Starting the Young Horses Right

By the first of November all of the major events are done and dusted and I give the bulk of the upper level horses a good month’s vacation. This is a well-deserved rest from the hard, focused training and relentless competition schedule that starts in February. This also means a little less work at the farm since the upper level horses are so time-consuming, so we also use this time to give our staff a holiday intermittently

This is also a good time to break in a few racehorses and spend a couple months focusing on the three-year-olds that will start competing in the middle of next year. We break them in the spring, in April or May, then give them six months off in the big field to be young wild horses, then come November we put their first set of front shoes on and get started with them. This year we have five three-year-olds: one I bred after I bought an embryo from Ray Price’s dam, one I bought as a 2-year-old from Mary Hazzard, and three that were bred by Denise Lahey, and I’ve invested in a half-share of each.

The supply of young horses is important; the reality is that young horses are so sought after as four and five-year-olds, it’s nearly impossible to find them for sale. Also, I really enjoy producing my own young horses from the get-go.

When they come back to work in November it’s the first time I ask  them to come into a round shape on the flat. Personally I don’t use any side reins or draw reins. I learned from Heath Ryan who’s very natural in his approach and we teach them in a gentle way that they can relax and stretch their necks and backs. I usually start in the jumping ring because it’s easier to get them forward in a bigger area. I spend the first month in a light seat, gently taking my weight off the horse’s back and encouraging them to stretch their neck and back without carrying my weight on their back, which works well because they’re not that strong yet. We want to make things simple for them.

In this time I also start preparing my horses to jump; some of them may have free jumped a bit, thought not my homebreds. We’ll start with some trot poles and then small fences with a placing pole encouraging them to push off close to the fence and make a round shape.

The rest of the training with the young horses is quite fun for them: we have a wonderful farm with a gallop track, cross country field and many trails and private roads to ride them on. I often put them in a big group and get my assistant riders to hop on, and we willl go out for about 45 minutes to an hour riding out in a big group. I’m careful to select the quietest ones for myself, as I’ve been pelted off many young horses in my time and I believe it’s now my younger riders’ turn to have that thrill.

Come January 1st it’s time to start migrating south, so after two months of training it’s time for the youngsters to have a rest. They’ll get a vacation until we get back to Pennsylvania in April and from that moment on they’re proper competition horses and slide into the program like any other horse in work.

For me  starting these young horses is incredibly important. I make a point to anyone who works for me that this is where horses learn to be even on both reins, relaxed and happy, and not to take these two months lightly as habits learned now will stay with these horses forever. I’m very particular about how we get these young horses going.




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  1. Cynthia Lawler says

    That’s Awesome
    Love these detailed posts!

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