There are many different methods to ‘starting’ or ‘breaking in’ a horse, but all should strive to achieve the same result, that of a horse that can be ridden safely and handles well on the ground. The method used should not only bear the horse’s safety in mind, but also that of the person who is starting the horse. Being ridden is completely unnatural to the horse and how you introduce a rider will have a lasting impact. Over the next few months, I will describe the starting process that I have learnt growing up in Australia and continue to develop every day here in the UK.
Overview of the starting process
1st Stage – 4-6 weeks
The horse will be ridden at walk, trot and canter in different environments, will hack out alone and in company, will negotiate small jumps and natural hazards such as water. The horse will also be reliable to shoe, lead, load and generally handle well.
2nd Stage – Turned away
The horse should be turned out in a paddock for a period of time dependent on the age and maturity of the horse.
3rd Stage – Consolidation
The horse will be reminded of the work he did in Stage 1 and his training will be advancedaccording to how the horse responds. Once you are gaining positive results with the horse, he can be turned away again. This process could be done a few times over the course of a year before he can be described as a ‘going horse’ and ready to be trained for the horse’s given discipline.
When is my horse ready for starting?
I always take into account the horse’s physical and mental development, but generally I like to start horses as two or three year olds after which they are turned away to mature further. I feel that they can cope with the work and are more accepting to you as their ‘leader’. If you leave starting a horse until they are fully mature, then I have found that you can encounter more problems and more resistance. It should be noted that with the methods I use the starting process only takes 4-6 weeks, after which they are turned away.
An individual process
Every horse is an individual and every horse responds differently to the starting process. Therefore it is important to be flexible in your methods. In Australia, the horses that we start have generally only been handled once before and I have had to learn to work with their natural instincts. Here in the UK, most young horses have been well handled, generally making them safer to start. The horse’s disposition, or personality, and their breeding also have a large bearing on how the horse is going to accept a rider. I can usually tell as soon as I see a horse whether I am going to encounter problems, although my motto is ‘prepare for the worst, hope for the best’! Five out of ten horses will be uncomplicated, three will take that bit longer and the other two will test all your skills, including your rodeo ones!
In the next part I will talk about the first stages in the starting process and the equipment that I use.
For further information, please visit www.australianstockhorses.co.uk or phone Jason on 01580 211662 / 0774 9914 267.
Starting The Young Horse 2
By Jason Webb
Last month I gave an overview of the starting or breaking-in process that I use. This month, I will describe the facilities and tools that I use.
1. Round-pen. I believe that a round-pen is crucial to starting a horse successfully. It allows me to work with the horse in a controlled environment. When the horse is first ridden, there is the possibility that the horse will ‘fight or flight’. If they ‘fight’, they have not got the room to really get bucking and if they ‘flight’ they can do so in a circle without me having to stop them.
2. Arena. This is not as important as the round-pen, but it is very useful to have an enclosed arena that is accessible from the round-pen. It is helpful to introduce the horse to larger spaces in stages.
3. Tie-pole. I have a tie pole that is an old telegraph pole cemented into the ground and surrounded by tyres. I tie horses to the tie pole and they very soon work out that they cannot pull back. They gain their release from pressure by standing quietly.
4. Horsebox / trailer. An important part of the starting process is teaching the young horse to load properly!
5. Lead-Pony. A lead pony is a horse that is ridden with the young horse before and during the first few rides. I find that having another horse in with the young horse gives him confidence and teaches them manners around other horses. It is also a way of introducing them to a person being
above their eye-line.
6. Rope halter and long lead rope. These are important in teaching a horse to tie up properly and it can also be used to teach the horse to lunge.
7. Bridles with snaffle bits with cheekpieces. I start horses with a snaffle bit that has cheekpieces. This prevents the bit from moving too much in the mouth and also gives the horse more guidance when teaching them direction.
8. Side-reins. Sometimes I use side-reins to gain some vertical flexion, although most horses do this already from the lateral groundwork that I do.
9. Roller. I start the horses off in a roller before progressing to a saddle. The roller needs to have rings on both sides of the horse and one on top that ropes can easily slide through and be attached to.
10. Long-lines. I long-rein horses when I ‘mouth’ them, or teach them direction and lateral and vertical flexion.
11. Australian Stock Saddle. I use one of these saddles to start horses in because it gives me extra security. If you fall off a horse that you are starting it will knock your confidence and the horse’s and has the potential to create a problem that is not easily fixed.
12. Whips. Some people frown on the use of whips but if a horse is taught about their use properly, they are a very useful tool. I use a dressage whip to teach horses to lead properly and a lunge whip in the round-pen as an extension of my arm to help change the horse’s direction and speed.
13. Hobbles. Hobbles are a leather strap used to restrict the movement of the horse’s legs. Again, many people frown on the use of hobbles and other similar systems but in actual fact they can be a very useful tool for starting a horse. Horses quickly realise with hobbles that there is no point resisting and that standing still will release all the pressure. This directly teaches your horse a very important lesson, acceptance of any leg restriction. If people do not like the use of hobbles, I remind them that every time you tie your horse up or even ride you are restricting the horse’s movement by applying direct pressure! I believe the acceptance of hobbles saved one of my young horses from seriously injuring herself when she was caught in a fence. She stood quietly until I found her in the morning and we cut her out with not a scratch on her.
14. Farrier tools. I don’t use these for shoeing, but rather to simulate the process so the farrier will be able to shoe the horse with no difficulties.
Next month I will go through the first few days of the starting process.
Starting The Young Horse 3
By Jason Webb
Last month I gave an overview of the facilities that I use for starting, or breaking-in, horses. This month, I will describe the first steps of the starting process that I use.
Before I commence any work on a horse, I make sure there are no physical problems that the horse may have that could hinder his progress. This includes checking his teeth, feet and watching his movement.
Each day I cover the preceding day’s lesson, then add the next stage. As I described in my first article, all my training can be described as: Pressure – Result – Release – Reflect
Also, never underestimate the work you can do when carrying out everyday tasks with a young horse, such as leading him to the field and grooming him. If you are not getting the required result from your horse, you must always be thinking about what signals you are giving him!
The first stage is to put the bridle on. I tend to use a Fulmer bit with the long cheek pieces to stop the bit sliding through the mouth. I then leave the horse to his own devices to get used to it.
Once he is comfortable with the bridle on, I will work the horse in the round pen. This work can be described as ‘join-up’ but I would describe the level that I want as ‘facing up’. I do not want the horse to follow me everywhere, rather to keep him facing me and keeping me as his main focus.
Once they are ‘facing up’ and happy to stand quietly with me, I will start to ‘desensitise’ the horse by introducing him to different objects such as plastic bags. Their first instinct will be to flee. However, I will persist with what I am doing until they stop, after which I will take the object away. This teaches them to accept different things and that standing quietly rather than fleeing gets the best results!
The other area I work on straight away is their manners when being lead, tied up and when being handled. They quickly learn and accept that they are not allowed into my personal space.
I will generally repeat what I did on Day 1 and if all goes well, I introduce a roller onto his back.
On Day 3, I will usually mouth the horse using the roller and a system of ropes, similar to the way long reins are used. Working in the round-pen, I can teach the horse to go left and right, to stop and to back-up. It is an extremely important process for the horse and vital to your safety when it comes to riding the horse for the first few times.
If you would like to discuss your horse or these articles, please contact Jason Webb on 01580 211662 or visit www.australianstockhorses.co.uk.
Starting The Young Horse 4
By Jason Webb
Last month I described how I begin the starting process with an unbroken horse.
After about three days, I usually feel they are ready to mount. This is after I know I have control of the horse on the ground and that through the mouthing process he understands how to turn left and right, to stop and backup.
Depending on the horse, I may use a lead pony at this stage. A lead pony is ridden alongside the horse by another rider. Not only does this give the horse confidence, but it gets the horse used to having a person above his eye line. It is also helpful as it gets the horse used to being led off another horse.
I always do my first couple of rides in the round-pen. Generally, the horse’s first instinct when you mount a horse is to ‘fight (buck, kick out) or flight (bolt)’, both of which are significantly reduced when working in a round-pen. It allows me to let the horse travel forward without me having to put pressure on his mouth and prevents the horse from being able to ‘rodeo’ with much force! Also, if he decides he wants to bolt, he will soon realise that he can’t get anywhere!
Before mounting the horse, I will recap on what I have done the previous day and make sure the horse is comfortable with the saddle and bridle. I will get the lead pony at the head of the horse and ask the rider to cover the horse’s left eye with his hand whilst holding the cheekpieces of the bridle. I will then mount the horse as quietly as possible. A point to note here is that I have noticed that a lot of riders do not mount their horses correctly. It should be done in one smooth movement, starting at the shoulder rather than the ribs and with no bouncing on the ground!
Once I have mounted I will encourage the horse forward round the outside of the round-pen. The lead pony will be next to me but not hindering my forward movement. At this stage, I have to be ready for any reaction – bolting or bucking, or even refusing to go forward. I will do some changes of direction, similar to when I was mouthing them on the ground and I will try to get a brief canter on each lead. In all I will be on the horse for about 5 to 10 minutes. At the end of the ride I will back the horse up.
The first dismount is almost as important as the first time you mount a horse. I get my lead pony and rider to emulate what they did when I was mounting and I will dismount as quietly as possible. After the first ride I will just mount and dismount from each side of the horse a couple of times before taking the horse in.
Everything you do at this stage of a horse’s training has an impact and I want to achieve a level of acceptance in everything I do with him. Therefore it is not just the ridden work I am focusing on when starting a horse, but things such as hosing him down after being worked and standing quietly whilst being groomed and tacked up.
On Day 5, I will go through the same process as Day 4. If the horse is quiet I would go ahead without a lead pony.
If the horse is settled and accepting of me, I will let them ‘float out’ into the arena. Ours is 30m x 50m and a good size for training horses. I use as little rein contact as possible and all I am looking for at this stage is forward motion. If the horse wants to canter, then I let him do so. I will guide him with my reins and maybe do a couple of changes of direction as I would do in the round-pen before stopping him and dismounting.
If the horse reacts in a way that he hasn’t shown yet, then revert to using a lead pony again and get the horse leading around the arena without a rider first.
If all has gone well, this will be a well earned rest day for horse and rider! At the end of his first week, the horse has had a steep learning curve but if it is done in a systematic and repetitive way, then he should accept what is being taught.
For more information, contact Jason Webb on 01580 211662 or visitwww.australianstockhorses.co.uk
Starting The Young Horse 5
By Jason Webb
Last month I got to the end of the first week of starting the young horse. All being well, I would have ridden the horse in the round pen and out into the arena.
Day 8 and 9
These days are consolidating on the previous week’s work. Training horses is about repetition, so I tend to introduce anything new after I have gone over the lessons of the previous day. I would expect to be riding the horse more in the arena rather than the round pen at this stage and will perform some changes of direction and transitions through the paces.
Remember that you cannot expect perfect transitions and movement at this stage. The horse will be very erratic at first and I tend to concentrate more on achieving forward motion and developing the horse’s rhythm and self-carriage with as little rein contact as possible. Personally, I do not ask for any vertical flexion at this point, as I feel that it prevents the horse from learning to move forward freely. I have found that introducing a constant and stronger rein contact can promote resistance and problems further down the track.
You must not forget that everything you do has an effect on the horse. Everything he learns at this stage is from what you teach him. Therefore, if something goes slightly wrong, do not panic! For example, if he suddenly rushes forward, grabbing at the reins could reinforce the flight instinct and lead to future problems such as bolting
Day 10 and 11
At this point, I will start mounting the horse in the arena rather than the round pen. I will also take the horse outside of the arena for the first time. Before doing so, I always check my horse’s state of mind and that they are travelling in walk, trot and canter in a settled way. The first ride out will be around the stable area where there is a lot for the horse to look at but is still relatively enclosed. I will open and shut any gates from on top of the horse. You cannot underestimate the use of gates for training horses! Think of all the movements needed – forward, backwards, sideways, standing still while the rider leans over…!
Day 12 to 14
Now it is time to venture further afield into open space! I will still mount in the arena and check that the horse is settled. I will ride round the yard and all being well, go into the fields. At first, it will be one circuit walk and trot and if the horse wants to float into a canter, I will let him provided there is no panic in the horse.
One of the problems you may encounter is that of spooking. Do not make it into a fight to get the horse past an object he is spooking at. I tend to turn the horse back towards the object and take them back to the place where they felt comfortable before spooking. Then I would try and go past the object again, repeating the above if they continued to spook. By doing this, you are keeping the attention on you rather than the ‘scary’ object and you are keeping the horse from panicking. It might take two goes before he walks past quietly, but it could take half an hour! However, if you stay patient and calm, you should teach your horse a valuable lesson and avoid future problems.
For more information, contact Jason Webb on 01580 211662 or visit www.australianstockhorses.co.uk
Starting The Young Horse 6
By Jason Webb
Last month we got up to the end of the second week in the process of starting a young horse. By this time, I would expect the horse to be hacking round the farm.
The next two weeks will be adding good experiences to this foundation. The aim of starting a horse is to show the horse how to behave when being ridden and handled on the ground. However, it could take up to a year of consolidating this work before the horse is reliable and ‘solid’.
Riding round the Farm
I will try and keep riding in the arena to a minimum for the next couple of weeks and by now the horse should be walking, trotting and cantering in the field. I will encourage the horse to flow forward freely in straight lines and large circles. I will ride him out round the farm on his own and in company.
Gates are one of the most useful tools you can have when training horses so don’t cheat and get off to open them! With a young horse, it is a way of teaching them to move off your leg and gaining some lateral movement. At first the gate opening and closing process will take a long time, but don’t lose your patience! Whenever the horse moves in the direction you want, take the pressure off and let him stand before asking him for another movement. Once you have closed the gates behind you let the horse stand quietly, with no pressure for a while so he absorbs the lesson just learnt.
Once I know I have speed control and a little lateral movement, I will introduce the horse to light traffic. The horse will be used to vehicles around the yard and at first I will ride a short circuit on a very quiet road. At first, I will take him with an older horse for safety purposes to act as a ‘chaperone’, but after a couple of goes, I will take him out by himself as well.
The horse will encounter small natural obstacles around the farm such as logs, which I will jump him over. We also have small steps to go up and down, small ditches to go over and water to go through. Throughout all these experiences, I make sure that after the horse has done what I have asked, I let the horse relax and stand with no pressure. I won’t do a lot of jumping in the school, just some small grids to get them used to the idea.
Preparing for their future career
At this stage, I believe all horses from a future Grand Prix dressage horse to the happy hacker need the same basics. However, if the horse is destined for one discipline, I will introduce them to certain experiences. For example, I am presently starting a dozen two and three year olds for polo. By their second week they had a polo mallet introduced to them and they are now happily ‘stick and balling’ in the field in their third week.
Before the horse goes home, I strongly recommend that at the very least the owner watches their horse being ridden by myself in different situations. The owner would preferably have ridden their horse a few times in different situations before he goes home. I am always willing to come out to the owner’s house for the first ride in the horse’s new surroundings!
As a last point to note, I always try and instill the following motto to my clients:
PRESSURE – RESULT – RELEASE – REFLECT!!!
Next month, I will do a summary of my starting methods that will show the progression of the horse over the 4 weeks.
For more details, please contact Jason Webb on 01580 211662 or visitwww.australianstockhorses.co.uk.
Overview of The Process of Starting The Young Horse
By Jason Webb
Over the past six months I have written about the process I use for starting horses and ponies. I believe all horses should have the same grounding, regardless of the discipline the horse is destined for.
The most important thing I have at the forefront of my mind during the whole process is safety, both mine and the horse’s and if you are in any doubts that safety may be compromised; you are better off seeking professional help. Over the years, I have introduced certain aspects to improve safety and always work with certain facilities and equipment, such as a round-pen and an Australian stock saddle.
I should reiterate at this point that all the methods that I use are based on the following principle:
Pressure – Result – Release – Reflect. Meaning that when you give an aid and get the correct result, you stop asking and give the horse a rest!
Below is a timeline for the four – six weeks that it takes me to start a horse under saddle, with a brief explanation for each phase. Remember that all horses are different and I have given an overview for a straightforward breaking-in!
Days 1-3 Groundwork
This will include tying up, leading, general handling, ‘join-up’, the introduction of the saddle and bridle and mouthing the horse through long reining.
Days 4-6 First Rides
The first rides will be in the round pen and will only last 5-10 minutes. The horse will be introduced to being ridden in walk, trot and canter on both reins in the all weather arena. It is important to repeat the work done the day before each time as repetition is the key to a settled horse. During these first few rides, you are looking for forward motion and positive responses to the aids to change direction and to stop. Don’t expect perfection at this stage!
During this week, the horse will be introduced to being ridden in an open field and around the farm. The horse will come across all sorts of interesting and spooky things and it is our job as riders to reassure them and not let things become an issue. Reacting in the wrong way (such as grabbing at the reins to stop a horse rushing forward from a spook) may create future problems such as bolting, napping and rearing in the most severe cases.
Remember opening and closing gates are an excellent way of developing control of the horse. Keep your patience however long it takes and remember to reward your horse with a break after he has done the right thing!
During this week, the rides will become longer and I may introduce some elements of the discipline the horse is destined for. On their rides, I will put them over natural obstacles such as logs, small shallow ditches and through water. They will be hacked out on a quiet road in company and alone once I feel I have adequate control of speed and direction!
I tend to leave them tied on the yard whilst I ride another horse. This teaches them a valuable lesson in patience and also gets them used to all the comings and goings in the yard, such as tractors, other horses, dogs etc!
Weeks 4 – 6
During these weeks, I will consolidate on the work I have done in the previous weeks and would expect the horse to be going in a settled, forward manner. I may do some more work in the arena, for example with transitions and some basic jumping exercises, or introduce stick and balling for horses destined for polo. I will also do some work on the ground and make sure the horse is a willing loader and is safe for the farrier to work with.
Before the horse goes home, the owner would ideally have had a few rides on the horse, but at the very least, they must have seen the horse being ridden and be happy with the way he is going.
I would recommend that the horse is turned away for a while after he has been ridden at home a few times. It is a very intense time for the horse to cope with and he will deserve a break!
To view all the articles on Starting the Young Horse, or to contact me directly, please visitwww.australianstockhorses.co.uk or phone Jason Webb on 01580 211662