Net Curtain Syndrome

Net Curtain Syndrome. We all know humans who suffer from it. Like Harry Potter`s Aunt Petunia, they know all about the ins and outs of the lives of their neighbours, work colleagues, shop assistants, local barmen, everyone.

Horses also suffer from this ailment. Do you know of one?

Matt has a classic case of Net Curtain Syndrome, but I also know a few other horses who have degrees of the syndrome.

How do you know your horse is a sufferer? Firstly, how much attention and focus does he pay to you when you are working with him? Is he solely concentrating on you or does his mind wander to watch the horses in nearby fields, or the person walking across the yard?

Horses with a short attention span, one who is easily distracted, will show this most frequently in the halt. When you ride forwards to halt, they stop, but turn their head to immediately look at something outside the arena. Then when you ask them to move off again it takes a couple of asks for them to respond. There is also nothing worse then cantering towards a jump and they suddenly become more interested in the horse walking past!

If you have a horse who suffers from Net Curtain Syndrome the best thing to do is to confront the issue and consistently teach them that when you are working with him it is paramount that he focuses entirely on you.

When you are actively riding, in the school, and something triggers a loss of attention (perhaps a horse cantering around his field) the best way to stop your horse getting to carried away at watching or joining in is to act like a demanding toddler.

Toddlers are renowned for being very self-orientated – “me, me, me!” – so repeatedly bring your horse`s attention back to you. Pretend you are pulling the apron strings on a busy Mum (old fashioned I know, I don’t think I know anyone who wears an apron on a regular basis). If you are a parent I`m sure you can relate to this irritating situation.

When your horse`s focus has begun to drift, circle. Or make a transition. Ride a shallow loop, or a serpentine. Expect a good quality movement, and instant response; and your horse will rapidly realise that his attention is better concentrated on you and your wishes, rather than what is going on across the field.

Once you establish that instead of reprimanding your horse when they lose concentration, you just redivert their attention, and your schooling sessions are busy enough, and mentally taxing, to keep your horse`s focus, they will soon learn that there is no point daydreaming and gazing outside the arena.

If you have a horse who really suffers from Net Curtain Syndrome then you try to ride at quiet times of the day. After all, it`s far easier to avoid the problem! But this doesn’t help you at competitions. So you need to expose your horse to different situations, and different distractions.

Take an easy exercise, that`s well within your comfort zone, and ride it in the arena while a distraction, such as the morning turnout, is happening. The work itself is easy, so you can focus your efforts on keeping your horses focus. By doing this frequently your horse should soon learn to work in all conditions. So long as you are paying very little attention to the distraction, it shouldn`t affect your work.

My Mum has a goal to work on with Matt now that he`s home. She is going to work on keeping his attention. When you are schooling him, or hacking, he is pretty good at ignoring most things – he is much better when you yourself aren’t paying any attention to it. Matt`s weak areas are his walk, any stretching, and halt. That’s when he is most likely to peer about. It`s what lost us a couple of marks in our last dressage test. We were trotting a twenty metre circle, allowing him to stretch, when the next competitor came into sight. The second half of the circle consisted of Matt sticking his head up, looking out, and me rapidly picking up the reins so I could minimise the negative effect on our next movement. In the final halt, he also looked at that competitor. To overcome this little issue, Matt needs to do lots of walking, free rein, halt transitions, with the ethos that he must remain focused. Hopefully with this consistency, he will soon stop trying to look around. After all, if he never succeeds then why try?

Net Curtain Syndrome can be frustrating, but by working on it, having consistent standards, keeping your horse`s mind busy, and ensuring you don’t let your mind wander either, it can be minimised.

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