Formula for Success! Many trainers have experienced both the positive and negative influences of improper training methods, whether this is your horse’s misunderstanding of the use of aids, or a problem area that needs addressing. The foundation at which your horse is built upon is the key ingredient to your horse’s successful career. As a trainer, you must determine how much exercise and training should be included routinely in your horses developing stages. As well as how often you should modify your horse’s training program. You must formulate a program that suits the needs of each horse individually. There is not a single, universal, consistent program that could be used for every horse. Which is why its important to be able to formulate a program based on your horse, in his or her current needs. The ground formula for career preparation consists of your horse’s physical and psychological variables. We must first ask ourselves how much physical activity should we include into a young horse’s exercise program?
To answer the question about the amount of physical activity, we must determine the length and the frequency of training. There are too many variables to take into consideration in order to make young horse exercising a “one size fits all” program. What we can conclude, is that the goal of physically exercising a young horse is to stimulate the proper development of the muscular and skeletal systems; without stressing either to the point of fatigue or failure. I like to break these down into three categories:
- The Level of exercise (lungeing/mild, golf cart/moderate, or long lining/advanced).
- Type of exercise (walk, trot, or canter).
- Duration (the length of activity).
The conformation of your young horse is very important in determining the level, type, and duration that he or she is capable of. If the horse is weak over his topline, or has a “baby” under neck, you could incorporate some advanced Levels of exercise when the horse was ready to strengthen his or her topline. If your horse is croup high, or high at the withers, you will probably find that certain Types of exercise will be a struggle for them as they advance. This is not a huge concern, as the horse is still developing. In which case, you would either only introduce the type of exercise, or keep it to a very minimal in Duration. For all horses, exercise programs should begin at conservative levels and increase as positive results are achieved.
Now that you have an understanding of how much physical activity should be included into your horses exercise program, you can now begin to understand the psychological (mental) aspect of your horse’s preparation.
Like any relationship, it is important to understand what one likes, as well as what one dislikes. Sensitivity, resistance, and pressure are all factors in discovering what temperament your horse has. If your horse is willing to give to a little resistance to the contact (i.e. half halt), or is willing to lift its leg with the slightest touch of the fetlock, then you have a horse with a trainable mindset from the get go. Don’t be discouraged if you do not. Not all horses start this way, but it is important to know what type of horse you have so you can build on his or her strengths, and improve and strengthen his or her weaknesses.
A wild horse wouldn’t allow you to put a halter on, just as a two year old might not allow you to put a bit in his mouth. Your relationship with your horse should carry over these values to build the bond between trainer and equine. Which is why the mental preparation is just as, if not more, important than being physically prepared for his or hers career. So what motivates a horse to be a willing participant?
Horses are instinctual and behavioral. They react in different manners based on the way they feel, and they way they were taught.
- Instinctually, horses are known to be “flight or fight”, “herd bound”, and/or very brave or insecure. Get to know your horse so you can build on their strengths, as well as recognize their weaknesses.
- Behaviorally, they learn from both the herd and the handler (i.e. what they can get away with). Make sure the learned behavior comes positively in their training.
They need to be happy with their surroundings (pasture management), and feel safe with their handler in an unfamiliar environment (bond development).
Most of the problems we have with our horses stem from pasture learned behaviors and bad timing on the part of the trainer. Horse’s become aggressive, or stimulate aggression, based on their herd rankings. Make sure that the attention the horse is getting in the pasture is related to psychological capabilities. Some would conclude that a yearling not be lunged for more than 10 minutes. Reason being: he or she is unbalanced (create improper muscular development), could damage growth plates, and/or joints are not developed correctly.
A two year old might have excellent balance, straight legs, and/or solid feet; but could be mentally unprepared for a bridle. Its possible that a 16 hand three year old have a great temperament, but have issues working through building muscle from its size and awkwardness. By understanding your horse, you can develop a program that will enhance his or hers strengths, by avoiding his or her weaknesses. A horse’s purpose in life is to seek safety and to feel comfortable in its surroundings. As a trainer, your goal is to instill safety for both the handler and the horse, by implementing relaxation through leadership and trust. Young horse’s are in a constant state of changing balance, both physically and psychologically. It is up to you to be witness to the developing stages of your horse, and adapt a program that influences positive results.