At a guess, I have started around 2,000 young horses over the past 20 years, and I always want to give each of them the best start to their ridden careers. With my Starting The Young Horse Course coming up at the end of this month, here are the answers to the most common questions I get asked about the process:
1. HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? Check out this short video clip, where I explain the timeline that use to start horses, and the importance of giving your horse breaks during the process, much like children in school.
2. HOW OLD SHOULD THE HORSE BE? Really, there is no standard answer. It depends on the physical maturity of the individual horse, and what discipline they are destined for. I most commonly get sent horses as 3 or 4 year olds, but I will advise accordingly if I feel they are not ready. Conversely, as a professional doing what can be a dangerous job, I have to say that I’d rather start a 17hh warmblood colt at 3 years old than as a strapping 6 years old stallion!
3. WHAT WORK SHOULD I DO BEFORE STARTING UNDER SADDLE? If you are sending a horse to us to be started, I actually prefer them to be under, rather than over handled! With my own young horses, I make sure they are safe to be around, and that they lead, load and can be seen to by the farrier, dentist and vet. Beyond that I leave them alone to grow up in the field with their mates! I understand that many people want to do some groundwork with their unbroken horse, which is great, as long as the horse maintains their respect and that the work is all about developing a forward and willing horse.
4. HOW DO YOU START HORSES UNDER SADDLE? Well, that would be giving away all my secrets! However, my whole foundation program, which can be also used as an A-Z to starting a young horse, can be followed via membership to www.yourhorsemanship.com/online!
5. WHAT WILL MY HORSE BE DOING AFTER 6 WEEKS AT YOUR HORSEMANSHIP? Everything we do is focused on producing a forward, willing and safe horse. We do not force them into an outline, we don’t expect them to go straight out and win a dressage test, but we do expect them to maintain a forward, balanced rhythm in all paces, be able to hack out on their own and in company, to canter across open fields and through woods, pop a fence, and be able to deal with spooky situations and, dare I say it, rider errors!
6. HOW MUCH SHOULD I DO WITH MY HORSE ONCE IT HAS BEEN STARTED? Put miles on the clock and keep mixing up your riding; a long, leisurely hack one day (of course, using your Huufe App!), a short schooling the next, throw in some groundwork, pole work and regular breaks – in short have fun! It is easy to lose confidence riding a young horse, so always make sure you plan you session and have a purpose – this way you are more likely to ride positively and this in turn makes your horse think “forward”. What I would advise against is doing too much, too soon, even if you’ve got Olympic potential on your hands! I get sent a number of young horses for re-education every year that have been produced to look stunning and command big bucks in the sale ring as 3 and 4 year olds, but have rarely stepped foot out of an arena. They have missed crucial steps in the starting process, which can lead to major problems down the line with their new owner. Think of what a top competition horse has to cope with in its career. How much more confident he will be if, as a young horse, he was trotting past tractors and sheep in the field without breaking stride, working in an arena with other horses without losing focus on the rider, and even having a polocrosse ball thrown around them without batting an eyelid!