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Whats YOUR definition of "light work" for youngsters?

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  • Whats YOUR definition of "light work" for youngsters?

    This is a slight spinoff of my thread I started about my saddle fitter advising me that horses' backs don't fully develop until the age of seven. The debate was about when is the best time to start a horse.

    For the most part, I gathered that everyone thought that a horse should be started with light work around 3 or 4 up and then start to be pushed heavily at 6 or 7.

    However, what is everyones definition of "light work" to THEM?

    Is it round-pen work? Is it lunging/long lining? Is it lunging in side reins to develop proper way of going/self carriage? Is it backing and riding around on loose rein, without expecting them to use themselves, just working on straightness, leg pressure, etc.? Is it as much as expecting them to be at 1st level by the time they are ready to be pushed? Perhaps its a combination of these things.

    I'm curious to see what you define as light work for a youngster!

  • #2
    Our 3 year olds are usually going solid w/t/c and being introduced over fences. They except contact, move off the legs, and hack out in company or by themselves. They are usually shown on the flat, and do cross rails and small verticles at schooling shows to get them use to the show atmosphere. Love to take them on small cross country schools

    Our 4 year olds of course have the same basics as our 3 year olds, but at least have simple changes if not introducing flying changes. They are shown in either the hunters or introduced to eventing. If they are just going to be a dressage horse then they are usually showing Training level.

    I honestly won't even take horses in for backing anymore if they are over 5 years old, and if they have been with a trainer since they were 3 and do not meet the above then unless they are really cheap I won't bother taking my clients to see them.

    Now of course you do have horses that move up the ladder slower then others due to tons of growth spurts, brain just hasn't "settled", etc. But that is usually what I prefer my horses doing age wise. And that is all based on if we actually start them vs buying off the track, from back yards, etc. I obviously don't expect a cheap horse to have the same foundation. But I certainly won't pay much for a horse that is green broke at 6

    ETA: But from my end it is also because we sell the horses or I have them being sent in by clients that wish to sell them. So it does not make an even close to good financial decision to keep them until they are older to brake out. I guess if you were keeping the horse for yourself then waiting wouldn't matter as much, but I find it easier to sell a well started youngster then a 10yr with "potential"
    Last edited by Couture TB; Nov. 19, 2011, 07:45 PM.


    • #3
      "Work" to me needs to take both mental and physical work into account.

      If I start a 2 yo, 20 minutes, 30 tops, is plenty. I'll have these young 'uns solid at 'basics,' w/t/c, stop, back, turns, but not so much as to stress joints unduly. Likewise they have learned or be learning proper round pen and longeing work. But all in small doses, including trail rides- say, around the block. Only very basic yielding to bit, I want w/t/c OFF contact until they learn to balance/ carry themselves and contact is introduced gradually, when mind and body are ready. Pet peeve of mine is seeing green horses just crammed into a 'frame' and never allowed to learn how to carry themselves properly.

      3 to 5, building blocks, I don't like to do any real hard work whether over fences or foxhunting til about age 5. Arena 'work' is never more than about 30 minutes in terms of mental and physical challenging, but then again some days I just work them, under saddle or in round pen or on longe line, just for good old calm stress free conditioning. From 3 on they'll go on trail rides, even all day, mostly walking and with gradually more strenuous terrain (all the way to really steep Rocky Mountain terrain).


      • Original Poster

        Beverly and Couture,

        Are these larger horses or warmbloods you're dealing with?


        • #5
          For me, it really depends on the horse. Generally speaking, I'd expect a horse to be a solid 1st level dressage horse (like, ready to move up to 2nd) by 6 or 7, and jumping around 2'-2'6" and ready to move up. I don't think it's wrong to go a bit faster than that either, but I think that asking for too much collection or too much high-impact jumping at too young of an age gets into a questionable territory.

          But really I base it a lot on the horse. I know growth plates close at the same point and all that, but there are a lot of other factors to look at. My main points are avoiding high-impact work (like jumping over very high fences) and too much of the same--I think variation is key to work all muscle groups.

          I honestly think most riders today really underestimate what horses can do comfortably, and the evidence I have seen shows that thoughtful work with young horses helps them develop into stronger, sounder and healthier adults. It's the same reason why you don't keep foals in stalls--the movement and exercise is essential to developing bodies.

          edit: I've started everything from Arabs to WBs and my expectations are more-or-less the same, though of course there are differences in the path taken to get there and a lot depends on the individual horse. I don't mind if a horse is a late bloomer who takes longer to get there.

          Also, thanks for starting these threads OP. I'm really enjoying hearing everyone's thoughts on the matter.
          Last edited by CosMonster; Nov. 19, 2011, 08:51 PM. Reason: more thoughts
          exploring the relationship between horse and human


          • #6
            When I used to bounce and had no reason to fear for my life, I used to start youngsters like so:

            2 years old - lots of grooming, bathing, and braiding - anything to get them to learn to stand still. Put bridle and saddle on and off, on and off...and so on. Lots of hand-walking and frequent redirection when they got in my space. LOTS of turnout, if not on full turn-out. No work over winter.

            3 years old - in spring, bring 'em in from field, add saddle and bridle, and have friend or trainer lead me around while I was slung over the back. Eventually straddle them and move off at a trot - was told to always do this immediately to prevent rearing and hopefully reduce chance for a buck. Did this for 90 days then threw them back out to be horses.

            4 years old - W/T/C. Don't care if their nose is poked out, just wanted them to find their balance - no martingales or gouges/changougues/chambons (sp??). Work small increments - lots of hill work.

            5 years old - cross rails and small fences. require lead changes. lots of gymnastics.

            Move on at horse's pace at this point with recommendations from vet and farrier.
            Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.
            W. C. Fields


            • #7
              Originally posted by Ridewithnopride View Post
              Beverly and Couture,

              Are these larger horses or warmbloods you're dealing with?
              All breeds. In fact my friend who sells very nice hunters out east does only WBs and her horses are much more "finished" then mine.

              Here is a video of a 3yr at my place http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYM66...=youtube_gdata


              • #8
                Light work means short sessions of concentrated learning. With young horses here, we do slow work, try to expose horses to various situations, without making them be perfect.

                We are not asking much of any 2yr old. They lead, handle well, can be saddled and bridled, ponied off a horse. No lunging, round penning, ring work. Straight work is fine, going for walks led or ponied, covering a couple miles walking and trotting easily. Can be 1-2 days a week of focused attention, depends on our schedules. No consistant work, they are babies. Handled daily, grooming, leading. Lots of free time in the fields grazing.

                3yr old will have someone sitting in the saddle, getting some steering on them. Ours are large, big-boned, slow mental maturity, so questions asked are easy for the horse. Doing WT, some canter by summers end. The subtle stuff with leg aids is added easily. No drilling on anything, with trail rides if possible, going straight. They get some ring work, but you want them to be enjoying it, not bored. Bored horse starts playing games, not learning good things. Probably not being worked more than 2-3 days a week, with some weeks only once. Handled daily, just not always ridden.

                4yr old has his WTC down, getting consistant with leads, light rider aids, goes trail riding alone. He is more polished in his transitions, can do slow or faster in any of the gaits. Should have 2 good walks, 3 trots, steady canter and hand gallop. He may be moved over to the long lines now, to get ready for his Driving training if he seems ready mentally. Has to be able to pay attention for more than 15 minutes to go into Driving training. Much will depend on his growth. If he is growing a lot, he gets turned out to learn his new size and how to handle it.

                5yr old should be pretty confident, been to some in-hand shows, with riding time in the practice ring there. He has gotten a lot smoother over-all, knows his aids, gives to the bit for short times. He has learned how to do self carriage, be light on the bit because I am not going to hold him together! He drives from behind, gathers himself when asked, can give and take with the reins, ridden or driven. We are going to be learning how to do good turns, be handy. Working on sidepassing, shoulder in and out for short sessions. He has his leads down, is very controllable in all his gaits. If he is a successful Driving horse, he is working at his Driving skills, practicing moving together with another horse, matching strides, all the same things he knows under saddle. Pulling heavier vehicles, while staying balanced, developing muscle and knowledge that he CAN do these things. Probably will go camping for Trail Rides. Needs to know how to cross water without hesitation, be out with other animals passing and being passed along the way. Standing picketed overnight, being watered in the river each morning! Doing distance milage at a walk or slow trot. No clock to track us! That trail marching walk is really a good thing to have on a horse! Might attend a few clinics with him, just for fun. Could be ridden or driven clinics.

                6yr old should be a mature copy of the 5yr old. His brains should be screwed down now, ready to learn what is offered. Body is filled out, bones are more solid. Depending how large horse is, he may not be done growing. But he is capable of going longer distances to get him fit for competitions. More experienced now, capable of the harder requests we have. Since Driving is our main goal, he will be working hard in that area with Dressage practices, getting very precise in his rein signals for driving Hazards. He is used on both sides of the Pair, keeps him equally developed.
                Depending on the horse growth, he may be hopped over some small fences to teach him more about body handling. He has probably jumped some logs laying in the fields, but he has to now manage with a rider, do the jump upon request. We are really big on NOT JUMPING horses young. Bones are soft to be taking that impact of weight on landing. We see young animals under 6yrs, jumping lots of jumps in training and competition. Horses in this routine often break down young or get injuries that stay bothering them the rest of their lives.

                We train young horses for our own use. If they are not successful in Driving, they will be sold on. They are very capable physically of going in various disciplines, being successful there with good basics on them for skilled riders. They are not beginner horses, but a real joy for a rider who wants a working partner. They are both capable and willing, fun to ride. Should be usable for many years of hard work.

                Try as you like, not all horses can be a Driving horse. Takes a lot more training, great mental attitude, to be a Driving horse at the high level we expect from our horses. We ask a lot from them and they give it. They enjoy their work, ridden or driven.

                Taking our time, not pushing hard, they have the time needed to mature physically and mentally for their life work. We have our horses for enjoyment, no time schedule to meet, so that takes all the pressure off. Not a commercial setup as others have, where horses need to sell well much younger, to pay for themselves.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Ridewithnopride View Post
                  Beverly and Couture,

                  Are these larger horses or warmbloods you're dealing with?
                  Mostly quarter horses (one appendix), one Oldenburg, one shetland (in my youth) when talking about starting young horses with zero to 20 or so rides.

                  Have retrained or schooled older horses, including tb and Arab, but that is a little bit different kettle of fish.

                  Size- well, other than the shetland, 14 hands to 16.2 (a large 16.2 in the case of the Oldenburg).


                  • #10
                    Here's my ideal - doesn't mean it works for all of them.

                    2 y/o- all groundwork (bathes, loads in trailer, stands on cross-ties, wears tack, etc.) Has shown in hand, been to shows, handles atmosphere...

                    3/yo - 6-8 weeks of backing in the summer/fall during which they learn W/T/C, steering, trot over a pole, hack out, long-line. 15-30 minutes, 3-4 times per week.

                    4 y/o - starting in early spring 20-30 minutes 4 times per week. Ready for training level dressage relatively soon thereafter, learns to jump small things, thinking about USEF 4 year old test by summer.


                    • #11
                      My plan (though there are always horses that deviate)

                      Late 2 -- I often back them lightly, get on a dozen times for 10 minutes or so. W-T-steer-maybe halfway around at the C a time or two. I longe at the walk and trot a handful of times before I climb on. If the horse is calm, which most are, I dispense with the longeing as soon as they learn what "whoa" means. If horse is gawky/very downhill in late July/August when I would otherwise do this, I skip it.

                      3 year old summer, they W-T-C for 15-20 minutes, 3 times a week. Most are pretty solid and can go to a few shows by the end of the summer. Maybe do a flat class, maybe just to see the sights and hack around. Depends on the horse. They get the winter off.

                      4 year old spring, they start back again with the same program. By midsummer they might work half an hour three times a week and jump small jumps once a week. Might hop around the 2' at a show a time or two.

                      At 5, they start jumping more seriously.

                      We exercise before we are done growing, horses can as well as long as you don't overdo it. Did you lay on the couch doing nothing until you were 20?


                      • #12
                        I ride western, so perhaps a bit different perspective, but I don't do futurity show horses. Our horses are mainly trail horses and all around saddle horses that can work cattle, corral rope, team pen/sort, do trail competitions, etc.

                        All ages: Live outside, handled daily, tied, groomed. It works pretty well for getting them sacked out and easy to catch when they have to get caught before they get their grain and they get brushed all over every day.

                        We start riding at two, whenever the round pen dries out enough in the spring to be used. The first few rides are short 15/20 minutes in the round pen to get some directional control and whoa. After that, they go out on the trail. At first, only for a half hour or so, but by the end of their 2 year old year they're easily going 2 hours or so. Mostly walking, trotting, some loping where the footing is safe. They'll learn to follow cattle and probably have a rope packed and thrown off of them, although we won't catch anything live, unless there's a breakaway honda on the rope (releases the rope when it comes tight, so you don't have to fetch your rope off a critter and there's no jerk for your horse).

                        It pretty much goes in the same vein as they mature, with more cow work, more trips to town and more expectations as they mature. Babies are ridden in a snaffle and some will move into a hackamore (bosal) around 3, if they're sensitive enough. We move them into baby curbs around 4 or 5, depending on the horse. If they've been ridden in a hackamore, they'll go into the two-rein.

                        A lot of people cite research on horse development as justification for not riding young horses. Before the economy went bad, we sold young horses pretty regularly. We sold a 6 year old appendix gelding to some people that had a very thorough ppe done on him. He had a lot of miles and hours in the mountains and had worked cattle and even been team penned on during his 2 year old year and on. The vet said he was the soundest riding horse he had examined, possibly ever. He was shocked that he was totally sound in his hocks; not even a quarter step of stiffness after flexing, all the radiographs were clean, etc. I think the long, slow, weight bearing hours really do help develop sound horses. I remind myself of that when it's pouring rain and I would trade my best horse for an indoor!


                        • #13
                          [I think the long, slow, weight bearing hours really do help develop sound horses. I remind myself of that when it's pouring rain and I would trade my best horse for an indoor] Quote--BayRoan

                          I believe in this firmly, agee that it is what helps build a horse best. He is not being drilled and drilled on any one part of his skills, in your program. Long and slow build ALL the leg parts, gain bone density without stressing any single area. Does make for very sound animals over a life of work.

                          Thanks for putting it so well.


                          • #14
                            Nothing on their backs. Dr. Deb Bennett's web site has an article, called the Ranger piece, that details skeletal development and has BUNCHES of non-riding things you can do. Linda Tellington-Jones has excellent training exercises without riding that REALLY develop balance and self-carriage.