In a recent discussion, the topic came up of taking a horse home from a trainer’s care after it has been started under saddle. Most of the time people are concerned with the question of should they spell their young horse or should they continue the work without a break. After that, the next question they have is either what type of work should their horse get or how much work is okay for a young horse?
Like most professional trainers who have been in the business for awhile, I have started too many horses to keep track of but a significant number of those horses have gone home and been rested for weeks or months and then sent back to me to be restarted without the owner doing much at all between visits. I think it is largely because either the owner does not have the confidence to ride their green-broke horse at home or they don’t know what type of work they should do or thy fail to make time to work their horse. So here are my tips for what should happen when a horse goes home from the breaker.
I believe that when a horse finally comes home the owner should put enough rides on their horse for them to figure out and gain confidence in their new relationship. I think it is a mistake for a horse to be immediately spelled after being at a trainer. Owners need to know what they brought home and have confidence that they have a horse they can feel safe riding and they are satisfied with the job they paid for. I usually recommend 20 to 30 rides is enough to give an owner a good gauge of their horse and how they feel before deciding to spell their baby. But the actual number depends on the horse – some may be great with less than 20 rides and some may need significantly more than 30.
I also recommend the rides are not long and definitely not hard work. Short rides that involve mental connection and consolidating the clarity of the reins and rider’s legs rather than physical exertion are far more valuable. I am not from the fraternity that believes a sweaty saddle blanket is the way to go for a young horse.
Once an owner feels confident in the horse they brought home, I am all for spelling a young horse for a few weeks. In fact, I like to spell horses regularly until they reach about 5 to 6 years of age.
However, many people don’t take my suggestion for getting 20 to 30 rides before resting their horse. I believe this is either they are not confident they have a safe horse or life gets too busy and working the horse takes second priority.
If it’s a matter of not enough time to ride your green-broke horse, then I suggest you put off sending your horse to a trainer until you can be sure you will have time to ride when the horse comes home. It may mean planning several months ahead or even a year ahead, but it is worth doing.
If the problem is a lack of confidence, then I believe the best way around it is two-fold. First, make sure you get plenty of experience handling and riding your horse while it is at the trainer before taking it home. When I was training full time I use to insist owners came along as often as possible to watch my sessions with their horse to observe and ask questions. As the horse’s education started to progress, I would have the owners do ground work under my guidance for a few sessions. When the horse was in a good enough frame for the owner to ride, I would give them lessons in the round yard, arena and on the trail (with and without a companion horse). It was my view that a horse should not go home UNTIL the owner and I both felt that things were working well enough between them that it was time to take it home.
The second part of helping owners with a lack of confidence was for me to visit them or have them come to me for semi-regular lessons. This seemed to help a lot of people because it meant I could keep them on track with the education, but also knowing we were going to have a lesson would encourage people to actually ride their horse.
These simple tips helped keep more people motivated to work with their young horse once I had finished my part of the training. It wasn’t a certain guarantee, but I saw a significant improvement in the success rate months later when an owner became involvement in the training process and later take up my offer of follow-up lessons.
My suggestion to anybody looking for a trainer to start their horse under saddle is to search for someone who has good communication skills and wants to get owners involved in the training AND offers after training service as you and your horse get to know each other.
It is a big change in a horse’s life to transition from purely a lawn mower to a riding horse. It alters the dynamic of the relationship we have with our horses that sometimes requires a little help and commitment to putting in the time.