Five Tips For Training Young Horses
Always start with ground training. Then work under saddle.
Here are five tips for working with young horses.
Tip #1: Don’t rush things.
Start warmbloods under saddle until they are about 4 years old. Most other breeds can be started at about 3 years of age.
Tip #2: Focus on ground work first.
Your goal is to develop a trusting and respectful relationship with your horse. Introduce the horse to the concept of flexing, stretching, yielding to pressure, and backing up.
Flexing: Introduce your horse to three common stretches that increase her flexibility. Hold a treat in front of your horse’s nose so that she detects its odor. Then bring the treat toward her left ribs so that she stretches his neck in order to reach it. Do the same on the right. Take the third treat down toward the ground in front of her so that she stretches her neck down to get it.
Yielding: Hold your horse by the halter. Then place your right fingers on his left side just behind his ribs. Apply short but firm nudges. You want to feel your horse’s ribs move away from pressure. Do the same on the right with your left hand. Once you feel that, practice apply a bit more pressure so that he moves sideways away from the pressure.
Backing Up: Apply pressure to his chest while pulling gently on the halter rope until he moves backward.
Tip #3: Longe Your Horse
The next step is to teach your horse to longe. Don’t skip this step. Longeing isn’t just a technique to “get the edge off” a horse before you ride her. It is a powerful training technique that teaches a horse how to balance herself, and helps build a strong topline. But don’t longe a young horse for more than 10 minutes per direction. It takes a lot of muscle strength and concentration for a horse to work in small circles. Don't work a horse under saddle in circles until he has the flexibility to maintain his balance on a circle while longeing. For most horses, this will come along quickly, in a few weeks to a month.
Be sure to longe your horse on a large circle (such as the width of a dressage arena). I recommend using a bridle rather than a halter, and using a technique that also teaches a horse to accept contact with the bit. BUT (and this is crucially important) you must have soft, receptive hands in order to do this.
The technique involves walking up and down the center of the arena as the horse circles around you. This is easier on a young horse because he travels on a straight line briefly as you walk him up and down the arena. Your goal is to keep a steady soft contact on the bit as he circles around you so that he comes to accept bit contact as a safe and comfortable place to be. Here are two articles on how to do this:
Tip #4: Under saddle, develop an elastic contact and a following seat
Your main goal when working a young horse under saddle is to focus on allowing the horse to go forward and shaping that energy. If you find yourself hauling on the reins a lot to slow him down, you're teaching him that the bit is a frustrating nasty thing.
Use Half Halts Frequently: To slow the horse us a half halt. No, that doesn't mean pulling on the reins half way. Here are two articles on how to executive an effective half halt that will rebalance your horse and slow him down by shifting his weight back toward his haunches.
How To Half Halt Your Horse
How To Control Your Horse's Speed
Rising Trot: At rising trot, changing the tempo of your posting to drive the horse forward to slow him down. Do lots of changes of direction, circles, and trotting over a single pole in order to keep her mind engaged. Young horses are busybodies and get bored easily. Mix it up to keep her attention. If you're having trouble with rising trot, these articles will help:
How to Post On The Correct Diagonal
What's The Difference Between Working, Medium, Extended, and Collected Trot?
I can't stress this enough: Focus on “offering the bit”, that is, making your contact so pleasant the horse reaches forward to re-establish contact if you move your hands forward. Here is an article on how to do this:
How To Develop an Elastic Contact
How to Get Your Horse to Stretch Down Under Saddle
Introduce canter only after the horse goes quietly at trot, keeping himself balanced on circles, and responding quickly and effectively to your aids. Then introduce sitting trot. Canter and sitting trot require you to have a secure and following seat. Otherwise, all you're going to do is beat up the horse's back and your own bottom in the saddle. Here is an article on how to do that effectively:
Three Secrets to a Secure Seat
Tip #5: Use lower level dressage movements to develop strength, balance, and flexibility
Once your horse is trotting and cantering in balance, practice some of the dressage movements at training and first level. Ride circles, figure eights, ride deep into corners while making sure your horse bends around your leg to make the turns, ride "stretchy circles" where the horse "chews the reins out of the hands" by stretching down while maintaining a circle at trot and canter, leg yield your horse, and practice shoulder fore. You can learn more about these here:
How To Ride a Perfect Stretchy Circle
Shoulder-Fore: The First Step to Straightening Your Horse
How Do You Leg Yield A Horse?
Copyright April 20, 2018 Denise Cummins, PhD
The Thinking Equestrian
Denise Cummins has over 30 years experience as an equestrian and horse business owner. In The Thinking Equestrian, she shares valuable tips on caring for and training horses, giving riding instruction, and running a successful horse business.