Addressing The Bottom Of The Blackboard

Oct 9, 2014 - 10:13 PM

Reno, Nev.—Oct. 9  

Around a dozen horsemen have come to Julie Winkel’s Maplewood Stables for six days for the Young Horse Trainers’ School. It’s the third time Winkel, Linda Allen and Jose Alejos have teamed up for the six-day hands-on clinic, and Winkel’s son, Kevin Winkel, pitched in this time around as well.

The school was born out of a desire to educate professionals about starting young horses well, one of the missing links between U.S. breeders and top show ring performance. The Young Jumper Championships and International Jumper Futurity both sponsor the hands-on school, which offered the opportunity for attendees to ride young horses from Julie’s breeding program. The YJC offered scholarships for a few young professionals to attend the clinic.

“I always say ‘Which horses are at the top of the blackboard?’ ” said Allen in the morning’s classroom session, which focused on training programs and progression for young horses. “Those are the ones that the top professional is riding. That rider doesn’t usually have time to ride the younger horses at a big stable. Often they turn to the working student and say ‘Can you get him on the longe today?’ ”

Allen offered general guidelines for young horse progression by age, but cautioned against a one-size-fits all solution. She and Julie offered stories of mistakes they made with young horses as teachable moments, by asking too much of talented horses too soon, trying to push horses into jobs which didn’t suit them or otherwise ruining a horse’s confidence.

“Conformation and bloodlines don’t mean heart and desire to do anything,” said Julie. “Let your horse show you where he’ll be the most comfortable.”

Getting To The Other Side

The demonstration session started in the square pen, with Allen working with an 8-year-old Holsteiner stallion Good To Know (by Montebello). That horse hadn’t attempted to jump water yet, so Allen worked up to jumping him over a liverpool during the 20 minute session. She used a lariat, with the end fashioned into a halter, rather than a longe line, explaining that the rope is easier to throw up over the standard when the horse jumps, and she finds it lends her more control.

They started over a pole on the ground, working up to a vertical with a liverpool under it, and eventually an 3′ oxer with a Liverpool behind it, which Good To Know jumped confidently.

“You need to teach a horse to look, figure it out, and adjust his balance,” said Allen. “When you introduce an obstacle you want their response to be that they want to get to the other side.”

Be The Leader

After lunch Alejos took over. Alejos lives in Guatemala but travels all over the Americas to start horses for the likes of the La Silla Studbook in Mexico, and Julie at Maplewood. He tacked up a dominant young Friesian stud for that horse’s second ride of the week. Alejos broke that horse last year, but he proved extremely willful, and a major challenge to his regular trainer. Alejos saddled him in the round pen (amidst much calling to the nearby mare barn) and climbed on there, working to get him to respect his leg and hand. After a few minutes Alejos brought him out of the pen and rode him over to the huge grand prix field (letting him cross a stream on the way).

Alejos—dressed in Western attire but looking at home in the horse’s dressage saddle—let the colt get some energy out while testing out the challenges that were in the ring. He showed off some high stepping over some ground poles, jumped up and down a bank and a few other jumps well and trotted up over a bridge after giving it a bit of thought.

When the stud didn’t respond to Alejos’ hand, Alejos insisted quite firmly. He had the horse’s snaffle adjusted fairly low in his mouth, so the correction came on the corners of the mouth. When the horse softened, Alejos followed immediately. By the end of the ride the colt stopped and backed easily, and Alejos finished with lateral work.

“This isn’t for every horse,” said Alejos of his strong hand and leg. “But this horse is very dominant, and he needs to know I’m the leader. I’m not being mean or unfair, but just. You need to be a leader. Now if you’re having a bad day, just get off your horse’s back. Go inside and go to your room. If you stay on him, he’ll have a bad day too.

“If you don’t correct him in a short period of time this behavior will be uncontainable,” he continued. “In the end they’ll cut him. If the bloodlines are that good, you have to try to see what you can do. He’s like a dominant kid, he’s trying to push me around like a bully. Remember, you have to be as soft as they need you to be, and as hard as they want you to be. If you’re too soft they’ll ride you—if you’re too hard you’ll scare them.”   

Julie doesn’t normally start her babies until they hit 3, but she didn’t have an unbroken 3-year-old in the field, so she picked out her biggest 2-year-old for Jose to break this week. That horse lives out and hadn’t been handled much at all. After saddling him in the round pen for the second time of the horse’s life, Alejos’ 14-year-old daughter Emelia (who’s been helping her father break babies for years) was the one who lay across the saddle to get him used to her weight while Jose held firmly onto the horse’s rein and her leg.

“My daughter is my treasure,” said Jose. “I wouldn’t do anything that’s unsafe. I hold firmly onto her leg, so she can hop right off, and onto the rein, so I can control the horse.”

Not that the horse made it easy, but after a few dramatic rears, a completely unfazed Emelia gave her father a hand getting into the tack. Jose let the horse trot and canter a bit in the round pen, then announced his intention to take this horse, as well, to the grand prix field. There the horse enjoyed the chance to trot and canter, then settled enough that he ably showed the skill he struggled with yesterday: backing up.

Hands On

Half a dozen of the riders saddled up for one or both of the riding sessions in the afternoon. The first group of mostly 4-year-olds started with ground pole work, and Allen eventually turned some of the poles into small jumps. In both sessions, Allen used mistakes as springboards to explain various principles like setting young horses up for success and asking for a lot of young horses for only a short period of time.

When Ana Forssell’s 3-year-old mount, Outspoken (by Osilvas), stopped at a small jump in the first session, Allen explained that she always gives young horses two chances to get something right before a major correction.

“When we went to two refusals [for elimination] in the jumper class, Margie [Engle] and Anne [Kursinski] were insistent that we didn’t apply that to 5-year-olds,” said Allen. “That age or younger they need another chance to get it right.”

The second session had more seasoned mounts ranging up to 7. Allen kept the fences small, and the demands small but specific. Wendy Hoff’s partner, a 5-year-old mare out of Cartouche Z, showed her joyous side from time to time throughout the session with an occasional buck, and a bit more interest in things outside the ring at times. Hoff gave her a sympathetic ride, and finished beautifully in the final exercise, circling several times over a small vertical concentrating on track and pace.

For a full report from Young Horse Trainers’ School check out the Oct. 27 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine.

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