This month, we put a bunch of horses back into training at Halcyon Acres®. While our primary focus is young horse training for clients, it’s been an absolutely delightful experience hopping aboard the farm broodmares.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you a good temperament isn’t a critical quality in selecting a horse. It breeds through. Riding equines with a willing attitude is always a pleasure. New experiences are invigorating instead of riddled with angst. Time around these special creatures is always pure joy.
Midge has been our primary Irish Draught Sport Horse producer. She has decent bloodlines, is very correct, full of heart, loves to train, is game for anything new or different and her lovely head breeds through to all her foals.
I actually purchased Midge as a lead pony for client horses coming into the farm. She was so much fun to ride, gutsy, clever and had a calm energy that made her an ideal candidate. My go-to gal was getting older (some of you may remember Porky). She was asking for a person that was all hers I needed to respect her wishes.
Anyway, after spending so many years with Porky as my savior (the most amazing lead pony I’ve ever encountered), I came to recognize the beauty of small mares with young Thoroughbred client horses. Tall geldings aren’t good at smartly schooling cocky colts, usually have no heart and can intimidate the youngsters with their size.
Midge didn’t wind up being a lead pony for reasons that weren’t her fault, but instead, has spent more than half her life being a mom.
Up, Up and Away on an alpha mare with years off
My intent was to spend a few days getting Midge used to wearing tack again before adding a rider to the mix. Midge didn’t feel this was necessary.
You never know with certainty how a horse is going to react after a long hiatus. This mare really liked her recent job as mom. I wasn’t sure if she’d still be so enthusiastic about being ridden. Her nature hadn’t changed a bit – nor her aptitude. It was as though she hadn’t missed a day of riding, let alone seven years.
I gave her a few quick days at the walk and then felt she was ready (OK – it was really me – she was game from the start) to do more. The memories came flooding back about why I found this little mare so special. I had approached the owner the first time I rode her indicating I wanted to buy her when he was ready to sell.
Midge was the horse I dreamed of as a kid. Riding time was her favorite thing. Her gates were fun. Talk about cornering – she could turn on a dime at any speed. Temperament and smarts made her a standout.
This is my vet (she’s wonderful in so many ways) aboard Midge for the first time:
Starting a horse back after time off
Don’t do what I did with Midge. Yes, it harkens back to parental hypocrisy, I know, but seriously, it’s a rare horse that can handle jumping right back into a riding routine without creating big problems. Midge has always been a tough little gal that’s unfazed by stupid and unfair human behavior, stays naturally fit and balanced, is close-coupled enough to be able to handle a rider easier than most and seems to be indestructible, but she’s a rare find.
- If your horse has been off for a long time, particularly if this is due to injury, start with ground work. Liberty training or long lining is best, but if you must lunge or round pen, keep the sessions short, the equipment non-restricting and the pace slow. You can introduce him to full tack at this time.
- Engage a ground person or a watcher with a cell phone for your first few rides. Even if it’s just to keep you relaxed, having someone there in case your horse reacts strangely to unfamiliar weight and requests will make you more comfortable (and him too, as a result).
- Be careful the first time you hop aboard. Use a mounting block, leg up or lowered stirrup so you don’t put undue stress and twisting on his spine. Belly over to start just to make sure he’s not going to freak out with weight aboard.
- Stay at the walk for the first week or two – preferably on hills and trails – to begin to help the horse get balanced, stretched and muscled up. This will help avoid injury and build confidence for both of you.
- Spend time giving the horse attention before and after you ride. Most horses will appreciate riding time more if you bookend the experience with kind grooming, bonding and caring periods.
- Once you begin arena work, use circles, serpentines and other activities that provide regular change in direction.
- Listen to your horse. If he’s refusing, objecting, pinning ears, swooshing his tail, fighting the turn on the barn side or offering other behavior that seems sour, he’s probably hurting or confused. Shorten your ride time or change activities and seek a quick happy win for both of you.
- Stop training if your horse is lame.
- Know your horse. We have one mare here that is off about every third day. Some days she’s sound but sore. She tells us how she’s feeling. Often, when she’s uneven, she still wants to train. We’ll give her a quick goal to accomplish and that makes her happy. On the days when she asks to stop, we quit immediately – even if she seems 100%. This gal is a super pleaser that knows we’re listening.
- Be careful how much seat, hand or leg pressure you apply. Your unfit and sensitive horse is likely to object to aids you’re accustomed to applying to a fit horse used to harder rider cues.
- Hold off on canter until your horse is balanced, comfortable and responsive at the walk and trot.
- Keep the ride time short for the first month or so (10-30 minutes).
- Give your horse tons of praise for doing what you ask. If you introduce him to starting back in a way that makes him proud to please, he’ll strive to do more.
Yes, this is common sense, but it’s amazing how few apply it. If you’ve ever broken a leg back or neck that’s required bed rest or have torn a tendon or ligament, you know how difficult and frustrating it is to get back to just being able to do normal things. A horse needs time to adjust and condition for a rider’s weight after time off. Take it slow and you’ll likely find a happier, sounder and more willing horse as a result. Of course, this applies to young horse training too – perhaps moreso.
If you know of anyone looking for a suitable horse, we have a number of quality equines for sale. I’d appreciate it so much if any of you could spread the word. We’ll be updating our You Tube channel and our Halcyon Acres® website in the coming weeks to spotlight some of these special kids. Good homes are a must. Equally important is the right fit. Full-disclosure will be a staple on my end – including horse’s faults and proclivities. I’m also quick to note if I don’t think a horse will be a good fit for a rider or career choice. Please help spread the word. Thanks!