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Riding a Young Horse; Advancing Training Skills

I’m so proud of my young horse, Eddies Pick, a 3 y/o AQHA gelding from the famed 6666 Ranch, by their World Champion stallion, Sixes Pick. I bought Eddie back in April from the Legends of Ranching Sale at Colorado State University as a green-broke colt, just about 60 days under saddle. I must say, he has far exceeded my expectations in the past six months.

He’s come a long way since April, with lots of miles and wet saddle blankets; with four road trips from one end of Colorado to the other, where he helped me teach multi-day clinics. He’s learned that the trailer is not a bad place, that he can be comfortable and safe even when sleeping in a strange place and that sometimes life involves hard work. He’s also learned that in most cases, it’s good to be the instructor’s horse; watching the other horses work from the middle of the ring has it’s advantages.

I’ve been spoiled from riding my finished bridle horse for some time and it was a re-awakening to be riding a green-broke colt again. Most of the time I just refused to treat him like a baby, choosing instead to ride him like a ‘broke’ horse, and most of the time he rose to the occasion. But we did have our share of green-bean moments– an occasional reminder that although Eddie was calm and compliant, he still didn’t know much.

But now, as the seasons change and Eddie is approaching his four year old year, it is time to get a little more serious about his education. We’ve got the basics down– he’s a ‘solid broke using horse’ now that stops, turns and goes as directed. Now he’s ready for more refinement in his training and for the more advanced maneuvers required in his job description. It’s time we set some bigger goals!

Up to now, we’ve been focusing on fundamentals– going straight and steady on a loose rein in all gaits; maintaining obedience to the path and speed I dictate– not leaning toward the gate or speeding up when we turn toward the barn; responsiveness to basic cues to stop, go and turn; going over obstacles, through the creek, over the tarp and under the low-lying branches; and just learning, in general, that sometimes you have to work hard, even when you don’t want to.

I’d say Eddie is officially ‘broke’ now; he’s no longer a baby and it’s time to move onto more lofty goals. Coming into the fall of his three year old year, it’s time to move past primary school and on to high school. As we progress to more advanced training, it is important that he learn the advanced maneuvers that will be required of him, and that he learns them in a technically correct and precise way. To excel in performance, athletes must learn the technical aspects of their sport. From the first moment he starts learning more advanced skills, I want Eddie to be doing it right. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Even in his fundamental training, Eddie has learned to listen to and respond well to my seat and legs. Ultimately he will be my bridle-less performance horse so from day one, I have been guiding him more with my body and less with my hands. As I constantly preach in my clinics– reins are reinforcement to the cue– not the cue itself.

The middle school skills I am working on now with Eddie include collection at the canter and the beginnings of lateral work. We are loping more circles, focusing on the bend in his body, the lifting of his inside shoulder, bringing his hind-quarters underneath him and coming into a more rounded frame. This is not his favorite thing– he much prefers riding on a loose rein with his nose poking out, but he is getting stronger and more coordinated each day that we do more collected work.

While Eddie has been moving off my leg well for sometime, now I am starting to ask more of him by leg yielding or two tracking. Understanding the correct body position the horse should be in and how he moves forward and laterally, bent in the opposite direction of travel, how you use your seat, hands and legs together to achieve this result are paramount. If the rider does not fully understand the maneuver and how to use her aids, how can it possibly be correct? How do you know if your horse is doing it right? It is at times like this that I appreciate my early schooling in classical riding.

As my youngster develops himself in a more collected frame, bending well on the circle and leg yielding at the walk and trot, we are also starting to work on the all important Western maneuver– pivot on the haunches. As a working cowhorse, this maneuver will be foundational for the reining patterns he will be expected to complete, as well as when working cattle. Starting with quarter turns taught from a spiraling circle, we are now advancing to complete 360 degree spins. Again, knowing how to use your aids to get the correct response is key to a young horse’s success in learning these difficult maneuvers.

While my focus is on advancing Eddie’s training, I still want things to be fun for him. Sometimes going around in circles and drilling maneuvers gets tiresome so I also plan time to ride around the ranch, opening and closing gates, dragging logs to and fro, going up and down the ravine to strengthen his back and hindquarters. But even during this ‘casual’ riding, I have an awareness of my horse being correct and having total body control. He can’t just pile through the gate– he has to be patient and make the correct movements in the correct sequence, waiting for my cues and not anticipating the next move. In this ranch work, Eddie has proven himself to be a star, just like his papa.

I’m proud of my young horse and I am patiently setting goals for him and for me that are attainable and progressive in nature– you have to walk before you run. I won’t get in a hurry because I know that being methodical and technically correct in our maneuvers will be faster in the long run and bring out the best talent in my young horse.

What about you and your horse? Do you have training goals? Do you periodically reassess them so that you know you are constantly moving forward? Isn’t it plausible that a total recreational rider with no plans to compete might be interested in advancing your horse’s training and being technically correct in your riding? I think so. How about you?


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