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Thursday, 11 May 2017

Top 5 Things I've Learnt with a Young Horse

Firstly, I do not, in any way claim to be an established producer of young horses! Louie is my first proper young horse - taking him from a freshly backed rising 4 year old to where he is in his training today (which is still a work in progress, & always will be!)

I've created this post based on what I've learnt along the way, as well as being able to understand a lot of the learning curves I took with Buddy (a previous horse I bought as a 5 year old) that at the time, I couldn't get my head around.

Having a young horse is a lot of fun, a lot of reward, a lot of hard work and a lot of learning.

Would I do it all again? YES!

Here's my top 5 things that I've learnt along the way while training, handling, competing & enjoying my young horse.

Be patient - don't be in a rush

Top tip: never compare your young horse to another. Whether it be on age, type or anything else, every young horse is different - treat them according to this.

I'd always intended to have a go at some BYEH & YH eventing classes. The reality of this was somewhat different, and for no negative reason. Young horses develop at different rates - some arrive and are a strong as an ox, some much weaker that even a docile day in the field will make them sleepy! 

Manage your horse to what level and rate its development is at, that includes its mental development. Just because we think a horse should be doing a certain thing in its work, doesn't mean it it will. 

Have patience to get to your end goal, whatever that maybe, and be prepared to accept that you may only get there taking baby steps - you (& your horse) will reap the rewards in the future. 

It's not just about working your, but everything, from standing tied up to leading up to the field, a young horse needs to be taught these things - it's not just a given.

View the world through their eyes

Remember, in their training, everything is new & even though we can understand and see the wider context, they just don't yet.

As you progress through your training, you have to accept that they see the same thing many, MANY different way. Take a cone in an arena - walking on the left rein, fine. But when they come back on the right, yes, they really do think it has monsters around it!!

The same goes for when you're out hacking - not everything is the same day to day, or even season to season. A usually luscious green bush can become terrifying when it's changed to brown and rustles in the wind with its dying leaves!

Remember that these sorts of thing are essentially new to them, and while their reactions will be become less severe as they grow in confidence & trust, you should keep in the back of your mind they are flight v fight animals.

Bonding is very much not just about cuddles...

From my experience, building a strong bond with absolute trust and understanding has been key with Louie. This has included much more than just a good brush and his normal ridden work. 

Our relationship was a bit rocky at times in the six to nine months - I found it hard to not compare Louie to Buddy or Thomas, and was almost terrified to make a mistake with him. All this meant was that as soon as our training plateaued or took a step back, I had a mini melt down!

Actually, I didn't need to.

You cannot learn without making a mistake. This meant that we focused on more than just the ridden training - we worked over poles on the ground in-hand, we hand grazed, we 'played' in the arena loose, & while I had a broken ankle, I managed to teach Louie to fetch!!!

All of these thing help towards your relationship for the long term. They help towards becoming a team, trusting & understanding each other, as well as really starting to know how the other will behave.

For anyone on livery, one of the best things I did for my bond with Louie, was to move to DIY. This only came about due to changes on the yard, but I'm SO glad it did! It's allowed me to spend much more time with and around Louie, while also enabling him to be put into a full & consistent independent routine.

"There isn't always a box to think outside of..."

OK, so this is pinched from one of my instructors!! 

Sometimes you have to think outside of the box to help you find an answer to a challenge... But sometimes, there just is NO box to think outside.

What does this mean?

Well, basically, don't be put off by quirks or challenges that no one on your yard or support team have come across... There will be an answer and a way of working through it. You just need to disconnect, look at what is in front of you, why is the challenge happening, and what do you need to take away/add in to overcome it.

So now you've done that, don't be pulled into thinking that's it! Next week it might return, or a different challenges arises.

Keep it simple - look at what's going on (& don't be in a rush to overcome it!)

I think this is one of the biggest learning curves for me, and wished I had experienced for myself years ago. Horses aren't machines driven by formulas - just because it worked for someone else or another horse don't think that gives it an instant success rate. Try it, adapt it, and work it through!

Naughty horse just don't exist

So, maybe this is technically broader than just young horses, but something I have come to stand by and completely agree with.

Horses can love life and have character, but I think riders are too quick to say a horse is being naughty. 

Why is it being naughty? Because it isn't doing what we want, in the way we want it to? 

Keeping to young horses... In the very early stages of their ridden work, they have NO clue what to do. So how do they know NOT to do it? 

Simply, they don't. The way in which they express themselves may come across to us as naughty, but really what are they telling us - this comes right down to simply "laziness".

Do they fully understand what is being asked of them? If the answer is yes, we must be 100% confident that they have been accurately schooled to meet this requirement.

How do we know that they aren't in pain, or finding something stiff to carry out? A full MOT of your horse before diagnosing them as naughty is highly beneficial, especially as often work can help an issue such as stiffness to improve. But we wouldn't want to work them into a pain barrier causing longer term issues.

I recently saw a very good post on "naughty" horses shared on Facebook - it's an interesting read and gives you plenty of food for thought!

If you really believe that your horse is naughty, make sure you ask all the right questions first - after all, they might think you're being naughty asking what you are!! 😉

Thinking of having a young horse?

If you're thinking about having a young horse, like I say, they can be a lot of fun & are very rewarding. But they are hard work, and they do require a certain level of consistency. 

Here's my top three tips for if you're considering it.

  1. Make sure you have a good & experienced support network around you for when you need some advice or a different opinion
  2. Don't over horse yourself - while this might be hard to judge at the start, it's key make sure you & the horse are compatible. So if you're looking to enjoy sedate hacks around the open fields, try not to get a type that is typically high energy and need a faster pace & higher work load in their life
  3. Take you time in your search. There are HUNDREDS of young horses for sale out there - always ask why they are for sale. Wait for the moment that when you meet a horse, you just get that feeling. Heading to view Louie, I was convinced he was too small, too stocky & too grey, yet upon seeing him, I just got a feeling I hadn't had before!
Don't forget - enjoy your young horse too!! I have not got a young horse to produce, sell on and make money - I hope to have Louie forever. My main focus is to enjoy him and have fun together 💕

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