In part 1 of Shellie’s feature on working with young horses she explains how she uses play to engage her 2 year old to understand basic commands and ground work.
After an incredibly wet winter for most of us, it’s been one of the worst for keeping the young horses occupied and safe.
On my yard I deal with lots of young horses and have learnt to manage them over the worst months of the year. Shorter days, incredibly wet ground and storm after storm. Lots of yards shut off their turn out over these periods leaving owners with very little option or variety for their young horses. They take so much commitment and time and can be a real handful. However, using my basic principles below it can also be really rewarding without asking too much of them.
Despite our winters getting wetter and wetter I’ve made it a priority on my yard to have all year round turn out. Surfaced small areas that the horses can at least have a leg stretch in when the weather is bad. It’s just enough to take the edge off young horses which are kept in. In the winter as many of you will know, it is just as difficult for the horses as it is for us. I also try to prevent mud fever as much as possible by using these small, surfaced areas to limit the mud on their legs. If a young horse suffers from mud fever, again the management becomes extremely hard, especially if that young horse isn’t well handled.
So what do I do with mine?
I have a two year old colt, Don Motown “Mojo” who I’ve owned since a weanling.
Mojo is a boisterous colt. All summer he will be out 24/7 and in the winter he will go out everyday. If the ground is good he is out for as long as possible. As the ground gets wetter and wetter the turning out time gets shorter and shorter, so now’s the time to start with basic ground work and handling to help occupy him.
I make sure all my young horses especially Mojo are very well handled. I feel this is very important for his future development. I have him on the main yard in the same routine as the competition horses. He gets to see all that goes on. He can see me working the horses from his field or stable and so becomes very settled and confident in his routine.
In his stable I teach him to not only tie up but to stand still as well. We change rugs and do lots of grooming as it’s important that I can touch all of his legs and pick up his feet and have them washed off. This all improves his confidence and builds up our relationship. I teach him to walk next to me from both sides and to be led with another horse. I’ve also taken the time to load and travel Mojo and he already is great to travel. Mojo sees the farrier every 6 weeks, even if the farrier doesn’t do any trimming it’s great practice and experience. The same applies with the dentist – good calm experiences will only gain Mojo’s confidence.
Obviously I don’t work the 2 year olds but there is still lots you can do to keep them occupied.
Playing is a great way to get energy out and establish a few rules at the same time.
When I take Mojo in the school I always wear a hat and gloves for when I’m leading. When he is loose I always carry a lunge whip. Most of the time I don’t even need it but it’s there just in case I need to remind him not to come in to my space. He can let off a bit of steam and enjoy himself in a safe environment just not near me! As he self exercises I keep repeating the word of the pace he is in, in a calm voice and it’s not long before he recognises the words. “Walk-ing,” for example, in a calm and repetitive tone.
If you ever need to trot a youngster up for the vet it’s very useful for them to have a bit more understanding of what is being asked.
In time he starts to move and circle around me. It’s at this point he’s had enough I don’t want him to “work.”
I can then do some leading work with him. I always do it after he has got some energy out and he is then more settled and wants to be with me.
We do lots of walk – halt transitions and walking in, out and over poles which is a great way to make his brain work. It all doesn’t have to take more than 15-20 minutes.
Mojo loves being in the school with a foot ball. He pushes it with his nose and moves it with his feet, to him it’s great fun! Pilates balls are also very popular with him.
A treat ball with a grass nut is also a great way to fill some of a youngster’s day.
Young horses are not easy, they take a lot of time and commitment and also lots of patience. It’s so important to keep them active over the winter months not only for their sanity but for our own safety. There is so much we can do with them at this age that will help in their future development and education which are all the things we take for granted with our established horses.
Shellie Beattie is based in Cross In Hand, East Sussex and is available for private lessons, clinics and starting young horses as well as competition livery.
Follow Beattie Dressage on Facebook for regular updates on her training and competition results, or call Shellie on 07955 043 353 to discuss how she could help you and your horse.