Training the Young Event Horse with James Sommerville

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If you’re a fan of eventing, you may have always wondered how the top riders produce their young horses. In this informative Q&A session, we asked top event rider James Sommerville for his top tips on training his young horses.
Yorkshire-based event rider James Sommerville, 28, has been eventing since 2002, and competing professionally for the past nine years. James has a large number of horses based at his yard and competes at events all over the UK and internationally.

This season looks set to be an exciting one for the team as they prepare for their Badminton debut with top horse, Talent, and get some of the younger horses ready for a step up the grades.
1. What do you look for when buying a young horse to event?
When we go to buy a young horse, the first thing we look at is their conformation. We look at them having a nice head and a kind eye. We also look at their feet, limbs, and straightness of the horse from behind. We then move onto looking at their movement, jump, a nice mouth and way of going. The single most important fact it that they have a trainable attitude.  
2. How do you start them?
We begin their training with the basic foundations. Lunging and long reining them is the beginning for all our horses. We move onto leaning over them and building a trust in a safe environment, progressing onto sitting on them and riding them away. We don’t rush this, as each horse needs to learn to trust us.
3. Why is flatwork so important?
Flatwork is the foundation of all horses’ education because they need to responsive to the rider in all paces, and properly balanced in order to jump well.
4. How can you improve a young horse’s paces?
We do lots of pole work, pushing them forwards into bigger paces, and lots of lateral work, creating suppleness to allow them to really use their body.
5. When do you start jumping and what kind of exercises do you do?
We begin jumping when the horses have formed a basic way of going under saddle, are responding well to the rider, and have mastered basic steering and straightness. We begin with small single fences – basic cross poles, straight bars and parallels – before building into jumping them together. We then put in a few fillers to challenge them further.
Other training exercises we including using cross poles to shorten and lengthen the canter, and establish maneuverability within the pace.
6. What kind of competitions do you start with?
We spend lots of time hiring arenas for show jumping practice and cross country schooling before we think they are ready for their first competition, which is generally at BE90 level.
7. How do you encourage them to be bold cross country?
As well as including lots of cross country schooling, we taken them hunting so that they learn to enjoy moving fast across open ground and rustic fences. When we take them to the first few events, I ride them quite quickly so they will go forwards and not have time to look too much at the fences.
8. What exercises can I do at home to improve cross country ability?
You can create skinny fences, barrels and corners in your own arenas using showjumps and poles. Practice riding them on different distances and lines.
9. How do you get young horses fit for the cross country phase?
We love hacking our horses, the road work and hills are fantastic for fitness work. We only do light canter work for the younger horses as their fitness work should not be as demanding as the older horses. We avoid a lot of galloping work to avoid strain on young limbs.
10. How do you keep the training interesting for young horses?
Variation is key. We don’t do too much in the school, and make sure we include plenty of hacking and taking them to different places. But most importantly, we also let them enjoy a lot of time in the field when not working. Natural conditioning work in the field is fantastic for horses – and they enjoy downtime too!
All the horses at Team Sommerville Eventing are fed on Fibre-Beet to help maintain good condition throughout while training and the busy eventing season. Most importantly it provides them with plenty of fibre to help absorb excess acid and maintain a health gut.
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