Fifteen tips for starting young horses

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Horse Quick Tips

Whether you are a novice or professional, there’s a lot the horse you are working with can teach you about communications. Keep it safe, fun, engaging and interesting for both of you and you’ll be amazed at how much more effective short and collaborative lessons can be than long sessions you dictate alone. Below are some tips for drawing out your horse and making the process easier and safer for you as you begin the challenge of preparing your horse for tack and a rider while you forge a foundation for an exciting human equine/partnership that encourages performance beyond expectations.

  1. Stay away from formula approaches – customize a program – and each day – to respond to the horse’s proclivities with collaborate strategies (listen to your horse) designed to move forward vs. get you stuck in combative behavior.
  2. Know your horse – recognize her moods and be ready to alter the day’s plan to strive for a good and quick end to the lesson. Choose approaches that your horse can understand and enjoy given his particular issues and personality.
  3. There’s no such thing as too much ground work – the more you do prior to hopping aboard to gain the confidence, trust, understanding and cooperation of your horse before you begin to ride him, the easier this next phase will be for both of you.
  4. Limit time in the round pen – drilling or exhausting a horse in a small circular pen will not only lead to frustration and boredom, but can also create permanent soundness issues.
  5. Hit the trails – hills, varied terrain, wildlife, water and interesting scenery provide a great venue for building the confidence, trust and dependability of a young equine. This can be a wonderful early training approach once you have basic stop, steering and go cues understood.
  6. Go it alone – while company can be an easy early training crutch, this tends to create a horse focused on other equines for direction and confidence, taking the focus off you. This can lead to later challenges with barn sour or herd bound behavior.
  7. Patience and kindness trump egocentric demands – most horses will react better to someone who offers the time and understanding to process requests, responding to horse feedback over one who bullies them into compliance.
  8. End quickly and on a good note – it’s best to keep early lessons brief (both on the ground and under saddle) in a way that encourages the horse to follow requests, rewards them for their effort and ends with a quick win prior to pushing the horse too hard toward frustration.
  9. Belly over a horse for the first day or two – this keeps you safe and delays the added concern of you towering over the horse’s head (instinct can cause the horse to view you as a predator in this position). Getting your young horse used to carrying weight at a standstill and walking off with a moving load (many horses will react more dramatically to a person on their backs once they start moving than when they are still) in a way that is less threatening and easy for you to dismount unencumbered can ease the horse into harder lessons and save the time required to settle a horse that’s been traumatized.
  10. Get them away from the herd – you want to set the stage for your young horse to view training time with his focus on you. This can be tougher if the herd is in sight. Find a place on your property (or move the other horses into the barn or further away from your working area) where you can reduce the distraction buddies provide.
  11. Establish a training area that’s designated for work – don’t use the pasture you turn your horse out in as an arena for training. Conversely, don’t use your work area for recreation. Horses seem to appreciate a specified area that allows them to relax and another that signifies it’s time for your job.
  12. Try to stick to a schedule – horses thrive best (because they’re most comfortable) with a routine that they can expect and embrace. Pick a time to train and try to stay consistent. If you make training fun, you’ll find your mount waiting at the gate excited about the expected training lesson.
  13. Discover what your horse enjoys most – use this as a reward (try to avoid the temptation to offer treats for tricks) as praise for good work or an activity to end a session.
  14. Show your horse you care enough to return the respect – respect goes both ways and that means you need to be able to show your horse you hear him, even if you don’t agree. Give him the courtesy of listening and acknowledging before you levy demands.#
  15. Enjoy the ride – if you work toward trust and understanding in early lessons as you customize strategies to reach your horse in ways he understands and appreciates, you’ll be shocked at what he’ll do in return to please and protect you. Sometimes just a simple acknowledgement of the horse’s perspective can turn a frightened, frustrated or belligerent horse into a steed excited about pleasing and exceeding expectations. Pause the next time you have a ‘failure to communicate’ with your horse and consider the possibility he simply doesn’t understand. Corrections are fine when warranted, but most are too quick to blame the horse. Most equines will embrace your request if posed in a way that makes sense to them. Horses allowed to contribute to solutions will make you proud. Respect goes both ways.

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