Horse training can be fun and rewarding, but, if you are working with a youngster, you need expertise, knowledge, an even temperament and patience for it to be a success. If you have not worked with a young horse before, it is not wise to train it alone. Instead, work with a respected professional so that mistakes are avoided. This will turn out to be a sound investment in the long term. Additionally, stick to some basic guidelines to stay safe. For example, always wear a helmet and body protector or air jacket while working with a youngster as even the most chilled can occasionally be unpredictable. Also remember:
Your horse is totally unspoilt so it is essential that you employ the correct training methods from the get-go. Be fair but firm and don’t allow him to get away with bad behaviour, which can quickly build into bad habits that are hard to shake off. Also make sure that your own riding is up to scratch so that the aids you are giving are immediately understandable and not confusing.
Young horses are cheaper than ‘made’ ones for a reason — horse training takes countless hours of hard work and expertise. If done correctly, the end result is intensely satisfying.
A youngster should be handled from the ground regularly from a very young age and also desensitised at home. Being exposed to noise and things he might meet on a hack — from flapping plastic bags to tractors — in the yard environment where he feels safe will mean that he is less likely to have a ‘flight’ response while on a ride. Be prepared to handle, groom and lunge your youngster every day, maybe more than once a day if his temperament dictates it.
Lunging is an incredibly useful tool for young horses and is ideal for removing excess energy before you mount. Long reining is another useful method that many professionals employ prior to backing.
Young horses need a consistent routine, which means that you will need to set aside several hours every day for at least three months. Following a short period of intense training with turn out just won’t work. Consider, too, the time of year that you want to begin. Winter days are short and the weather unpredictable, so the summer months are the perfect time to kick-start the programme. Choose a safe environment, like an indoor school, for the first training sessions.
Before you commence your post-backing training regime, ensure that the horse’s feet and teeth are in good order and that his tack fits well. Employ the services of a saddle fitter as a saddle that pinches will cause discomfort and may prompt him to buck or even develop a phobia to being tacked up and ridden. Remember that, during training, his shape will change, so the fitter will need to be called back at regular intervals.
Be prepared for the horse to demonstrate high spirits during a training session. Don’t punish such behaviour unless he’s in the wrong — quashing a horse’s spirit does not make for a happy one — but work through it in a quiet and calm manner. Ensure, too, that you keep your lessons short so as not to tire your youngster.
When you take the horse away from the yard, make sure it is in the company of an older, more experienced and unflappable horse. He will help to give confidence to the youngster.
If you use a neck strap and the horse tries to dislodge you from the saddle, you will be less likely to jab him in the mouth. Avoid the temptation, too, to hold the reins too tight. He needs to be able to move forward on a light contact.
Work on getting the horse used to the aids, keep him in front of the leg and do plenty of transitions. Consider working him for four days a week in the school and hack him out for the other three to keep the regime interesting.