An overview of the starting process and what I include in a young horse’s early ridden education.
The process of starting young horses under saddle is when we give our horses their first impressions of being ridden, so we want to make a good one for them to go on to enjoy their ridden careers! There are many different methods that are used with good results, but all should be carried out in a methodical way with the trainer being calm, consistent and decisive in their messages they are giving to the horse.
I start over 150 horses a year at my centre in Kent, so I have developed my own system that I adapt to suit each individual horse. The main aim when starting a horse is to teach them to deal with fear and how they can overcome their natural ‘flight’ instinct. This is done through repetition of desensitising techniques starting on the ground when I first handle them, through to being ridden with all sorts of things flapping round them! As a result of a lack of fear, I can then start to develop the horse’s rhythm and relaxation, looking for a low head carriage allowing them to travel forwards without tension.
Within two or three weeks I will aim to be hacking the horse around the farm on their own and in company, opening and closing gates, popping small logs and developing walk, trot and canter work in the arena. From then on, it is about exposing the horse to different environments and situations whilst maintaining obedience of movement in order for them to go on to successful ridden careers in whichever discipline they are destined for.
By the nature of their individuality there is no set time scale for training sessions or a horse’s progress. However, I am often asked how I generally work with horses so here is a guide.
I allow a maximum of 30 minutes active training (not including rest times) per session. This time will be less depending on the experience and fitness of the horse. I find that a horse will start to switch off after this and you will have to do more ‘telling’ than ‘asking.’ If you are not achieving your responses in this time then you may not have prepared your horse correctly through the steps required up to that point, or your technique may need some work.
I like to work with horses in five consecutive training sessions a week. With young horses I am starting, I break their first year up into periods of work. I allow four to six weeks for the ‘starting’ part, where I introduce basic groundwork, a saddle and rider. In this time they will have played with obstacles in the arena and gone on lots of hacks incorporating real life obstacles such as gates, ditches and other horses. I then recommend to owners that the horse have around a month off. This allows the horse’s body and mind to adjust and settle. Following another six to eight weeks’ training they have a second month off. From that point on their work schedule is built on a horse-by-horse basis with periods of learning / work and rest. I use the human school year as a rough guide line, or the horse’s future competition schedule and build in term time and holidays around that.