually riding you find excuses how not too? The more confident you are the more positive the body language and better the horse will mirror you. Are you self assured? If not the good new is that through positive experiences both you and the horse will learn and improve.


Get some lessons; find a friend to help you. Hack your “greenie” out with more experienced horses. Ride a seasoned horse and let someone else ride yours. But, do something! Riding can be fun and rewarding, an affair worth repeating again and again. Confidence produces enjoyment, which pro­duces more confidence—a much healthier cycle.

However, you need to rate how you currently feel. If just thinking about saddling-up brings a lump to your throat and makes your guts twist, give yourself a 0. If you are only confident in limited sit­uations—you only ride in the riding ring, for exam­ple, or only with others; or only wish to get on certain horses with a specific temperament—give yourself a 1. If you have some anxiety about school­ing your horse, but only in challenging or new cir­cumstances, give yourself a 2. If you are pretty sure you can handle most situations successfully, and think about riding your horse with eagerness and pleasure, give yourself a 3.


How confident are you when you get on your horse?

You are:

0        not at all confident riding your horse.

1          confident in limited situations—only in the riding ring, riding with others, or riding cer­tain horses, for example.

2          confident, though perhaps some confidence issues—falling off in the past, for example— may limit your effectiveness.

3          very confident.







Please contact:
Jo Sheval for more details
0478 7111 80
45 Connors Lane, Seville VIC 3139, Australia