Training the Young Horse with Heidi Woodhead

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Here we get advice from sponsored rider Heidi Woodhead on training the young horse…

Take Your Time
It is important to keep in mind that every horse is different and responds differently to training and work. Horses develop physically and mentally at different rates and this will be a deciding factor when planning the training programme of any horse.
Young horses need to be treated with respect and patience but with firm and clear guidance. In order that the handler/trainer is never in a dangerous position, it is important to establish boundaries.
Training young horses is a skill that develops with time and experience and if you come up against a problem, it is important to seek advice in order to continue successful progression.
On the Ground
Training young horses starts from basic grooming and handling from the ground, long before you would consider putting on a saddle.
Horses flourish with consistent routine and handling, which develops trust and a partnership between horse and handler. It is easy for bad habits to develop and it is therefore essential that a firm and consistent approach is maintained and that ground rules are developed and adhered to.
Making Progress
The next stage of training the young horse should involve lunging and long reining. This gives a platform in which the basics of ridden work can be taught.
Training sessions should progress at a pace dictated by the horse. The handler/trainer should be able to recognise when the horse is settled and ready to progress with each stage of his training.
A lunge roller should be introduced during handling and then used with loose side reins when lunging to assist with control whilst the horse is on the lunge. Sometimes it might be necessary to walk the horse on a circle until he learns to stay away from the handler with the lunge line. When the lunging is confident and established, long reining is a useful progression and will develop the horse’s understanding, enabling him to move forward and starting to educate the horse to the use of the bit and the feel of contact with the mouth.
When the horse is quietly and confidently lunging and long reining, a saddle can be used and the horse should be introduced to the rider’s weight leaning over the saddle, but never with feet in the stirrups in the early stages.
When a horse is happily walking and trotting under saddle with a rider, then some pole work can be introduced, which the horse should have already experienced on the long reins, walking and trotting between poles and over poles on the ground, and poles should be used to help develop straightness and physical strength and balance before a small jump would be introduced.
Jumping Ahead
Many skills introduced on the lunge or long reins such as pole work or small cross country obstacles such as a ditch or steps, or walking through water, should be gradually brought into the work under saddle, sometimes it can be useful to follow a more experienced horse, and obviously it is essential when hacking to be in the company of another horse who is confident in traffic.
Horses will associate the rewarding of good behaviour with a treat, eg. carrot/sugar lump/herbal treats and the praising and rewarding of horses encourages them to repeat good behaviour, although, don’t allow it to develop into a bad habit where they are inspecting your pockets!
Top Tips
  • Take things slow, start work on the basics and slowly build on top of what they have already learnt without overloading them.
  • Repetition and variety – finding the right balance between repeating exercises and experiencing new situations is key.
  • Try to be positive in everything you do. Giving them the best experience is a must for their confidence and progress.

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