Last November, “hot mess” was one of the Urban Dictionary‘s Words of the Day (I acknowledge that there’s a problem here, since “hot mess” is a phrase not a word, but it’s the Urban Dictionary, after all).  Here is the UD’s definition of this catchy phrase:

“When one’s thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty.”

I wish the phrase “hot mess” had been around when I was riding a lot of off-the-track thoroughbreds, since that community of live-cover-only offspring has more than its fair share of hot messes.  Before you get upset, let me make it clear:  I like a hot mess.

If I had to redefine the phrase as it applies in the horse world, I’d reword it as follows:

When a horse’s behavior or performance is in a state of disarray but he or she maintains an undeniable attractiveness or potential.

I like hot horses because training them to be “hot off the leg” is easy (hot=hot). You’ve got “forward” built in (for more on this, see my post of September 20th, “Forward – Say what?”). Expressiveness, and even brilliance, often come gratis with the hot horse.

But hot horses can also be a pain in the patootie.  (The Urban Dictionary defines “patootie” as “a nice word usually substituted for butt or ass.”)  Being a pain in the patootie manifests itself not only as rushing, bolting, studly neck-shaking, and playfully bucking, but all manner of shenanigans.  (Since we’re busy using off-label definitions, we might as well use off-label derivations as well, since the OED has nothing to say about shenanigans, but the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins says that the word’s likely origin is the Irish sionnachuighim — “I play the fox” or “I play tricks”).

If you’ve ever ridden a hot horse, you’ve heard the phrase “I play tricks” right through your saddle, I’m sure.  So what to do about the hot horse’s shenanigans?  I have a top ten list.

1.  Manage the problem while you’re not in the saddle.  Lots of turnout.  Room to run.  Preferably with others if you can manage to dispense with hind shoes. Free choice hay.  No sweet feed.

2.  Discover what you need to do to get your horse calm (remember L’Hotte’s “Calm, forward and straight”).  Maybe the only way you can get calm is to start work with your hot horse in trot.  Or in canter.  Work up (or should I say down?) gradually to what should ideally be your warmup — a 10 minute walk on a loose rein.

3.  Don’t be a prison guard — let your horse look around, and express himself a bit. Be a good friend and understand that your horse is a little edgy, a little anxious or maybe even a Type A.  That’s okay.  Be a role model for calm focus and stay cool.  You can’t take too many breaks.  When you do take a break, try walking on a loose rein or standing to let things “soak.”

4.  Don’t get sucked in.  When you’re with your horse, on the ground or in the saddle, the agenda is yours.  (See above, though; don’t be a prison guard.)   Don’t fight the misbehavior.  Correct and move on.  Don’t take any of it personally.  Smile, laugh or sing if you can.

5.  Be brave.  If being on a hot horse scares you, work on it.  But work on it somewhere else than on your horse’s back.

6.  Voltes (or small circles) are your friends.  If your horse is rushing and your half-halts meet with “la la la, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!,” ride a volte.  Voltes are easier when horses are balanced, so horses end up trying to rebalance themselves and that slows them down naturally.

7.  Be the kind of partner everyone wants — reliable but also fun and creative. Keep your sessions interesting, with lots of different figures, lengthenings, changes of venue, cavaletti, jumping, liberty work (hot horses love liberty work).  Transitions in and out of gaits are useful and important, but try not to live there (overdo it, or do it tactlessly, and you’ll drive your hot horse insane). If you feel up to it and there’s a place to do it, there’s nothing like a good gallop.

8.  Lunging is a great tool, but not to get the energy out.  That won’t work with a hot horse.  Most hot horses have “no bottom,” as they say.  If you get them fit, or God forbid, eventing fit, on top of it, you’ll just add fuel to the fire. But lunging is a great tool for focus and freedom (leave off the sidereins) and the ritual can be calming to a hot horse.

9.  Make sure your hot horse isn’t rushing away from pain.  Let your vet know what’s going on and test for ulcers if you suspect that’s a problem.  Vets with a focus on holistic medicine can rebalance your horse with alternative remedies (Dr. Xie’s Jingtang Herbal has Shen Calmer…and there are lots of Shen Calmer containers holding hardware in my boyfriend’s shop).  Maybe your horse has a magnesium deficiency.  Maybe one of the other calming supplements would help.  They’re finding out that Omega 3 deficiency may be linked to ADHD; why not try Wellpride?

10.  Finally, embrace the power.  Enjoy it and see where it can take you.