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Soldier - My Greatest Teacher

Jo Thompson

Where it all started
Age 15 and with limited funds I went looking for a new horse. In the advert he sounded perfect and despite him showing some early warning signs of nappiness when we went to see him, he was mine two days later. Love at first sight....
Where it went wrong
From day one Soldier proved to be much more than we could handle. He had only been to a breakers yard for a few weeks and didn’t even know the basics. After two weeks we were ready to sell him.
My then instructor gave me a couple of lessons which involved lots of bullying and whipping. All this achieved was a terrified and even more nervous horse. We ended her tutelage but sadly the damage was already done.
We spent the next few weeks just hacking about and trying to avoid more confrontation. Another instructor, who had taught me at Pony Club camp, came to see Soldier suggested hacking him over the winter and then re-evaluating the situation.
The wilderness years
We decided to keep Soldier over the winter to see whether he calmed down. He didn’t, but by then I wasn’t going to give him up. He continued to be extremely nervous and impossible to handle and ride. He was very nappy and would rear, spin and buck like no other.
Over the next few years I tried a number of instructors as I was keen to do more dressage. They all started out by saying they used nice, gentle techniques but quickly grew exasperated with us both and ended up insisting that violence was the answer. The last of this bad lot was a very well known local trainer who suggested I get some spurs sharpened and then kick Soldier until he bled. I can remember her being very angry when I walked out of the lesson – I was not about to make the same mistake twice and let someone who was supposedly knowledgeable do more damage.
The turning point
This is when I started to investigate alternative methods and more than 12 years later I have been rewarded with a very special horse with whom I have a great relationship. Since those early days I have had help from a few understanding instructors to improve our dressage. In particular, Katherine who persuaded me to keep him all those years ago and remains a very good friend.
Soldier can still be unpredictable and highly explosive on very rare occasions but I now know that I can deal with anything he does.
Vital statistics
Soldier is 22 years old this year and I have owned him since his 4th birthday. He is by a very good TB racehorse, Soldier Rose, and out of a top Highland, Lorna of Craegveon. He stands at 15.1hh.
Soldier has always lived out 24/7, always with company and until very recently just on hay and grass. As he gets older he gets a few pony nuts pre-soaked in vegetable oil- he always used to heat up on any hard feed so wasn’t fed anything until well into his teens!
For several years I used various forms of bitless bridle  and also tried the cross-over form of bridle but for us the ‘whole head hug’ was a bit too claustrophobic. About a year ago I went back into a bit and have found that Soldier’s dressage and way of going has improved hugely. He does have a Prolite headpiece on his bridle to reduce the pressure behind his ears. He wears a Wow saddle that has articulated, air filled panels for maximum comfort.


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