Young Horse Training Tip #2: Keep Lessons Short

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Try it. Give it a few weeks, or even better, a couple of months. You’ll be shocked at how quickly your young horse surpasses the neighbor’s project being drilled for hours a day. It may not make sense to you, nor be the norm at the training facility down the road, but it works.

Young horses can’t process much more than 15 minutes of new stuff in any given session. Your goal shouldn’t be to load a month’s worth of training into the first few days. You’ll brag about your horse’s first-week’s progress then wonder why he sours to training before you hit the 30 day mark.

Think long-term as you try to justify drill-sessions that leave you and your horse frustrated about ending on a bad note (or exhausted after fighting for the win – you’ll pay for that tomorrow).

Training should be fun for both of you.

If you don’t make it easy for your horse to understand what you want, he’ll stop trying.

Young Horse Training quick tip#2. Find one  every day on the Horse Sense and Cents Pinterest board or expanded bi-weekly at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comMore importantly, give him a chance to do it right (one thing is enough for young minds – then quit).

Young horses tend to get very excited when they learn something new that pleases you. It’s important to offer praise immediately (what this is will depend on your horse – food treats are not a good reward for young horses – see Young Horse Training Tip Seven for more on this).

If you adopt a totally disciplinary approach to training, your horse will come to resent training or, worse, shut down his mind to docilely follow your commands. That’s not a good horse to trust to get you out of trouble. Consider, instead, offering acknowledgement for the tries for faster and long-lasting results than what punishment for bad acts will bring.

Stern horse handling has its place

That’s not to say there aren’t times when it’s appropriate to be swift and firm with a correction. You’ll see this done in the herd all the time. It’s rarely necessary during training time, though, with a horse that’s been handled properly prior to saddling up. If you’re dealing with aggressive behavior, consider going back to ground work (your horse needs a better foundation).

Even ground work should be brief, but there are times when it can’t be. As an example, we had a two-year-old filly ship into the farm that unloaded from the trailer, proceed to mow down the person leading her to barn then happily ran loose, celebrating her triumph.

The owners laughed, noting she did that all the time at home. While there are few, some rules are firm at Halcyon Acres®. Basic manners are among them. That was the last time she went outside before learning to lead politely.

It took two hours in sweltering heat and stifling humidity the following day before she decided to accept what she already knew as proper behavior. This gal was a very strong alpha and had become extremely dangerous having learned her size (she was big) permitted her to be a belligerent bully.

All that was asked (we did add some equipment to get control but the only time pressure occurred was when she created it) was for her to wait to exit the barn until invited to do so. She threw tantrums rivaling the most determined terrible two-year-old child.

Backing at break-neck speed, rearing, striking, charging and attacking were in her arsenal. She wound through the barn isles, up and down steps backwards, into the shavings bin (we had a large area inside downstairs to deposit sawdust from upstairs), around stalls, into the rafters (those low barn ceilings provide a wonderful deterrent for manipulative flippers) and through obstacles not strong enough to withstand her force. The entire process involved quiet and calm insistence, but no aggression (from the human – the horse was quite another story).

Eventually (she was literally dripping wet), she understood. We never had a problem leading this mare again.

Of course, that’s an unusual situation and one a novice should never try to undertake. The point is, sometimes, finishing a lesson requires longer than ideal. It’s a rarity, though, if you’re working with a horse that hasn’t been taught by some other human to act out in dangerous ways.

If your project starts as a foal, make sure you set some fair limits early. It’s a lot tougher when they get big (in this mare’s case, she was over 16hh already, agile, strong and unruly). It’s not funny to have more than 1000 lbs. trampling over the top of you because someone else found this cute when they were littler.

Why drill young horse?

You’re probably wondering why you should adopt a short lesson approach to training your young horse when so many training stables start young horses under saddle with hour-long sessions from day one.

Understand, people paying for the service wouldn’t likely feel the fee is justified if riding time was limited to fifteen minutes – or five. This is a lucrative aspect of most equine establishments. Keeping the owners happy often supersedes horse sense. Sadly, this approach tends to produce quick short-term results with lingering long-term problems.

When owners can come out and watch their young horses doing an hour’s worth of work, they see the investment justified. Most aren’t knowledgeable horsemen (otherwise they’d be doing the work themselves). They don’t realize a juvenile equine mind can’t absorb as much as their older kin. Nor do they recognize conditioning growing bodies with long drills will do more harm than good.

With a little bit of knowledge (some say this can be a dangerous thing), owners put demands on facility owners based on what they think should be right. Facility owners put pressure on trainers to ensure the revenue keeps coming in from repeat clients. This means incorporating expectations into training regimens. Or, they don’t think much and simply do what most others are doing.

What’s a good young horse training alternative?

For both engaging young equine minds with short rides and conditioning in a safe way, hills and trails are fantastic. You can spend five or ten minutes for the first week or two (you’ll spend additional time on the ground prior to heading out) traversing a trail head with a clear boarder. Even if you just go 100 yards, that’s fine. Keep it simple and feel safe so both of you come back home feeling accomplished.

Once you put a bit of a mouth on a horse (stop, turn – this can be done on the ground first with long lines) and you get enough response to the leg so your horse understands move forward and how yield as a backup for steering, it’s likely the trails will be a much better place to keep you both happy than an arena or worse, a round pen.

Trails are great for engaging a young horse’s mind. They also offer a challenge he can feel proud about accomplishing. Add hills and you can put a great bottom on a horse doing only walk and trot.

The other great thing about working a young horse on the trails is you can let the horse decide when he’s comfortable trotting or cantering while carrying your weight. Forcing this in an arena makes it much tougher. On the trails, a horse will naturally ask to progress into a faster gait the moment he feels ready. If you’re not, pull them back after you let them enjoy a few strides, but let them try and don’t punish them for the growing confidence they’re feeling by slamming them in the mouth.

Spend five to fifteen minutes a day (every other day) as you start your young horse under saddle. Focus on a single, easy new task and you’ll be amazed how quickly your mount gets eager to learn something new to please you. Reward him for the tries so he understands what you want. Keep things interesting so he doesn’t get bored (or sore or sour) doing circles in an arena.

That horse you spent a total of 4-8 hours training under saddle last month compared to your neighbors 30-60+ will make you look brilliant by month two and three with how much faster he progresses.

Teach your horse to get excited about training time and he’ll surprise you with how smart, brave and eager he is to figure out what you want. That’s a much better horse to have than the one that hates training, distrusts humans and complies with servitude or launches initial resistance. The foundation you build with your young horse will last a lifetime. Make it short to make a lasting happy partnership.

Nanette Levin


Nanette Levin is a writer, author and equestrian specializing in young horse training and horses with issues. Look for Horse Sense & Cents titles on Amazon, Audible and other major online retailers.

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