Repost from 2017
It has been almost 6 months since I brought her home. She was just over 2 years, and a bit unruly. Not in a bad way, just lack of experience or handling. In today’s world, it is common practice to put a young horse out in a group and let them grow, and that was this mare’s story. I do not disagree, to a point. It is good to let them grow, and not expect them to work at a such a young age. But a minimum amount of handling is important as well. Regular farrier and veterinary care are an important part of ensuring the young horse will grow up to be a healthy athletic adult. But it also is a teaching opportunity. Left to their own devices, young horses can become pushy or difficult at a time when they have the size to make simple tasks difficult and dangerous. Leading, standing tied, having feet handled, all should be a part of the routine. In a perfect world…
That being said, I do love a blank slate. No baggage, or fear to overcome. So, an unhandled horse can have its benefits. No one else’s ideas have been impressed upon a horse that has had little handling. I don’t have to fix or undo anything. I can begin building from the ground up. Working both on the mental and physical fitness as any aspiring athlete would do. I prefer to go at a pace that creates a horse with confidence and trust.
I am not that trainer who will put 30 days on your horse and call him broke. I am aware that it is a well-regarded method, and I understand the financial need to have young horses going quickly as there is the pressure to be out and competitive as well as the profit margin consideration. I think the cost in time and money may seem much better up front. But the result is a horse that has been pushed beyond its physical abilities, and is working from fear, or force. Often the owner will be spending the next year in a cycle of one step forward and two steps back while working through the anxiety it causes.
If you look at the bigger picture, over a years time, with the two different approaches they may actually result in a similar level of training. Yet, although it will take the same amount of time it will create a very different result.
There are so many little things often taken for granted, that someone had to teach your horse. How much time and effort goes into the simple everyday things? In 6 months, this little filly has grown 2 inches, gained 75 lbs, learned to like grooming, stand in a cross tie, get her feet trimmed, have a bath, get a haircut, wear a flysheet and fly mask, endure the spray bottle of endless fly repellent and hair conditioners, and eat carrots (surprisingly a new thing for her). She can back, and sidepass in hand, as well as do forhand turns, haunch turns, leg yield and shoulder in, all from the ground. I can ground drive her all over the property because she understands rein aids, and will stop, go, turn, or back up without any fuss. She started 3 weeks ago with a lunging surcingle and then graduated to a saddle. 2 weeks ago I started working from a mounting block, standing above her, reaching across, then adding weight, then all my weight, and today I stepped in the stirrup, swung a leg over and sat down. I asked her to move away from one leg, and because of the work I have done from the ground, she quietly stepped over. Her understanding of what I had asked her was clear. By the end of our time today she would walk a small circle in either direction and stop and go when asked. If you ask me, that is a lot of learning. I cannot begin to imagine how anyone could expect a young horse to get that much information in a short time.
This was the first time this horse has had a person sitting fully on her back, in a saddle, and she did not have one single thought of bolting, bucking, or fear. She just stood there as if it was nothing new. She trusts me. While I command respect I am always fair and kind. Because of this she has gone from defensive and pushy, to willing and curious in 6 months. Tomorrow we will walk some more, I do not feel the need to do anything more than that. Walking under saddle will be a relaxing stress-free exercise. And she will continue to be relaxed and willing while her back gains the fitness it needs to carry weight. I am building an athlete, just like any athlete, one step at a time. Soon her back will be strong enough for more time, and more challenging work. And If I am patient, we will be unstoppable. What a great thing to aspire to!
So, to all those who think that it takes 30 days to get a horse trained…we will see you at the finish line. We will be easy to find because my horse will be the happy confident one.