Developing Young Horses
Developing a young horse is a lot like raising a child. At least, I imagine it is, as I do not have any children. Young horses must have boundaries, they need to be rewarded and reprimanded when applicable, and they need to be set up for success.
It starts on the ground with a young horse, because often times how they act on the ground transfers over to when you ride them. For instance, when you lead a horse on the ground if they do not stop when you ask them to, they just keep rooting and dragging you; they are going to do the same thing when you get on them. Setting boundaries means teaching the horse what is right, and what is wrong, and you need to be definitive in your teaching. You cannot tell a young horse one day that it is okay to stop at a jump or ignore the ask for a downward transition, but then the next day get after them for doing the same thing. I see this so many times even with older horses where people will let them get away with something one day but then be mad at them the next day for doing the exact same thing. How can you expect the horse to know what the difference between the days is? In my opinion you are kinder to the horse when you set definitive boundaries and stick to those boundaries and reward and reprimand them accordingly. As the rider or handler you also need to be honest with yourself in knowing your capabilities and knowing when you need to ask for help. It is not fair to the horse if you don’t know how to ask for something and you are “yelling” at them for not doing what you are asking.
On that note, you must praise the horse and let them know when they do something well. For instance, depending on the age and youngness of the horse I may only do an exercise one time if they do it well so that they can end on a positive note and to reward them. I also see people that don’t let a horse know when it has done something wrong and I think when that happens the person is actually being meaner to the horse. Equate it to a child, if you let your child back talk to you continuously and never reprimand them for doing so they are most likely going to do that same thing one day to a teacher or a boss. When that teacher or boss fires them or gives them a detention the child is going to be honestly confused about what they did wrong because no one ever reprimanded them to teach them they were behaving improperly. I truly love my horses and I would never hurt them or maliciously reprimand them, but I do let them know without any anger or emotion when they have pushed the boundaries and done the wrong thing.
In talking with athletes all the time you hear one of the most important elements to their success is their confidence. When they walk on the field, or the court, or into the ring they go in 100% believing they are going to win or have a real shot at winning. It is the same thing for a horse; they need to walk into the ring having full faith in themselves that they can conquer any obstacle set in their path. To create this feeling you need to develop the basics and rideability in your young horse and then do exercises at home that challenge them in a safe environment. You can take the hardest exercises and break them down into steps to “build” your horses education and then build up to completing those hard exercises. The most important fundamentals are:
· responsiveness to your leg or willingness to go forward
These are basics that constantly need to be grown and developed, but then you need to do exercises that work them to see how strong your horse is at using these fundamentals.
Developing a young horse is a continuous process and both you and the horse will never stop learning and growing. Remember every time you work with your horse you are teaching them and make sure to let them know you appreciate and love them!