Riding the Young Horse
It’s early days for the youngsters and they are all progressing well. Having all been backed over the last couple of weeks, we are starting to ride them out and about. Each session begins with the horse being tacked up with its saddle and bridle. They are then put on the horse walker to warm up. They spend about fifteen minutes on the walker allowing all their muscles to loosen up and get the blood circulating. They wear the tack during this time as it allows them to feel it and become more comfortable with it. It is the unusual sensation of tack that causes the most concern to a young horse, by letting them wear it for a while before the rider gets on their backs they can gain their confidence and if they do have a slight panic the rider isn’t put at risk.
Once they have a had a good warm up session, the horse will be given a lunge in our lunge ring. This has two purposes, firstly it gets a bit of energy out of the horse – a bit like an exuberant child once they have had a little run around they tend to focus better on the task in hand. Secondly, it gets them used to that tack when in their faster paces. Once they are concentrating properly and settled in the environment of the lunge ring they are ready to be ridden. Each horse will require a different amount of lunging before it is ready to be sat on that day.
The horse is ridden around the lunge ring for a few minutes, initially at the walk – gaining confidence in the rider. In the case of a particularly nervous horse they will have the same rider every day to build up their confidence, before they are challenged too much. The bolder amongst them will have different riders on different days. The purpose of this is twofold, it habituates each horse to the concept that different riders will have a different feel so that later on in their careers they do are not surprised by new riders. It also lets the riders get to know each individual so that the team are all confident riding each horse. Special bonds will begin to form between different horses and riders – together they become more confident for the challenges that lie ahead.
Once a horse is confident at a walk in the ring and settled under the rider, they will work on stopping and steering. This really gets the horse focused on the rider, walking in tight circles and figures of eight all teach the youngster responsiveness to the rider. The next step is to increase pace to a trot – again the horse has to find their confidence and balance as the rider moves a lot more in this gait. Once they are trotting smoothly, the rider will ask for a canter. This is yet another different sensation for the horse and it may take a few strides before they relax into an easy rhythm.
The next step is to go out into a wider space. For the first few days they will walk around the yard, an environment that they are starting to get to know by this stage so shouldn’t hold too many fears. It is useful in getting them used to carrying a rider on different surfaces and up and down gradients. Once they are really confident doing this they are ready for their first trip out into the wider world.
Our riders are experienced at riding young horses and the style of riding is a bit different from that required for riding a fast piece of work. Often those riders who have a lot of experience in general riding and with a good understanding of the basic concepts of dressage and schooling on the flat make for the best riders of youngsters. However the most important asset is patience and the ability to give a horse confidence. Taking your time and creating a relaxed environment works wonders for the confidence of each horse. The only time a horse doesn’t need to be relaxed is in those final two or three furlongs of a race, if it has wasted no energy until then it can lay down those reserves to win. The foundations we lay now have to be solid and its worth a bit of extra time rather than having to sure them up later.
For more details on how we developed our method and an explanation of some of the terminology see our previous post