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Training a young horse - join me on the journey!

(12 Posts)
Ponymum Wed 12-Aug-09 10:52:42

I am somehow been roped in to helping to train a young horse! grin If you recall, I am the one who has lost all my confidence with horses and hasn't ridden since PG with my daughter (now nearly 1). I could do with a few "virtual assistant trainers" as tbh I am feel quite unqualified for this task, although it is already a lot of fun and really satisfying. smile I hope to provide some random updates as we progress with the training, and I would really appreciate any input and comments as we go along.

The situation is: my friend has a 5 year old gelding which she has done some excellent basic work with since he was broken. He is now very sensible, has a great nature, is brilliant on the roads, has been on a big trek, and had "bomb proofing" training with plastic bags etc. So far so good, but he has never been "schooled" IYKWIM. Knowing my situation she has asked me to help her as a trainer on the ground. I am more into the schooling side of things than she is, but it is a little bit blind leading the blind! I have had a lot of lessons over the years on my own horses and others, but I had never given any before - gulp!

Anyway, we have now had several sessions and we are seeing a huge improvement! grin The obvious issue is that he will not go in an outline. But my approach is to work on getting him moving with his hocks underneath him before tackling the head carriage thing. Is this correct? I know of others who who stick running reins on a horse like this, but that feels wrong for such a nice natured horse. He tends to move with his weight on the forehand so we are doing half halts and lots of transitions. Plus we are working on his bend with some good success, and also doing some simple work over poles. We know he can jump (e.g. has jumped gates for fun hmm) but want to work on getting him going calmly and correctly on the flat before re-introducing jumps.

Are we on the right track or am I talking complete nonsense? Any tips? We have lots of good books and are trying really hard to do this correctly. I would welcome comments from all you wise horsey types!

horseymum Wed 12-Aug-09 14:13:21

you can do some work on the ground getting him to 'give' to you when you gently move the bit in his mouth. this can be extended to you helping your friend whilst she is mounted and holding the reins and you can gently 'ask' for him to give whilst standing beside him. Always try to focus on going forwards but expect him to go like this every time you get on nd he will soon learn. my boss started a youngster like this and he was so easy and soft in the mouth. on the other hand, my own horse was never taught to go in an outline so when i started asking her to go in an outline when i got her aged about 7, it was a constant battle which i never really achieved what i would call submission, rather a rather grudging agreement to go ok in trot and not very well in canter! look at some stuff on the scales of training i think it goes relaxation, rhythm, contact, impulsion, straightness, collection this would give you an idea for the order of importance of things. Why not aim for a prelim dressage test (pick a friendly show with not too much pressure!) as you will hopefully get some useful cooments from the judge as well as having a focus to your sessions. Have fun!

Southwestwhippet Thu 13-Aug-09 15:33:20

I don't really like to see youngster 'going in an outline' as it has usually been forced on them somewhere down the line.

If he is on the forehand, I think you are on the right track encouraging him to go forward and to do lots of transitions. Transitions within the pace are also useful. some simple leg yielding exercises off a circle will also help encourage him to get his hocks underneath him and to start lifting his stomach muscles and carying himself.

With regards to the headcarriage, can you get him to stretch right down to the floor and walk and trot that way (that is, walk and trot in a FORWARD manner, not just slob along grin)? Once he is doing this, he will be starting to really stretch out over his back. My dressage trainer - Lucinda McAlpine - works all her young horses this way, getting them to work long and low, reaching into a soft contact before gradually picking them up using balancing and suppling exercises.

You need to have a horse that totally trusts the rider's hands to achieve a true outline so if he won't yet reach into you hand, this is the first step. Don't confuse this with 'sitting' on your hand, he should feel relaxed and soft rather than heavy.

To encourage him to stretch down, ask for some counter-flexion around the corners or even, if he is willing, ride a 10m circle in walk with counter-flexion. This will work his neck muscles and when you release, he will want to stretch out naturally. If you reward this stretch with very soft, responsive hands and keep repeating in a consistent manner, he will soon get the idea that stretching is what you are looking for. Make sure he is GOING FORWARD though as it sounds as if you have a lovely quiet chap who may sneak behind the leg at times if things get challenging.

Make sure you work him equally on both reins. Just a few ideas I use with my pony, he is rather the opposite to yours and tends to shoot forwards and hollow but I find the streching really helps him.

sorry so long, get carried away. I love schooling

Ponymum Fri 14-Aug-09 17:24:55

Thanks so much for the suggestions - keep it coming! smile We had another training session last night and that went well.

My friend's partner is pushing her to "go to some shows" but we are having to convince him that would not be constructive at this stage! At the moment one of our goals is to enter the online interdressage competition, maybe even this month. All you have to do is download your choice of test from each month's classes, video yourself at home doing the test, and send it in. From what I can see it looks like a low-stress way to get some feedback on how he is going.

We tried some of the movements from one of the simple tests last night. It was a bit of a shambles, but I think it will be quite an achievement just to get him to "do" the test, i.e. do transitions at the correct place, follow the correct line, etc, so I am not worried that he looks pretty awful doing it! His canter is flat out with his head in the air, but walk, trot and halt are roughly acceptable. And you have to start somewhere, don't you?

horsey that scale thing is really interesting. I think we are just trying to get the relaxation and rythm atm! We were thrilled at some trotting pole work last Monday - managed to get him trotting calmly and in perfect rhythm over three poles. Sounds ridiculous, but previously he would leap in the air over a single pole and then set off at a near gallop!

whippet I really like the sound of that training method, and it is what we both want to do with this boy. Trouble is we don't really know how to slow him down and teach him calmness. He has a very rudimentary understanding of the aids. i.e. legs means go faster, reins means stop. hmm When we try to put on leg/seat to get him going forward he just speeds up, and when we have tried it with a loose long rein he's taken off like a rocket. Hence pole work and half halts. Small steps, I suppose.

Pixel Mon 17-Aug-09 19:41:05

Hi Ponymum, how is the schooling going? I've got a youngster as well, he has just turned 4 and isn't doing too badly considering. (By that I mean considering he has me schooling him!). Our main problem is finding somewhere to school that is flattish and not too wet and slippery, it's only in the last few weeks I've been able to have some lunge lessons on him, very scary for a nervous ninny like me but it's done him a world of good already. The other problem is that he is soooo nosey, there is always something more interesting to him than schooling! Last lesson it was an enormous crane next door (where a house is being built), then it was another pony having a bath (totally fascinating obviously), yesterday we had planes zooming overhead (spitfires, bi-planes etc), all really low practicing for an airshow next weekend! He's not scared of any of these things, thank goodness!, but he has to stop whatever he's doing and have a good stare. Oh for a lovely indoor school with no windows grin.

Ponymum Thu 20-Aug-09 14:37:24

Hi Pixel, yes that's a problem for us too. We dream of an all weather surface! My friend leases two fields and stables from a farmer, but her partner has four very nosey excitable young horses in there too. We have been schooling in the empty field (which was fantastic last week after hay making!smile). But the farmer has now put sheep in there, so for our session tomorrow we are going to have to shut the other horses in the field shelter and hope for the best!

We are now busy trying to gather together odd bits and pieces to mark out a make-shift dressage arena (road cones and laminated letters?) and some jumps for when we start on that. So far we have six good poles purchased from local sawmill, two drums, and two pallets. It's not looking promising. Did I mention we are doing this on a shoe string? grin

Pixel Thu 20-Aug-09 18:00:27

Same here, I've been collecting stuff for when dhorse starts jumping. So far we have six lengths of plastic drainpipe with coloured tape wound round to make it look a bit more interesting (I've yet to fill them with sand to make them a bit heavier), two small plastic barrels, an assortment of cones, a length of garden screen like this that's going to be a brush fence (found by recycling bins!), and two 8' lengths of skirting board that a friend was taking to the tip (until I intervened smile). They are going to be planks as they are flat on one side. I've done most of the painting and they are out in the garden awaiting some decorative 'sharks' teeth' when the weather dries up a bit. Not sure yet how I'm going to get them to the field as they sure won't fit in the car grin.

Owls Thu 20-Aug-09 21:50:42

Oh for a menage. Or something that isn't a hard, lumpy, uneven field. Joining in waiting for more tips from Southwestwhippet, horseymum, and all for more tips please!

Pixel are you jumping now? <impressed and loathing self for being wimp emoticon>

Pixel Thu 20-Aug-09 23:50:49

Me jumping?! Goodness no. I'm talking about the future here <stares into distance>.
(actually it's also the past because I did used to jump a bit but we are talking 20 years ago <sob>).
I have a cunning plan, I'm going to get the boy popping over on the lunge first and take it from there, hopefully I might then get a few less nasty surprises when he has to do it with me clinging on board!

Southwestwhippet Fri 21-Aug-09 22:21:01

Hey Ponymum, I have been thinking about your youngster. He sounds as if he is a bit unsure of his job ATM if he is shooting off if you use legs/seat on a long rein.

Can you get him to 'amble' around on a longrein without using any seat or leg? That might be a start. Something that can work on rushy/tense horses is to give them a free rein but keep them on a smallish circle (use your inside rein, but release the outside rein totally). Then use your legs as normal but let them select the response speed and you just sit quiet and still and let them get on with it. After a couple of minutes, most ponies tend to realise that charging round and round isn't achieving anything and actually, there wasn't anything to worry and shoot off about in the first place. You can then gently start to pick up the reins and to use a little bit of seat and leg without getting 'shoot off in a panic' reaction.

WARNING this takes a lot of nerve i.e. it can be bloody scarey the first time you do it and you find yourself galloping round in a circle with loose reins. I tend, when I do it (which isn't often), to do it in an enclosed area, I drop the outside rein altogether and rest my outside hand on the front of the saddle for confidence. Try to stay relaxed and remember, if it is getting too fast/scarey you can pick the reins back up again.

I would also be tempted with your horse to do lots of work on a circle in walk trying to teach him through repetative exercises to walk out on a long rein. You could try giving him a long rein, putting your leg on then, when he shoots forward, gently and calmly picking up a soft contact and correcting the pace. Keep the leg on as you correct the pace so that he understands that the leg meant something, just not "shoot forward".

Once he has mastered the concept in walk, progress to trot on a loose rein. Again, he is likely to shoot forward the first few times (mine does), but gently gather the reins up, correct him back to a steady pace and IMMEDIATELY release the reins again. That way, he gets his reward for slowing down - you are 'off' his mouth.

I think you will find if you can get him confidentaly and calmly walk, trot and canter on a loose rein, you will be in a better position to start working on an outline as you won't be relying on the reins so much for control of pace. Hope this vaguely helps. It is much harder to explain in words that i thought when I started typing!

Ponymum Sat 22-Aug-09 12:14:57

southwest That was a good description - I do get what you are saying! smile I wish you could come and have a look at him, but I take it from your name that you are nowhere near North Yorkshire!

We have no enclosed area so I think that galloping round in circles on a loose rein might need to be, er, put to one side for now. (I don't think my friend would appreciate me suggesting that she volunteers to break her neck when he leaps the nearest hedge and crashes into a combine harvester. hmm) I like the principle though.

I like the suggestion of the quiet repetitive stuff in a circle. We really do seem to be getting some good results with that sort of thing.

Here's what we did last night: Firstly, he has had his teeth done and a really big sticking out bit corrected. As a result we think he is evading the bit less. At the end of the session he was actually playing with the bit and dropping his head down without us even asking!
Secondly, we had a brilliant time reading things out of a book and trying them - we worked mainly on the acceptance of contact by just walking around with a constant sympathetic elastic feel between hand and bit. We worked really hard on making certain she was exactly following his head movement with her hands, with me correcting every time the reins changed the rate of tension / slack. It really did seem to work and he was accepting the contact much better after that.
Then we set out the "dressage arena" with the road cones and I called a simple walk/ trot test, and it actually was passable! I really think he is a fast learner, as he had rythym, bend, and correct transitions. I was very impressed. Not bad for a couple of totally amateur trainers!

We talked about the next step which would be lateral work to get him to bend more and move his hind legs more under him, but tbh we both feel we don't know enough to teach these things to a young horse (ok when an instructor is telling us what to do, but not expert enough on a horse that is struggling with the basic aids to start with). We decided that we will continue to work on the basics with calmness, rythym and acceptance of contact, then when we get a session with an instructor / trainer we'll ask about how best to introduce the fancy stuff. (I am obviously giving away the fact that in my youth there was clearly a point where I got bored with the dressage lessons and stopped paying attention!blush).

Also another piece to the puzzle which might explain his way of going. Her partner who bought the horse said he thinks it was hunted in Ireland as a 3 yr old. Not an ideal start. Might explain why he thinks his job is just to go fast and not use his brain too much.

ohnelly Mon 14-Sep-09 10:31:41

Hi try using some trot poles to give him some variety. Can also work on rhythm (should stay the same over poles) and also encourage him to stretch forwards & take contact. Try putting poles on one long side of arena (4-6) and nothing on the other and try to keep rhythm the same all the way round. If you get feeling that he stretches forwards over poles try to maintain it on other long side.
Also lungeing the horse in sidereins will help with outline and lots of bending in walk and trot while ridden (smaller circles & serpentines)

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