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Starting A Young Event Horse...your plan?

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  • Starting A Young Event Horse...your plan?

    I've started lots of young horses and have a pretty solid basic plan on developing them. I just got a new kid and want some opinions on what you use in your plan in getting them from halter trained to event ready. What is your program? Knowing every horse is different what is your approximate timeline? Looking to improve my program in bringing along a sane, healthy and prepared youngster!

    My current plan is this:
    1) develop handling skills. Respect on the lead, quiet in crossties, stand in crossties for grooming and hosing, etc

    2) learn to lunge quietly with no bucks or bolts off voice cues. Learn a solid halt. Learn to slow down and relax on vocal cue.

    3) go through desensitization training and calmly accept tarps, hula hoops, balls, etc etc until they are quiet when presented with most uncertain things

    Those three steps usually take about one month for me with most horses.

    4) introduce saddle and after several introductions teach horse to lunge quietly in saddle. Usually 1-2 weeks.

    5) introduce bit and bridle. Usually use a Mullen happy mouth until they quietly hold it. Then begin lunging using a caveson so they only have to hold the bit. Get them quiet on the lunge in full tack. Usually takes about a week.

    6) learn ground driving. Hack all over the grounds and learn the basic left, right, halt. If my knee says it's ok we do done trot work as well...but not always. Usually do for 1-2 weeks

    7) start preparation for backing. Flap blankets and tarps on them, lay on back and lay on back while being led around. About a week.

    8) back for first time. Handler at head using verbal cues and rider is a quiet passenger. If quiet we go out on the lungeline as a passenger and handler is giving all cues. Do this several times before rider begins giving verbal cues and handler is just a safety.

    9) with handler attached work on steering, halt and introduce trot using verbal cues. If all goes well after a week we remove the handler.

    10) once going well off verbal cues we combine verbal cues with leg pressure to learn to move off leg. Can introduce canter during this. Do this for about 1-2 weeks until horse walks, trots and canters quickly off leg.

    11) hack for a month. Introduce trails with a quiet buddy and hack on a loose rein around property and down trails.

    Now we have a quiet, responsive horse who can handle weight and should be fit enough for training. Hack another month if they don't feel ready for basic dressage.

    12) begin ring work asking for forward and rhythm. Stay in half seat to allow horse to bring up his back. Develop a nice moving horse on little to no contact. Introduce cavellettis. Usually a couple of weeks.

    13) when horse is forward and rhythmic start taking up contact and asking horse to stretch out and down. Still in half seat. Try to keep horse stretched consistently through all gaits. Work on accurate circles and work off the rail as well as on the rail so they develop their own balance. Usually a month.

    14) only school in ring 3-4 days a week. Alternate with hacks.

    15) introduce small jumps and find natural obstacles out on the trail. Keep it small and don't overface horse to build confidence. We spend a couple months working on stretching into contact, confidence jumping and responsiveness to aids.

    16) begin sitting up in the saddle and working from stretching to raising the poll and working off the haunches. Larger jumps can be introduced now but only a couple. Now we begin trailering to schooling shows even if we don't show just to get them out in the show world without any pressure.

    At this point they should be perfect in the crossties, bathing, clipping and tacking up. Respectful on the ground. Confidently approach water and new obstacles on the trail. Look forward to jumps. Go easily in the ring off leg and be rhythmic and forward in their movement.

    SO...what do you guys do? Any big holes in my program? I have been told how well behaved and steady the horses we've started all turn out to be but I would LOVE to see other peoples Programs as well!! I always get stuck around the time to start asking for contact as it's do hard to know what is too much and what is too little! I usually start by just feeling the mouth and working forward but if I don't take up more contact they all will continue just going around nice and forward in a hunter frame. Seems I have to take more contact to get that nice round back, driving haunches and raised poll. I think us Green Bean lovers need to stick together and I'm hours away from anyone who can watch and help me. Thanks in advance and looking forward to seeing what you do!
    Please excuse the typos...I'm always on my iPhone and autocorrect is not my friend. Yes I mean mares autocorrect...not mates.

  • #2


    • #3
      I don't usually think of my system as quite a program. I just know the basic steps I take but when I take them depends on the horse.

      Mine usually come along a bit faster than you have outlined. I typically don't do all the desensitivity training you list....and I've only taught one to ground drive (he was two and I didn't have anything to ride at the time).

      I start with teaching them how to lunge or work in the round pen (usually just a couple of times). Then I put tack on and see how they react. If it isn't a big deal...I back them....if it is a big deal, we work in the round pen or lunge a bit more (maybe wear the tack in their stall a few times) until it isn't a big deal...but for most it hasn't been a big deal. I'm usually alone but sometimes have help. My last two I trotted the first time I sat on the them. Both cantered undersaddle probably the 3rd ride but that isn't really critical to me....especially if they are just babies. I start taking them out of the rings for walks usually that first week.

      I do a lot of trail riding with them...I start by leading them off another horse. Take them through water and up and down hills. Then when I ride them, the first few hacks they are alone but in a familar area...around the farm. Then I go out further with a buddy...although my last guy hacked out mostly alone. I adjust depending on how the horse feels. But I always spend a lot more time out of the ring than in one--and pretty much hack out every day (might do a little ring work first or might not depending on the weather). I'll go out into the cross country field and walk/trot around the xc jumps to work on turning.

      After they have been started...I do a mix of riding and leading them off a horse. This is all they do for the first year or so. Plus outings...getting on the trailer to go for a trail ride from a friends farm. All low key.

      Then we start going to a few schooling dressage shows or h/j shows. I also try and get them out hound exercising and cubbing (I don't have time to fox hunt in the fall/winter). Depending on how they react determines if I go to a LOT of those or just a few. By the time they are 4, they are usually ready to start eventing some...but I don't really focus on competing in eventing until they typically 5.

      ETA: Just note that my plan is very much influenced by my own preference to hack out instead of doing dressage---and at least I used to be better over fences (perhaps not so much anymore ). It is more important to me to have a good jumper and good trail horse...then nice dressage horse...but I work on the dressage for ridability...it just isn't the focus for a young green horse for me....or before we start eventing at the lower levels. (disclosure...I have had horses who score in the 20s and ones who scored in 40s (and everything in between) at their first events. What I consider my better event horses were not always the ones who scored the best!).
      Last edited by bornfreenowexpensive; Aug. 10, 2011, 03:30 PM.
      ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


      • #4
        I don't do as much desensitizing as a "goal" but just introduce things as they come up.

        I also pony the young horse off a more experienced horse (when I have one available). I do this in a western saddle, and have a chain on the led horse if I think it will be rambunctious. Ponying is great for a few reasons: they learn the verbal cues very quickly (have to do what the other horse is doing); they get used to someone above them giving them commands; and they see natural things out hacking and have a built in "lead/buddy". Then when they are ready to hack it is a very easy progression, especially if someone else can ride the lead horse with you.

        You might be interested in the following:
        Pippa Funnell's book on training the young horse (she doesn't long-line)
        Cherry Hill's book on the young horse (birth to two years)
        Reiner Klimke basic training of the young horse
        Bruce Davidson speech on breeding and preparing the 4-star horse and rider

        You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng


        • #5
          I should add that I do pony them LONG before I start them. I'm usually taking them out starting when they are two. I like to use a rope halter as it gives me good control.....and a western saddle can be very helpful but I've not always done that.
          ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


          • #6
            I've only "trained" 3 from weanlings to riding horses and then 2 others from "saddle broke".

            Since I had the 3 from the time they were babies and all at different times, I did spend a significant amount of time on the ground with them. They all clipped, bathed, and tied like champs from the time they were yearlings on. I taught them how to lunge and ground drive, all to voice commands and would take them for walks. When they were finally old enough to be backed, I basically got on them a couple times - established walk, turn, and halt - and then off for the trails we went. I never rode them in the ring until the next year. All 3 grew up to be good citizens, but I did end up selling them. They ended up being the type that anyone could ride, even people that didn't know how to ride. Except my first one didn't like to canter. He got over it, but he used to buck when you asked for the canter. I'm not sure what his problem was, he never did it on the ground, and like I said he grew out of it with time. I didn't "finish" them though. They went forward at all gaits, rein backed, a little bit of lateral, but not in a dressage frame with contact.

            The other 2, both which I presently own, I had a hard time finishing them as I didn't understand the concept of accepting contact and using the hindend - I had the "head set" mind set from being in breed shows. I took up eventing last year and my trainer then made it clear to me. She helped me finish 1 mare, and since the other was on a breeding lease, I have started finishing her myself. I think I just didn't realize how long it does take to get to the point where they can accept contact. It's a very gratifying feeling having them go long and low on light contact and then you can pick them right back up and go in frame. It's a lot of give and take - asking for a few strides and then letting them relax for a few, etc. It's a matter of actually working every ride instead of rehearsing walk, trot, canter, change direction, walk, trot, canter - they don't learn anything doing that.
            - paintmare

            Horse Eden Eventing - A Virtual Eventing Escape


            • #7
              To add to all this good advice...

              I like to send mine out to other carefully-selected trainers for varying periods of time. It's not even so much about the work itself but I want my young horses to learn to cope on their own. In the case of my homebreds, this means going away from mummy and siblings for the first time.

              Young horses, like young humans, are often very self-centered and it can be a real shock to learn that they're not so special after all. My now-6 year-old threw screaming tantrums for the first few weeks when she left home to go live on a cattle ranch because the older ranch horses ignored her. She's still a horrible bossyboots but doesn't fling herself into the air screaming anymore if no one is enthralled with her.

              My 3 YO OTTB is currently out for 30 days with a trainer (I'm out of town for a few weeks). The plan is basic groundwork, lunging and driving, with riding if he seems ready. As he raced at 2, we know he's somewhat broke. He's rather large and keeps getting larger so I wasn't in a hurry to do much with him this year. However, he's not one for standing in the field -- he likes excitement and activity -- which means regular light work will probably be on the agenda when he gets back. I'll probably send him out again in another couple of months and work with him myself in both places. If I find someone else who has something interesting for him to do -- like great trails or cubbing or an xc field -- I'll send him there as well.

              (As for desensitization, I'd have to find a way to sensitize this guy first. He is unflappable and would make a good host for Antiques Roadshow. The more junk he can sort through, the happier he is. No object too scary. You can toss a plastic bag at him and he'll run to bat it with his head.)


              • #8
                Originally posted by JER View Post
                Young horses, like young humans, are often very self-centered and it can be a real shock to learn that they're not so special after all. My now-6 year-old threw screaming tantrums for the first few weeks when she left home to go live on a cattle ranch because the older ranch horses ignored her. She's still a horrible bossyboots but doesn't fling herself into the air screaming anymore if no one is enthralled with her.

                (As for desensitization, I'd have to find a way to sensitize this guy first. He is unflappable and would make a good host for Antiques Roadshow. The more junk he can sort through, the happier he is. No object too scary. You can toss a plastic bag at him and he'll run to bat it with his head.)
                gotta love the young ones!

                I like to take the time to teach them about the trailer, hanging out on it in the yard, getting on and off, eventually a very short 5 min ride, with and without a buddy etc. I bring them to an event to hang out a few times (one that it is acceptable of course). Clipping, bathing, ground manners etc. Anything I can think of that they will eventually need to do down the road, under very low stress to start.
                The work under saddle I do depends a lot on the individual horse. For one that is growing rapidly and frequently out of balance, I don't focus on "dressage work", just hack and ride around teaching basic response to my aids until physically mature enough to handle the progression of training. I also keep it short and focused, since so many of them have ADHD. Its a great way to start learning a work ethic, without drilling and boring them to death or making them sore. I'd be more likely to take them out more than once per day, than to ride them for 45 min to an hour and expect complete focus the whole time.
                Last edited by OTTB FTW; Aug. 11, 2011, 09:17 AM. Reason: add


                • #9
                  mileage, mileage, and more mileage.

                  take them everywere and anywhere.
                  Horses are amazing athletes and make no mistake -- they are the stars of the show!


                  • #10
                    My plan is to take them everywhere and anywhere. Jumper shows, dressage shows, trail riding, hunter paces, paper chases, x-c schooling, lessons, over to friends houses to ride and whatever looks fun and low pressure.

                    I have so many green horses that come in and also young horses who have basically just been backed. I believe in keeping the work fun and interesting.

                    Overall, the more time spent out of the ring as a young horse the better off you are. I don't believe in drilling them so we go out and about just to play. The finer touches get put on once they are older and mentally/physically ready to handle it.

                    I have a big 3yr tb who is 16.3 and growing. He raced as a 2yr but is clearly all parts. He goes out hacking the majority of the time. Right now it's hot and the bugs are bad so we may just w/t around the fields. I make little course of jumps that are scary but low enough just to pop over. We have been going off the farm weekly to see the world.

                    I also believe in getting them out and about before they get too big and strong