Exercises for Young Horses

Young horses can be so infuriating and so fun at the same time. I love playing with the babies; they are blank slates and it is so much fun to have a hand in every step of their progression. Most of my horses were bred on our farm so I broke my first 2yo when I was in middle school and ever since, the young ones have had a special place in my heart. This rewarding process can be very confusing if it is your first time and if you don't have someone around to guide you. I have had  a request for the exercises I use to help my young horses mentally and physically. So with no further ado, here is what has worked for me in the past with my horses.

1. Ch-ch-ch-changes
I like to keep my young ones minds and bodies busy in the beginning. I do a lot of bending and hip movement, trail poles, pivots, backing, etc. keeping the job ever changing. I don't like to go out and do the same thing every single day and I am sure they also get bored of doing the same thing every day, especially young ADD horses. So one day I will do showmanship with my 2yo. The next day English. The next day trail. Then a day off. Then western pleasure and horsemanship the following day. This keeps them mentally challenged and helps them to build muscle and strength in different parts of their body. It also gets more handle on them; Trail helps teach steering and can slow down one that likes to rush and make them think. While changing things up is great, make sure you are keeping consistency in your cues and methods to avoid confusion and frustration.

2. Forward, Lift, Forward, Lift
Push them babies FORWARD. Don't cramp their style. Let them set the pace (as long as it isn't a run) and they will gain confidence in their movement. Don't discourage their natural movement. You can slow them down later but once lost, the confidence and forward is hard to regain. Also, LIFT their shoulders. Penny pushers are so 10 years ago so we want level heads and lifted shoulders. Everything I do with my babies is in a lifting motion; steering, stopping, pivots, etc.

3. Rewards > Punishments
I am a huge believer in rewarding them for correctness. You can hear me patting on my horses from the other arena usually. This is good for any horse but crucial for young ones. They need to know when they are good. They will behave more often when they are praised for it. My young horses get tons of love and affection when they are being good so that they seek out that desired reward through good behavior. I love it when they do something right, know they do it right and almost anticipate the reward of a pet, scratch or treat. It shows me they are learning in a positive way which is the best way to teach young horses in my opinion. When they do it right, they get love. When they don't, they have to keep working. The positive rewards should be more frequent and bigger then the negative punishments.

4. Keep Calm and take them to their stall
They may be young, but they can still sense your feelings, fear, frustration, anger. Try to avoid getting frustrated and angry with them, that will create more problems down the road. Everything is a learning experience even if it doesn't seem like it at the time. Sometimes its better to take them back to the stall and let your frustration go and let them relax instead of getting angry and trying to hammer it into them. They just don't understand that. Your not giving up, your simply saving that lesson for another day when you both may be in a better mood. They are young and have so much thrown at them so you have to give them a free pass on mistakes sometimes.

5. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Maybe not a race but it will win Western Pleasure. Young horses get so much thrown at them in the training process and if you go too far too fast you will burn them out. I prefer frequent short rides with my young ones. I keep my cues and methods slow and steady to give them confidence and understanding. I don't want to scare them, I want them to know and understand.

6. Support
Young horses need a lot of physical support. Always always always wrap their legs, I often wrap all 4 legs for added protection. A thick saddle pad and well fitted, light saddle are better for their back. Also, I like to start them from the beginning on a maintenance supplement system of MSM for joint support and U-Guard to avoid Ulcers (which young horses can be very prone to when first in training). They also see the chiropractor bimonthly as do all of my horses. I think that starting them physically right makes a horse last so much longer and have much longer careers in the show pen.

7. Join Their Herd
Some young horses already love and trust humans. Many do not. Something I find crucially important is forming a strong bond with them. I want them to love and trust me just as I love and trust them. If you have their love, trust and respect, they will work harder for you in my experience. For example, Charlie was born and raised on our farm however he was simply hanging out in the pasture until he was almost 3. He started out as one of the least trusting and fearful yearlings I have ever owned. Through lots of love and encouragement and bonding, he came to trust us completely. Now, he loves and trusts us so much, I think he thinks he IS a human. Our bond has allowed that 1100lb. animal to follow me through things that once scared. He sometimes starts to refuse or get scared and with my reassurance will follow me almost anywhere. This helps us in the show ring also; he goes above and beyond for me because he loves me. If you can get them to love and trust you in the early stage, it makes the future much easier.

That some ideas of what I do with my young ones. Not every horse is the same. It may not all work for you but those are just the things I keep in mind with my young horses. Young horses are very challenging and frustrating but the result is so rewarding. It is completely worth it. When you win that first class knowing you have done it all with that horse and put your heart and soul in, it is so fulfilling and gratifying. Most of all, enjoy the experience. Learn from them as much as they learn from you. I hope this helps in some small or big way. Good luck with those babies :)


Disclaimer: These are my opinions and exercises. I am not a trainer, I do not wish to portray myself as one. These are just general ideas I find helpful in my own horse ownership.  

1 comment

  1. Hi there, I was reading this blog, it is very helpful. I have a 3 year old gelding that I have been worming with since he was 1. This will be my first attempt at training a horse by my self. It is an exciting and rewarding experience. Although I have hit a small wall. My horse has only been focusing on the woods in out ring and he just spooks all the time. I'm trying to keep his mind busy but it is not wokring. My question is whay would you do in this situation? I love him and love my horse, but his spooking is becoming more than frustrating. Thank you for your time:)