From Disproportioned 3 Year Old into an Elegant 6 Year Old or a Wreck
by Rivkah Roth DO DNM
What we do with a horse between age three and six determines health or unsoundness of the horse’s body and mind for the rest of its life. Facilitating to the degree of the horse eventually wanting to work for us, doing the best for the horse (not for us!) is not our choice, it is our obligation.
We owe everything to the horse – the Horse owes us nothing!
During times when our lives depended on horses for sheer survival it was understood that young horses were to be handled strictly by experienced young-horse trainers. These latter also were the pros able to suggest proper horse-rider matches.
Today, everyone wants a young unspoiled horse. If the horse is lucky it is sent for one or two months of professional backing. We either conveniently forget or simply don’t know that to put the proper initial training on a horse takes two years of meticulously correct work. There simply are no shortcuts to the minimum two initial development and schooling years of a horse.
Many of the horses I deal with these days didn’t have that opportunity of consistent and good development through their “teenage” years. Horses learn. They learn from everything they are presented with. If it is good, they learn. It is bad, they learn equally well. If it is painful or boring, they shut down. Horses lack one thing, the ability to differentiate between what they understand we want from them and what we think we communicated to them.
Kids by the way are no different. They learn everything they are presented with as desirable. That’s why brainwashing is so much easier before the youthful twenty-five year old male has developed his responsibility centre. Some teens turn into adults and still cannot think nor tell the difference between good learning and learning wrong or manipulated data.
The Horse learns everything equally – good or bad.
Equally, if a horse learns to lean on the hand and march on its forehand as a youngster, he will lean on the hand and shuffle in a front-heavy manner all his live unless prodded and confused by its rider over and over again. Not really the picture of pleasure, not for the rider and even less for the horse.
The best trained rider therefore is who should get to develop the youngsters. This is the one who with subtle cues, a feather-light seat, and elastically balancing arms helps the youngster to cope with the rider’s top heavy mass on his back. Such an experienced rider is the one methodically and patiently teaching the ABC to our youngster, the one to eventually develop its trust and willingness under saddle.
“What an inexperienced rider ruins in five minutes, a professional may not be able to fix in a year, or never.”
So here is why I always recommended: If you don’t have that time nor the experienced know-how do yourself a favour, keep saving your money instead of raising the youngster and then sending it for training. That way eventually you will be able to afford yourself “the best suited not the least unsuited horse” – not to mention avoiding the associated cost, pitfalls, and dangers.
We voice upset when we see thoroughbred yearlings prepared for two year old races with tiny jockeys. Yet we see nothing wrong when 105 to 200 pound adults with a 20 pound saddle climb on a two and-a-half or three year old warmblood horse and hang on for dear life with bad balance, unsympathetic hands, and blocked seat bones. Just to be able to proudly claim, “this is my first horse I am breaking.”
Oh no I forgot, a faulty seat no longer is solely an issue of raw beginners. Sadly even in today’s Grand Prix ring we witness riders who lack independence of seat and hands and lack the concept of timing and proper application of aids. Horses pay with injuries and shortened useful lives.
So, whether spending a lot of money (or little) on a horse, shouldn’t we at least owe it the most positive, most biomechancially correct training? The kind of training that makes the horse want to do more for us, not to shut down or, worse, pay their rider back when latter isn’t aware?
There are a mere couple of established and proven approaches that develop mind and body of the horse gingerly and consistently as it grows into a mature horse; approaches that produce a thinking horse, one motivated and willing to work with its rider. But these take time.
There are more approaches offered based on short cuts, shutting down and conditioning the horse like training a child by numbers. Most of those methods eventually lead the horse to hold back or even fight its handler and rider.
A horse’s muscle development, outline, facial expression, and willingness to work speak volumes. The horse’s body never lies!
We must learn to recognize this. Dropped withers, sunken backs or tight belly lines are dead giveaways, as are tail swishing, open or tightly shut mouths. More subtle are signs of weedy neck musculature on a horse with more than a few months of training, sunken eyes, pouting lips, and semi closed eyes.
In this article I am introducing just a couple of examples of totally different types of horses and how good work can be identified either under saddle or via standing pictures and angle assessments.
In closing, I hope these lines make anyone think who is considering to take on a project. I do have a suggestion though: spend hours and years watching good people work, trainers who do not need to cope with negativity from their equine trainees. Trainers who quietly achieve consistent results. Trainers who make it look easy yet know exactly which next step they will address, or if they need to scale back to allow their charges time for physical and mental development.
These are your rolemodels. Study them but refrain from copying them until you have understood one hundred percent why their horses react differently, and patiently practice and work until more advanced horses show that same ease with you. Otherwise keep your hands away from green horses for the first couple of years and until they are completely confirmed in their under saddle work. You may be surprised how much more enjoyable your riding life has become when all goes willing and easily.
Enjoy and keep safe!
copyright Rivkah Roth DO DNM
Dr. Rivkah Roth is the founder of Equiopathy and a natural health practitioner, lecturer and author with over five decades in the saddle as a correction rider (Swiss National License LMS since 1968) and many hours as a National Grand Prix and FEI C dressage judge. Student successes include professional coaches on 5 continents (incl. CDN/EC I to III, ISR I to III, Dutch 3rd Level Instructor, USA, AUS), 1986 Dressage World Championships alternate (CDN), 1986 National GP Kuer Champion (CDN), 1992 Barcelona Olympics Longlist 3-Day (CDN), 2002 Young Horse Dressage World Championships – Verden/GER (ISR), World Cup and WEG dressage horse (CDN), many Nat. and Provincial Champions all levels (CDN / ISR / SUI).