Young horse training is an art that works best when you cast aside the lesson plan and listen to your horse. Often a horse that’s labeled spooky or timid or uncooperative or afraid isn’t. They’ve been taught to react this way by the humans who have touched them. Yes, horses are naturally flight animals (although our eight-year-old Thoroughbred farmhand Cowboy would beg to differ on this point), but there’s nothing natural about riding and the way horses are introduced to this activity – or treated as seasoned mounts – will affect how they handle each new request.

Creating confidence with young horse training

keeping it fun for the horse with young horse training
Hills on trails are a great way to build young horse confidence, balance and an eagerness for training challenges.C

I always try to help the young horses that come in here to be brave. Beating them past an object that concerns them isn’t going to make this so. It just adds more fear and pain to existing fright that’s likely to cause them to react more dramatically the next time something scary catches their eye. Yet, if you quietly encourage a horse to proceed while giving him time to process the sight, he’ll want to show you how courageous he can be the next time.  Of course, if you’re timid or alarmed or tense or even shaking, the horse will pick up on this, so it’s important, if your goal is to help a horse get gutsy about new situations, that you are confident, relaxed, encouraging and clear.

One of the best approaches to building confidence in young horses (or taking a little bit of the cockiness out of a pugnacious one) is with hills. Obviously, you don’t want to tackle a cliff your first day out, but when young horse training is geared toward building confidence and a partnership, there’s nothing like a hill to improve balance, help the horse learn how to carry himself (and you) properly and encourage the horse to look to you for some guidance in maneuvering through difficult terrain. Plus it provides the added benefit of legging up a horse at slow speeds with low stress on young bodies.

It’s remarkable to witness the glee a tentative horse shows after successfully handling a difficult downhill slope. What’s incredible is that finishing this feat also tends to reduce spookiness and hesitation with all other issues encountered on the trail afterward. They know they did it and are grateful for your help – and confidence in them.

Trails are the best for starting horses under saddle

Horse trail riding for training young horses
Trail rides are a super way to help horses learn how brave they can be

Trails in general are a great way to start young horses under saddle. We’re fortunate at Halcyon Acres® to have a laneway that’s lined with cherry trees on about a ½ mile gentle slope at the start of the trail head (up heading out and down coming home). It’s straight so you can see if there are deer or other wildlife ahead long before you reach them. Behind that hill is a steep slope down that requires the horse to depend on the rider to navigate the trail without getting into trouble (there’s a bit of a cliff to the left). This second hill is a major milestone for young horses. Of course, we could ride the perimeter of fields and stay on relative easy rides, but these challenges help the horse gain confidence in himself. It’s so much more fun to ride out on a horse that’s eager to see new things and tackle new challenges than one that’s wondering what’s going to eat him next.

If you’re wondering what to do to start off on the right hoof, here are some quick tips on young horse training to consider as you begin to ride out. You can also find ten tips on keeping horse training a happy event for you both. Try some of these ideas if you’re struggling with a spooky horse.

 What are you doing to reach your horse on his terms?

I laugh when I hear the term ‘teach a horse respect.’ Really? I’ve always considered respect as something that’s earned. Sure, you can teach a horse to fear or obey you, but discipline isn’t going to build trust, which is generally a precursor to respect where horses are concerned.  There are times when a correction is necessary, but with young horse training, it’s rarely when you’re on their backs. You won’t get a partnership with a horse where he’s looking out for you as much as you are for him if you rule by intimidation or force. The most reactive horse, however, can become a trusted and steady mount if you encourage his confidence and demonstrate you’ll keep him safe. Building that kind of rapport is what true leadership with horses.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Nanette,
    I recently purchased a 3.5 yo ID gelding. He has some serious bitting issues. I had his teeth done and they were horrible. He is associating pain with the bit and everytime I go to bridle him, he throws his head up and its a struggle. I thought fixing his teeth would correct it but apparenty this has gone on for alot longer than I new about. He is supposed to be for my daughter but he isn’t safe at this time. He is good in almost every way accept for this. Do you have a suggestions that I could try to get him over this. I am patient and quiet with him but am very frustated as I never have dealt with an issues like this before. Thanks for any help you can offer.

  2. Hi Ann,

    Memory issues can be challenging. I’d hold off on bridling him for a little while as you work to resolve his understandable pain fear (he’s still quite young, particularly as an Irish Draught – this is a breed generally late to mature so giving him some time to grow isn’t a bad thing).

    Consider starting with just holding the bridle near his head and praising him for being brave. Once he’s comfortable with this, you can put it on with the bit disconnected from the left cheek strap. You might even consider something like a rubber snaffle or leather prong initially as you reintroduce a bit to his mouth in case he’s associating the feel and taste of metal with the pain. Once he’s comfortable with this, you can slide the bit into the mouth and reattach (loosen the bridle several holes from what would be a fitted size to make it easier for you and him initially).

    Some recommend slathering molasses or some other treat on the bit, but I haven’t found this to be particularly effective. Others offer all kinds of tricks to encourage the horse to lower his head (food, physical rewards, routines, etc.), but if he’s afraid of the bit, this probably won’t help much.

    Of course, there are also bitless bridles (these can be effective with some horses – choose wisely as some are very severe), but you may be limited on what you can use if your daughter is focused on competing.

    I’m curious why you selected such a young horse for your daughter (I’m assuming since you’re concerned for her safety she’s not very old and/or experienced)?

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