Catching Horses Made Easy

 Martin-Black-Catching-a-Hor

Martin-Black-Catching-a-Hor

Martin Black explains a simple method to ensure your horse looks forward to being caught

The way we catch our horses can reflect a lot about our understanding of them and their outlook toward us. If we could only see through their eyes at how they look at us and how they interpret our actions, we might be a lot more considerate of their reactions.

Based on previous experience, genetics and environment, different horses may react differently. They all have their own level of self-preservation. Part of their self-preservation instinct is to be suspicious of man and other predators. This is why when a horse’s head comes up and his eye is higher than his withers he is on the alert for a predator. We may need to identify his action for what it is, offer the horse a more non- threatening approach and not trigger his suspicion or fear.

I don’t like to use treats to chum a horse into being caught. Equally I don’t intimidate them with threatening gestures or hit them over the rump to convince them there is a greater evil. This teaches a horse to accept or tolerate us because we have made the other options more painful or fearful. Although I may initially need some restrictions or a treat in order to get close to a horse, I would prefer to be able to convince them that they can get a good feeling from my presence by rubbing and scratching them.

Almost any horse will have dead hair or itchy skin that will feel good when we scratch it. Light, gentle petting will not accomplish this on a suspicious horse. A light touch might tickle, scare or annoy the horse whereas a firm rubbing or scratching in the right place will be well received. Like when we want our back scratched and need someone else to help us out. If that is what they associate our approach with, next time they will welcome us and we won’t need a treat or have to intimidate them.

Regardless of how we get our hands on a horse, we can accommodate them by rubbing where flies pick on them and where they have a hard time defending themselves, like their bellies, under their jaw, their chest and other hard-to-reach places like their mane, withers, windpipe and around their face. All of this can help us to become a useful friend to our horses without the need of a treat or confinement.

 Cathing a horse

Cathing a horse

OFFERING COMFORT Comfort is a large part of why one horse will bond with another. There is no relation to any nutritional, hormonal, or protection need, only the good feeling the other horse can offer by scratching itchy spots. We can offer our horses this same comfort anytime, anywhere, and we don’t need any special equipment to do it.

If the horse learns to relate our presence with getting rubbed, and not any discomfort that may go along with getting caught, he can have good thoughts relating to our presence. But if the experience of fumbling a halter around his sensitive muzzle, eyes or ears makes a more lasting impression, he may not look forward to the next time.

When we rub them with our hands and they lean into us it is a good time to stop. If we step back and leave them when they are wanting more, they will be left with a better impression than if we rub them until they have had enough and move away. We want to leave them with their idea being that they want more of us.

For more on Martin and his UK clinics visit www.martinblack.net

Article first published in Eclectic Horseman, Issue No. 33

When To End

Clinton Anderson writes, "I often get asked how long a training session should last." That’s a difficult question to answer because a training session shouldn’t be about a set length of time as much as it should be about how your horse is reacting and listening to you. Instead the question should be, ‘How do I know when to end a training session?’ I hope the tips below help.

 Start

Start

1 Your horse has made an improvement from yesterday When you first teach a horse something, it’s a concept lesson. In the concept lesson your goal is to get the general idea of the lesson across to the horse. When you first ask a horse to do something, he won’t automatically know what to do. In fact, he’s probably going to do everything but what you want him to do. For example, when you ask the horse to back up on the ground, he’ll probably stick his head up in the air and ignore you. He might turn left, he might turn right, but the very last thing he’ll try is taking a step back. If you release the pressure when he takes a step back he’ll look for that answer again. However, if he takes a step back and you don’t release the pressure, he’ll go through that whole cycle of options (rearing, ignoring you, turning left, turning right, etc.) again. Then he’ll come back to taking a step backwards. If you miss releasing the pressure the second time, it’ll get even worse.

Every time a horse does what you want, or even acts like he’s going to do it, you’ve got to release the pressure so that he knows what the answer is. I’m so obsessed about it that when first teaching a horse something, if he even gives the impression that he’s thinking about doing what I want, I’ll release the pressure. Remember that a thought will soon turn into an action.

When the horse finally does figure out that you want him to back up, more than likely he’s going to back up with his head up in the air and his feet are going to be stiff and bracey. He’s not going to back up smoothly. That’s completely normal. You can’t expect him to understand the concept of the lesson and to back up with energy in his feet with his head and neck level all at the same time. First he has to understand the concept, and then you can build from there. You have to establish a starting point. Once the horse understands what he’s supposed to do then you can work on perfecting the lesson. But if you try to perfect the lesson before the horse understands the concept you’ll run into trouble.

After the first lesson you’ll work on perfecting the exercise. Each time you work with the horse you’ll look for a little more improvement. From that point on you won’t end a training session before the horse has shown some improvement from the day before. On the second day of practising backing up you’d expect him to back up four steps with energy in his feet. When you’d accomplished that you’d quit and move on to something else.

What you don’t want to do is get your horse softer and responding better and then keep drilling on him. If you do, you’ll just discourage him

What you don’t want to do is get your horse softer and responding better and then keep drilling on him. If you do, you’ll just discourage him. That’s hard for human beings not to do. We’re greedy creatures. When the horse is doing well, we want more. If he takes three energetic steps backwards we want to see six, and then we end up frustrating the horse because he doesn’t feel like he gets to win. So always be conscious of rewarding the horse when he’s doing well. Remember, a little try today turns into a big try tomorrow.

 Back-Up

Back-Up

2 Your horse has a good attitude Only stop working your horse when he has a good attitude and is respecting you as the leader, or at the very least has a better attitude then when you started your training session. When horses first come to the ranch for training, especially if they’ve been disrespectful for a while, they get worked more than a horse that is respectful and has a good attitude. So it really comes down to this – the worse the horse’s attitude, the more he’s worked. The better his attitude, and the more he tries, the less he’s worked.

You’re telling the horse, ‘If you come out with a good attitude and try everything I ask of you, you won’t have to work as long. However, if you come out with a sorry attitude, you’ll work much harder.’ If you’re consistent with this philosophy your horse will catch on that if he has a good attitude and tries he won’t have to work as long.

Don’t take what I just said out of context or to the extreme though. When you’re working your horse you don’t want to run him out of air to the point of exhaustion, no matter how he’s behaving. If a horse runs out of air, he’ll only be concentrating on one thing – finding air. He won’t be able to think about what you’re asking him to do. So it would be pointless to keep drilling on the exercise and making his feet move. You have to let him stop and give him a chance to get his air back. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t train on him at the same time. When you’re letting him air up, desensitise him. He’s already wanting to stand still, so use it to your advantage.

The most important thing to remember is to not quit the horse before he’s using the thinking side of his brain and has a good attitude. If you quit him when he’s snarly or using the reactive side of his brain, you’ll only reinforce that behaviour in him.

 Reward

Reward

3 Your horse is working well Always end a training session on a good note. If you finish when the horse is frustrated or misbehaving, that’s what he’s going to remember the next day and getting him over his problem will take twice as long. If you find that you’re in a time crunch and your horse isn’t performing well at a particular exercise, stop what you’re doing and practise an exercise you know the horse can do well. That way you’re finishing on a good note, doing something the horse knows how to do so he is relaxed and is listening to you.

Sometimes of course you’re going to have to quit your horse on a note you’re not pleased with. That will happen from time to time. To avoid that problem, before a training session ask yourself, ‘How much time do I have to train this horse today?’ Then plan the session accordingly. If you have a limited amount of time, don’t pick a subject you know your horse struggles with and you can’t get accomplished in that timeframe. Always set yourself up for success, not failure.

Tie Up Training

 Tie Up

Tie Up

Standing patiently when tied up is a fundamental part of any horse’s training. Here Jason Webb explains how to do it safelyPatience is an important thing to teach a horse. It is obviously very helpful if you are planning to take them out and about a lot but it is also important for day to day activities such as grooming, standing for the farrier etc. I tie my horses for long periods of time during their foundation training. I use a suitable tying device, halter and rope, and make sure their environment is safe. Then I leave them.

Initially they scream, shout and paw the ground, pace about and try to escape but I just ignore all that and carry on my day at the yard. The more activity the better. I lead horse’s past, I ride, I bring horses in and out of the fields etc. I only let the horse down when it is standing quietly. I repeat the process every day until when I tie them up they know there is no point in creating a fuss as it won’t change anything.

Too many times I see owners rush to attend to a tied horse that is showing signs of impatience, even if it is to chastise them. The attention becomes a game and encourages more fussing. In reality patience should be one of the easiest things to teach your horse. So long as you can block out the noise and explain to any other people at your yard what you are trying to achieve, your horse will be standing quietly before you know it. When your horse can stand patiently at home try it in a strange but safe environment and then at a show.

You will be the envy of the show ground if your horse stands quietly at the trailer while others are trying to escape, pawing, calling and causing a merry hell!

The Process

When starting to teach your horse to tie up I use a resistance tie. This works by allowing the horse to pull back but creates enough resistance that they feel pressure on their head collar. This is the safest and easiest way to teach your horse to tie up. It makes the act of pulling back for a horse uncomfortable but when they stop and take a step forward there is an instant release. A horse quickly learns the best place to be. Tying using a resistance device is preferable to any other method. Tying to a solid object can injure your horse as he struggles to get away, and tying to breakable string will only teach a horse pulling hard enough will result in release.

Apart from the resistance tie you will also need a karabiner (or double ended clip) and a 20 foot rope. The rope needs to be this long to allow the horse to try the option of pulling back for as far as it wants. If you follow this process then the rope will not need to be any longer. Once your horse learns, you can return to a normal length rope. Make sure the surface is soft and not slippery.

It is very important to teach your horse to lead before you tie them up. Once they know how to step forward from pressure on their head collar, tie them up and stand at a safe distance (two to five metres should be enough) holding the end of the rope and do something that may cause flight such as waving your arm or flapping something. If your horse starts to pull back, keep doing what you are doing until the moment they come off the pressure and take a step forward. Then walk away, pulling the rope back in to shorten it, and repeat. If they stop and don’t step off the pressure but continue to ‘lean’ back, just walk around behind them until they take a step forward. While you are doing this you can shorten the rope.

You can continue this work by introducing different objects to test their ability to yield to the pressure of the head collar and tie up safely in all scenarios. Getting them used to contact by different people and different objects is also important. I like to start with a bag on a stick. You can wrap the bag tightly to start with and as the horse gets more used to it, unwrap it so it flaps more. Allow them to sniff the object first then retreat. Next allow them to sniff and then rub the object up over their eye and down their neck. Use different objects and allow time between each for them to settle and reflect, this could be five minutes or two hours.

Make sure you work down both sides until you can’t make your horse pull any rope out. Next tie them somewhere else and repeat the lesson. Before your horse will be reliable tied up they need to follow this process and stand patiently in three different places.

The tying device used by Jason is available for £10.95 from www.australianhorsetraining.co.uk/shop

Best Foot Forward

Stop your horse from stumbling by keeping him focused and interested, writes Clinton Anderson. It’s normal for a horse to trip or stumble every once in a while. Just like us, sometimes they take a misstep, especially if the ground is rough or uneven. But if stumbling in the arena or on the trail is becoming a regular occurrence, your horse is in need of help. First, rule out any physical problems that could be making your horse trip such as poorly trimmed feet, soreness and lameness issues or EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeleoncephalitis is a neurological disease that often causes horses to lose coordination and stumble).

Once you’ve done that, then the culprit of the problem usually lies in a lazy horse not paying attention. And like everything we do with our horses, the more you let them trip the better they get at it, and soon it becomes an ingrained habit.

Who’s Responsible? No matter what you’re doing with your horse, he’s responsible for his feet – where he places them and how fast he moves them. Stumbling is a sure sign that your horse is letting his mind wander and not concentrating on the task at hand. If he’s not paying attention, you need to give him a reason to. When he stumbles, immediately pick up on one rein, bump his belly with the heel of your boot or apply your spur and bend him around in a circle, hustling his feet. Make it clear that he needs to wake up and pay attention.

If he ignores your leg, use your reins or a stick on his hindquarters. When he’s moving with energy, is alert and focused on you, put him on a loose rein and go back to what you were doing. It’s important to put your horse on a loose rein so that you dare him to make a mistake. Get out of the habit of babysitting him and trying to micromanage his every step. Put him on a loose rein and let him commit to the mistake. If he trips again, repeat the same steps. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. As long as he’s paying attention to where he’s placing his feet, you’ll leave him alone. But if he chooses to get lazy and let his mind wander, you’ll wake him up and make him feel uncomfortable by hustling his feet.

 Working-logs

Working-logs

Keep Him Interested When a horse constantly stumbles, he’s basically telling you that he’s bored to death. Keep things interesting and challenge him by incorporating more variety into your lessons. You’ve heard me say time and again that consistency and repetition are keys to teaching your horse, and that’s certainly true. You can’t expect your horse to learn anything if you’re only working with him once a week. But you also have to be sure to add variety and keep things interesting for your horse. Remember that if you include too much variety the horse will never learn anything because he never gets to practise a lesson long enough to get good at it. But if you have too much consistency (you practise the same thing every single day) the horse will get bored and resentful.

Set poles on the ground and ride your horse over them so that he has to think about where he’s placing his feet. Get out of the arena and ride him outside. Lope him down the road or around the pasture to free up his mind and get energy in his feet. Ride him over uneven terrain so that he really has to concentrate on where he’s placing his feet. I love working my horses over the obstacle course on my ranch because it allows me to work on exercises but offers a new challenge to the horses and keeps them on their toes. The more you can keep your horse guessing, the more attention he’ll pay to you, the more interested he’ll be in his work and the more fun you’ll both have.

Don’t be Part of the Problem Stay balanced in the saddle. Constantly leaning from side to side or back and forth can throw your horse off balance and make it harder for him to keep a steady pace without tripping.

Don’t put your horse on autopilot and just forget about him. Give him a reason to pay attention to where he’s placing his feet – practice serpentines, side passing or two-tracking. Not only will you keep your horse engaged, but you’ll be suppling his five body parts as well. You can never get a horse too soft or supple.

If you’re on a trail and going through rocky or rough terrain, give your horse his head and let him pick his way through. Horses use their necks to balance themselves, so having a free rein will allow him to raise and lower his head and neck as he needs.

For great ideas on how to train your horse on the trail and keep him interested in his work, refer to my Correcting Problems on the Trail DVD series. Visit www.downunderhorsemanship.com to learn more.

Prime Time

Clinician and trainer Julie Goodnight explains how she cares for and works her ‘prime time’ horses. I keep thinking about the three schools in the small town where I live and how those schools - elementary, middle and high school - translate to the wings of my barn and the young and older horses there.

 Prime-Time-Horse

Prime-Time-Horse

In the last instalment of this series, we talked about the elementary school and how what’s learned there equates to what the youngsters at my barn are learning. Now, I’m thinking more about the students who are outgrowing the strict confines of elementary school and are seeking independence. They are coming into their own and are ready to take on the world. The dedicated students in this wing of the school know their strengths and are eager to hone their skills. They are seasoned, active and ready to take on the world.

These horses tend to be aged between eight to 15 years old and are in the prime time of their lives. In my barn, they are almost all geldings. We have a lot of time and money invested in their training, seasoning and care. I consider these horses to be partners and assets in my business and they are total pros at what they do. Dually, my number one horse, is in this section of the barn. He leads up a team including my new-to-me mare Annie, and my husband’s gelding, Magic.

The prime time horses have pushed hard their entire lives to get to the level they are now. They work hard when required and they are very good at their jobs. These horses have to be ready with a moment's notice to pose for a photo shoot for a magazine article, to model for a catalogue or to make a training video or tape my TV show. I also use them for live performances at clinics and expos.

They are athletes who are well into their prime and they have used their bodies hard since they were very young. They need a lot of physical care to keep fit and pain-free and stretch out their careers as far as possible.

Behave Your Age Middle-aged, with successful careers, my prime time horses have come to value the sweeter things in life. They like their comfortably bedded stalls but also want to meander out in the fields, hanging out in the shade munching hay and socialising with their peers.

At times, they enjoy running rampantly and, true to their heritage, our cow-bred horses like to take turns herding and turning back another horse for fun. Although they enjoy the comfort of their stall when it is dark, cold or windy, they prefer to be outside when it is light and tolerable weather. True to the nature of the horse, they want to be safe and comfortable.

Having worked hard physically for nearly a decade, maybe more, they are ready to kick back a little and not work so hard - a desk job is sounding better and better all the time. However, they do enjoy and seek out the accoutrements that come with their jobs - the grooming and spa-like attention have become addictive and if left ignored for very long, these horses will become depressed and sullen.

Training Focus Our prime-time horses are fully trained - they know their jobs and do them well. Although they are occasionally required to learn new routines, mostly the training focus is about maintenance - keeping their bodies fit and their minds and skills sharp.

Scientifically, there are four stages of learning for animals and humans - acquisition, fluency, generalisation and maintenance. First the animal must be taught a new skill (acquisition), then practise the skill repeatedly until it is easy (fluency), then practise the skill in new and different contexts (generalisation). The final stage of learning is maintenance, when no further learning is needed but skills must remain fresh. This is where our prime time horses are.

For Dually, my emphasis is on keeping him sharp in his reining manoeuvres while maintaining the level obedience required for performing bridleless. We also have to focus on working cows correctly and I have to keep him tuned on the flag. I don't work on every manoeuvre every time I ride but instead focus on performing one or two really well.

Most of our training focus on our prime horses is in keeping them fit and legged-up, groomed and glossy. I may only ride my number one horse one day a week, which is plenty of time to maintain his training; I ride more when I want to work on something new or to prepare for a performance. On days I am not riding, the horses still have a great exercise programme.

 Working

Working

Fitness Because our horses get the same level of attention year round and have never been grossly out of shape, they can stay pretty fit by being worked three to four days a week. They don't need much practice at what they do, just a good fitness routine to maintain their figures. A horse that was totally fat and out of shape would require work for six days a week for at least 90 days to get in working shape.

Since exercising is the major point in their works outs, and since we don't want them to get bored with monotonous routines, we try to mix it up a little. I try to avoid the longe line altogether, which is not only boring but hard on the joints too. Instead, we'll put two or three horses in the indoor arena and free-longe them as a group, the way horses like to run. As they exercise, they have fun with and remain competitive with each other, showing off their mojo while I maintain the upper hand, driving and herding them around.

Other days, the horses will go out long-trotting on the dirt roads and trails for 20-30 minutes. Or they may be ridden through the obstacle course and hand galloped out in the grassy fields.

Health and Nutrition Some years, our horses eat hay 365 days. Depending on our snowpack from the winter, some years our horses may have a few weeks or more of a grazing diet in the summer. Once the irrigation ditches stop flowing, it is only a matter of time before we have to restrict the horses from the fields.

All our prime time horses are fed whole oats with vitamins each day - some only a pittance of oats, just enough to carry their supplements. Dually is not an easy keeper, so he gets a greater ration of oats plus several supplements and certain medicines to keep him healthy. He has always enjoyed the luxury of being able to eat as much as he wants without getting fat but his sensitive digestive system prevents him from having a vigorous appetite.

For supplements, maintaining joint health is our greatest concern and all of our performance horses are on the most advanced joint supplement formula for maximum support. It contains glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate plus ASU (avocado / soybean unsaponifiables), which has been show to work better than glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate alone in cartilage cell studies. The prime time horses also get an omega 3 fatty acid fish oil supplement which supports cardiovascular health and supports skin and coat health.

Dually and some of our other horses seem to benefit from a probiotic to encourage normal gastrointestinal function and health. All the prime time horses receive a probiotic paste when we are travelling.

Health maintenance is constant and expensive on these horses. I can relate to this being at the same stage of life myself! They are vaccinated twice a year to protect from the contagions they may encounter while travelling and often they need professional services like chiropractic, acupuncture and dental work. We tend to spend a lot of money to keep them in great shape and free from any pain. Like most horse trainers, I spend more on my horses than I do on myself and they see the vet a lot more often than I go to the doctor.

Our prime time horses are so important to us that we are happy to spend our time and resources on them. We don't mind going out in the barn late at night to switch blankets to make sure they are comfortable in the changing temperatures or to do one last check before lights out. I rely on them heavily for my business and am happy to invest in their wellbeing and fund their retirements. Now if only someone would do that for me!

Pressure Principles

 Releasing-pressure

Releasing-pressure

The key components to good training are pressure, release, timing and consistency, writes Patrick Hopgood.In order for you to improve your horse you must have a full understanding of pressure, release, timing and consistency. Each of these four components carries equal importance. If your understanding or use of any of the four components is lacking you will not be able to effectively ride or train your horse.

This applied to all your handling and riding of horses be it working with a young horse, fixing a problem with an older horse or improving a show horse. The same goes for whether you are a novice rider or very accomplished, focusing on these four components will drastically improve the way you use your aids. If you correctly use pressure, release, timing and consistency, your horse will learn the lesson you are trying to teach much more quickly and successfully.

Pressure The term pressure is something that a lot of people will have heard of in the horse world but may not fully grasp. In riding we use the word pressure to refer to literal pressure placed on the horse’s body by the aids, implied pressure from energy directed at the horse from things like a lunge whip or rope, and pre pressure cues such as voice commands, clicks etc.

Applying pressure is a way of communicating and giving instruction to a horse but also implies a degree of negative consequence if the horse does not respond. For example, the horse would prefer not to have your leg squeezing or bumping on their side. They would rather have that pressure removed (the release), which is positive.

All pressure needs a consequence, should the horse not respond, otherwise they may learn to ignore it. Usually the consequence is an increase in the pressure (whatever it may be), although the rider needs to know when to increase it (timing) and when to cease the pressure (release) to give the horse the motivation to respond correctly.

 Release

Release

Release Release refers to the cessation of the pressure that the rider is applying, be it from the leg, bit or raised lunge whip. Why do we use release of pressure as a reward rather than say food? The answer to this goes right back to the horse’s natural instincts. Horses are prey animals and differ to predators (such as humans, dogs and cats) in the way they think and operate. A prey animal doesn’t see food as a reward in the same way a predator does as they don’t need to put in lots of energy and effort to stalk, chase and catch a blade of grass. On the other hand, stalking, chasing and catching for the predator leads to a huge amount of food and energy in one big-hit reward. This is why training a predator species by rewarding with food works very well. Using rest and energy saving actions to reward a prey species works much more effectively as their main concern is having enough energy to run from a predator.

When riding, the application of pressure means that the horse has to exert energy in figuring out what we are trying to get them to do. This is in addition to the discomfort of the pressure, be it literal pressure or implied. The horse quickly works out that it is better to give the correct response to the aid and exert less energy than the consequence of the pressure. They start to seek the release as this equals a reward.

Timing Riders need to know at which moment to apply pressure and when to release it or they won’t be able to teach a horse anything. For example, if you want to go from a walk to a trot you apply pressure with your legs and when the horse starts trotting you release that pressure. Seems simple doesn’t it? From a walk to a trot is simple and most riders tend to naturally use pressure, release and timing quite well. But the trick is to employ this exact clarity when doing more complex manoeuvres.

Let’s look at the turnaround; most riders pull slightly with the rein and bump with their leg throughout the turnaround. As discussed above, pressure is viewed as a negative by the horse. The rider should be releasing the pressure in the turnaround and only applying pressure when working the horse away from the turnaround. I do this by working a horse in a small, tight circle asking the horse to shape their body around my inside leg. To ask the horse to spin, I release my inside leg completely and let the horse find the turn itself. This way the turnaround becomes a positive experience for the horse as all the pressure has been released. If the horse is a little further along I may apply pressure in the turn if they try to stop or don’t commit to it, but the fact that people get this training technique backwards is why there are so many horses that don’t turn well.

Consistency The consistency component is the last piece of the puzzle. You can implement pressure, release and timing but if these three components are inconsistent your horse will be confused and will not progress.

Every moment you are riding you need to be concentrating on being consistent. For example, if your horse goes to drop out of a lope and this results in pressure each and every time, as you bump them back up into it, they will soon choose to stay in the lope. They know for certain that there will be pressure if they don’t. However, if the rider starts to get lazy in applying an appropriate level of pressure when their horse decides to break gait, the horse will feel they can do this without consequence and start to exhibit this behaviour more often.

If you ride and train your horse using these four components there is no reason why your horse will not improve session by session as they will naturally gravitate toward the behaviour that gives them a more positive experience. Remember, if you are not using any training theory when riding or teaching your horse you can be certain that you will progress at a very slow rate, if at all.

Elementary School

 Barn

Barn

Julie Goodnight talks about the three ‘wings’ in her barn and explains the regime for her youngest horsesIn the small town where I live, we have a large school complex with three different buildings - the elementary, the middle school and the high school, each with a specific program designed to meet the particular needs of each age group. In my barn, we have the same type of divisions to help us better meet the needs of the horses we have in three different stages of life.

The elementary wing of our barn is for the youngest horses. These are our up-and-coming horses that we think have great potential but have not yet earned the same status as their upper classmates. We want the best for these horses but they also need to learn to toughen up and play by the rules. So just like in elementary school, structure, discipline, work ethic and manners are most important.

The most prominent section in my barn is for my prime-time horses - the mature, fully trained working horses. They get the highest level of care and the most luxurious accommodations because they work for a living. These are my working horses - partners in my business - and they get the very best we have to offer.

In a quiet corner of the facility is our geriatric wing, currently occupied with two stately old mares who will soon be starting their fourth decades of life. We do what we can for these elders, to make their final stage of life as comfortable as possible. They’ve given so much, to so many riders over the years and I am happy to give them a noble and comfortable, albeit expensive, retirement.

In this three-part series, I'd like to share with you the horses that occupy each section of my barn, the behaviours we expect from that age group, how we focus our training, how we keep them fit and the specific health and nutritional needs of each age group. We'll start at the beginning with the youngsters.

 Doc

Doc

The YoungstersWe don't breed any horses, so the youngest horses in my barn tend to be three to six years old. Currently I have two adolescents - Eddie, who is four, and Doc, who is six. I bought Eddie as a three year old; he is a well-bred Quarter Horse by a World Champion versatility ranch horse stallion and I have big plans for him in the years to come. Doc is a great little ranch horse and he's fun to have around for our friends to ride and for when we need a spare horse.

I tend to buy more horses in this age group than I keep. I like having nice horses coming along but often I find a good match for them and then take great delight in selling them and buying another. But every now and then a young horse comes along that is really special and has the potential to grow into a prime-time horse for me. My youngsters are still in the primary training stages and my hope is that one day Eddie will be a replacement for my number one horse, Dually.

Behave Your Age Horses in this age group are a lot like adolescent humans - they can be cocky, challenge authority and test their boundaries. At one moment they seem all grown up but the next they are acting like a baby. Younger horses often have more bravery and curiosity than they should, which is a good thing, and I like to encourage these behaviours so that they learn to be confident in new situations.

The youngsters are much more playful and energetic than their older barn mates, so they need lots of turnout time with horses that like to play and rough-house. To me, it's important that the youngsters also hang out some with the more mature horses when they are working, so they learn how to act appropriately in different situations.

Training Focus At this stage, we spend a lot of time working on the basics: good ground manners, tying patiently, trailering and basic manoeuvres under saddle. We do a lot of ground work with these horses to refine their manners, teach them to be focused on their handler and wait patiently for directives. I call this kindergarten for horses. You don't go to kindergarten to learn algebra; you go to kindergarten to learn how to sit at your desk, raise your hand when you want to talk and walk in a single-file line. We want our young horses to learn to stand still when asked, focus on the task at hand, ground tie, respect boundaries and not act impulsively.

Our youngsters will spend a lot of time standing tied at the hitching rail or trailer, alone or in company - learning patience. We like to ride them out in the open and expose them to novel stimuli as much as possible. We feed them in the trailer often so they learn to like it. We spend a lot of time getting them used to ropes, opening gates from horseback, dragging logs, walking over tarps, etc.

It's really important that young horses develop a strong work ethic. At this stage of training our young horses will get some long hard rides and have many wet saddle blankets. They'll learn to work by themselves, well away from any other horses; and they'll learn to work in a crowd of strange horses, maintaining good manners.

While we are working steadily to increase the horse's skill level under saddle at this stage, it is also very important to give them as many different experiences as we can and to make sure those early experiences are very positive. I'll take them to clinics and expos when I can, just to get them on the road, let them learn to sleep in a strange barn and work in strange environments. The more travelling and unique experiences they have at this age the more settled they will be later in life.

Fitness Although horses grow the fastest in their first two years of life, they continue to mature, both physically and mentally until they are seven or eight years old. In their adolescence, we want to make sure our horses grow strong and get fit, but without excessive damage to their joints. After the age of four, you can do just about anything with a horse, but younger than that we avoid lots of circling and hard manoeuvres like jumping. We never take a horse younger than four to the mountains.

These horses need lots of work, not only to grow strong and fit but also to develop a work ethic. They may get worked four to six times a week depending on the length and exertion of the ride. Part of the goals of their workouts will be to advance their skills by learning new cues and more difficult manoeuvres. Part of their workout will be repetition of the basics to develop muscle memory and coordination.

 Health

Health

Health and NutritionOur young horses get a high quality diet of alfalfa/grass mixed hay, as well as whole oats. While they are still growing and filling out, we pump a fair amount of food in to them to keep them in good flesh. In addition to growing, they are also worked pretty hard so their calorie demand is high. The young horses pretty much get all the hay they can eat, plus oats and supplements twice a day.

I start our young horses on joint supplements as soon as they are working under saddle. Although we think of these for helping older horses that already have cartilage breakdown, the ingredients are scientifically formulated to support and maintain the health of your horse’s joints. In my mind, the sooner they are started on a joint supplement the healthier their joints will be in mid-life. Our young horses also get a vitamin and mineral supplement that supports healthy hoof growth. This is really important with the additional stress of carrying a rider and working hard.

The youngsters in my barn are most important for the potential they represent. We want to nurture and develop them in order to turn them into the best horses they can be so that one day they might fill the shoes of our prime-time horses.

Distracted and Dangerous

 Stressed

Stressed

Jason Webb gives advice on a horse whose attention is everywhere but with their owner.Question

I have trouble getting my horse to pay attention to me sometimes in hand and under saddle. He often seems nervous and tense, always looking at things going on around him. I feel like he might just explode and it means I hate taking him out on hacks or to shows. What can I do?

Answer

Horses don’t pay attention if you are not ‘leading’ them. If you don’t have a purpose or a plan in which to engage your horse, they are likely going to be focused on any potential dangers around them. They will feel like a lone horse and we all know that a horse on its own is vulnerable and will be particularly nervous and tense.

First you need to have a plan for worst case scenarios - indications of bucking, bolting or rearing. Obviously safety should be your first priority so make sure you are wearing a suitable riding hat and that your tack is in good, safe condition.

 Flexing

Flexing

Keep control if you feel any bad behaviour coming on by disengaging your horse’s hindend to take away his ‘power.’ Do this by bending your horse’s head to the left or right until his hindend steps over. You can give at this point and repeat as many times as necessary until you feel your horse settle.

If he is also tricky when led from the ground, practise yielding his hind quarters away from you to achieve the same effect (see my previous articles). Make sure to practise both these exercises at home so you have them in your toolbox should a difficult situation arise when out and about.

Once you are confident with these exercises it is time to give your horse some challenges, starting with something simple. It could be something as easy as going around a couple of cones or markers until you feel good rhythm and an ease in their steering. What this does is give you and your horse a focus. Keep setting new challenges to avoid boredom for both you and your horse. Boredom will result in your horse testing you for something to do. Make sure he accepts that you are the leader and is happy to wait on your command.

 Relaxed

Relaxed

If you are at a show or on a hack you may have to think up some patterns without the help of any markers. Design some with plenty of turns in them to keep your horse busy and thinking, and his attention on you. Moving your horse’s feet is a sure way to get their respect and lots of changes in direction with good forward motion helps channel any nervous energy into a job. Moving feet is what a dominant horse does to get its counterparts to submit to their leadership. They use gestures backed up with a kick, a chase or a bite to get the other horse to move their feet and do their bidding (eg. ‘leave the food / mare / foal / me alone’). You have to adopt this attitude.

Don’t try to be ‘pretty’ about it and don’t feel that just because you are at show that this ‘settling down’ time with your horse needs to be in a perfect outline with you on the perfect diagonal etc. It is about getting your horse listening to you.

Once you have achieved this you can go ahead and work in an outline and show what you are both made of, but getting your horse to recognise you as the leader in this strange environment should be the first priority.

Getting Started

Starting a young horse is not for the inexperienced or unprepared warns Clinton Anderson. In this article he shares his top tips for a successful first few rides. Safety in preparation The biggest thing my mentor Gordon McKinlay instilled in me when starting colts is that preparation is 99.9 percent of your success. The better prepared your horse is to be ridden, the better your first ride will be. Gordon was meticulous about not getting on a horse until he was ready. I could be working with a young horse and Gordon would come down and say, ‘Is he ready to ride?’ I’d say, ‘No, he needs another day or two’ and he was fine with that because if you get on a horse before he’s ready, you’re going to get bucked off and plant a bad habit in the horse’s mind.

 Starting a colt

Starting a colt

Don’t be a hero I left Gordon’s to apprentice with Ian Francis and he had the same philosophy. He always told me, ‘There are a lot of heroes in the graveyard.’ He was referring to all of the people who get on their horses too soon, get bucked off and break their neck. Both men, but especially Gordon, taught me that preparation is everything in starting colts.

Get him moving In my first colt starting lesson, Gordon taught me the importance of not only walking and trotting a colt during the first ride, but also cantering. Cantering picks up the colt’s energy level and frees up his mind. Most people think that you should only walk the horse during the first ride, but I quickly learned that unless you get a colt cantering and moving, he’ll develop ‘sticky’ feet and start to get resentful or lazy about having to move. That’s when he starts to develop bad habits like bucking or rearing.

Equal doses I usually spend five to seven days working with a colt on the ground before I ride him for the first time, even if he’s really quiet. I learned early on that colt starting isn’t just about desensitising your horse, but sensitising him as well – getting him to move his feet, yield and soften to pressure. The better your horse understands how to move his feet and yield to pressure on the ground, the easier it’ll be for him to do the same thing under saddle.

 Colt Starting

Colt Starting

A tired colt is a good colt If you over feed and under work your colt, you’re just asking for trouble. I’ve never seen a tired colt, one that’s relaxed and had a lot of miles put under his feet, give anyone any trouble. I have however seen fresh and overfed colts rear, buck and do all kinds of dangerous things because they’re feeling so good that they want to explode out of their skin.

Be realistic about your ability The best success tip I can give anyone thinking about starting a colt is to be realistic about your ability. If you’re a green rider and you’re frightened to trot and canter, the last thing you need to do is start a colt. You should have an independent seat, which means that you can walk, trot and canter on a loose rein and you don’t need to squeeze with your legs to stay in the saddle. If you’re not confident in your ability to stay with a horse, then you’re not ready to start colts.

Don’t fold to peer pressure Don’t ever get on a horse because somebody is pressuring you. I don’t care if it takes two days or two months before you get on a horse; take the time you need to prepare him now so you don’t get in trouble later. If you’re not 90 percent sure it’s going to be a textbook ride, don’t get on. I say 90 percent sure because with colts you can never be a hundred percent sure that everything is going to go according to plan.

A lot of people will raise a foal in their backyard and get tricked into thinking when they go to start him as a 2-year-old he’s going to be the same, quiet, easy going horse

The first six weeks The first six weeks of a horse’s life under saddle is the most crucial time of his career. Whatever a horse learns first will be the thing that sticks with him for the rest of his life. So if you teach him that it’s OK to buck, run away or be stiff and heavy, it’ll take a long time to undo the damage. However, if you teach the horse in the first six weeks that he needs to be soft, supple and relaxed, it’ll the lay the foundation for everything else you do with him.

 Clinton Groundwork

Clinton Groundwork

Colts are unpredictable Most people don’t realise just how unpredictable and dangerous horses can be. Horses aren’t man killers or aggressive by nature, but they’re big powerful animals with an extremely fast reaction time. Think of a colt like a small child. Just like kids, your colt is going to do unexpected things. He’s going to be unpredictable. He might spook and jump sideways 10 feet, and if you’re not good enough to sit on him, you’ll be on the ground before you blink your eyes. I’ve seen every wreck you could ever have with a colt.

Don’t be fooled A lot of people will raise a foal in their backyard and get tricked into thinking when they go to start him as a 2-year-old he’s going to be the same, quiet, easy going horse. Some colts will stay quiet, but a lot of them react when you introduce the saddle and a rider’s weight. I think sometimes people forget that everything you’re doing with a colt from the first ride on is a brand new experience for him. Take nothing for granted, and never assume a horse is safe, always make him prove it to you.

Don’t let a bad habit form One of the most important things you can do with your colt is to not let him form any bad habits, especially bucking. You’re better off not letting him learn that he can buck someone off rather than having to spend the time and effort to fix his behaviour. If you need to spend an extra two or three days on the ground preparing the horse to be ridden, do it. What is a week or two out of a horse’s life to prepare him for a successful first ride? Prevention is always better than cure.