Every young horse is of its own type, mentally and physically. There are no set rules as how to train the young horse, but there are basic principles. The most important thing is to not overtrain the three- and four-year-olds. Never overtax their limbs, never make the exercises more difficult than they can cope with.
With horses that are totally accepting of riders and are very keen to get on with the job, you must remember to go slowly. With horses that are hot and excitable, first you need to think about their minds, not about their physical ability, but just about getting them to accept the rider’s weight and aids.
It’s important not to take the will to work for themselves out of young horses. In the past, Preliminary and Novice tests were judged on quiet horses doing nothing. Unfortunately, this is detrimental to producing a Grand Prix horse, as Grand Prix horses need to have spirit and a feeling of wanting to do the work for themselves. With this in mind, it is really important to allow the horse’s expression to come through all the work and not to trounce on this expression and squash it.
1. GO AND STOP
Of course, the first and most important exercise is to go and stop. There are horses that are very forward and then there are horses that are very backward – so, depending on the horse, you need to make certain that you keep this desire to go forward and to come back on an even level plane, like a seesaw. You don’t want more forward desire than you can contain, and you don’t want a backward feeling that there is nothing to contain. Like Carl Hester says, “emptiness is not lightness”. So especially with the young horse, you must be very careful of this.
I would work young horses in either a round yard or arena in the beginning, and one of the easiest exercises to train a horse to slow down or stop is to turn them outwards into the rail. So, when you’re on the left rein in a round yard, if you ask the outside rein and they don’t come back to you, then turn their head towards the rail and use your voice as encouragement to “whoa”.
If you’re in the 20 by 60 metre arena and you’re going around on the right rein, don’t always go and ride into every corner, because the horse eventually thinks “if we get to a corner, I just turn”.
So, sometimes you go down the long side and five or six metres before the end of the arena, you ask them to come back to you, and walk and halt. And if they don’t, you just keep straight and keep going towards the wall and keep them really straight and make them realise they need to make the downward transition. Don’t turn the corner, face the wall.
In these exercises, it’s important to note that it’s absolutely not about running the horse into the wall; it’s gently turning them and using that visual cue to help them understand the message.