Starting Fresh: Tips for Starting Over Showing with a Young Horse

It is a great feeling to have a horse that is 100% in tune with you, knows their job and does it successfully. You know all their in's and out's, all their quirks and how to ride them to their best. These are the horses that show all day and are competitive and successful in almost every class... the ones people sit back and say "wow, that horse sure knows it's job". These horses make showing easy because they know their job, you know how to show them and they make you successful. These horses are finished, broke, smart and to be honest, a little boring. It is usually when my horses reach this peak of training and performance that I start finding a young prospect. Don't get me wrong, I love a good, broke, easy show horse but sometimes it's fun to have one that challenges you, makes you think and teach them. I love nothing more then to take an unbroke 2 year old and turn them into that superstar all around horse we discussed above. This is not an easy transition. It's a long, frustrating journey from start to finish but one I have found to be most rewarding.

I am currently experiencing this transition. Charlie is broke to death; he is 7 years old, he knows his job, he is a piece of cake to show and he really only needs to be kept in shape in order to go to horse shows and be successful. I love having him so finished but at the same time, I have my younger project, Ella, a 3 year old filly who keeps me on my toes and is still completely in the process of learning to be a show horse. Though sometimes it can be frustrating, my wise father reminds me that they do not all start out "Charlie-broke". It takes time. About 4 years ago I was in the same situation except I had broke to death Slipper and was attempting to teach baby Charlie how to fill those big all around shoes. I remind myself daily that Ella will get there, I just need to be patient. Now that I have done this process once and I am starting it again, here are my top tips for starting fresh with a young horse.

Starting Fresh: 5 Tips for Teaching a Young Horse to be an All Arounder

1. Be Patient
Young horses require endless patience. They are young and they don't understand. You have to slow it down and TEACH them their job or they will never do it successfully and happily. They do not become machines overnight... even the super naturally talented ones take time. They still have to mentally understand all that they are physically capable of. If you are patient and kind throughout the training process and help them to UNDERSTAND, you will have a happier and longer lasting all around horse in the end.

2. Take Your Time
This process may take a year; it may take 3 years. You never know how long it will take to finish one. Every horse is different. You can't rush them- some horses pick things up seemingly overnight (Ella is a supergenius and only has to be taught things once) and others take constant repetition over long periods of time to grasp the concepts (Charlie took almost 3 months to learn to go over the trail bridge). Both types of horses can be amazing in the end but you need to take the time they require to learn and not rush them. Some horses are naturals at some classes and struggle with others and that is okay- they will get it in time. Just keep working little bits every day and I promise you they will get there. For example, Charlie was a natural at Western Riding from day one. He was finished and showing that class successfully by his 2nd year in the show pen. Showmanship however was a different story; it was a constant struggle. I did not consider him finished in Showmanship to my standards until his 4th year in the show pen.

3. Take the Good with the Bad
The Western Riding/Showmanship example from above brings me to my next point, take the good parts with the bad parts. I accepted that Charlie was not going to be a Showmanship World Champion overnight and just kept plugging away at it and having respectable, 3rd place type patterns at the shows. Meanwhile, he was winning the Western Pleasure, Equitation and Western Riding. Though I love Showmanship and it had previously been my best and favorite class with Slipper, I realized it was not going to be that way with Charlie and that was okay because he had other strengths she did not. Throughout the learning process you should celebrate all the positives and not let the negatives get you down.

4. Teach them to Love their Job
All my other points all wrapped up into one: if you have patience, take your time and take the good with the bad, you will end up with a happier horse that loves their job. If you slow down and teach them, not scare them and give them confidence in what we are asking them to do, you are improving your chances of creating an all around horse that will be out there packing Novices around with their ears perked when they are in their 20's. That is my goal with every horse; I want them to enjoy what they do and they will not do that unless they understand it, have confidence and trust you. Charlie was scared to death of all trail obstacles in the beginning. It was a slow, tedious process to get him to where he is today; for 3 months I fed him grain and treats off the bridge until he finally would walk over it. But, the time and patience paid off because he trusts me to keep him safe and as long as I tell him things are okay, generally he does whatever I ask (not the case with mailboxes- they apparently have monsters inside them made to eat little white horses and he is just not willing to take that chance and get too close... I have just accepted that the pony express will never be his calling). Charlie also loves trail now, his always has his little ears pricked throughout the whole class and focuses really well. Do it right and you will have the all around horse that everyone is jealous of.  
5. Don't Give Up
This is going to be a frustrating process. It's not easy. Going from broke to death to a blank slate is a large adjustment and it is going to be a while until you are competing at the same level again. But do not give up. Eventually they will get there and when they do, I can personally tell you it is the most rewarding experience. To start from the bottom with a blank slate 2 year old and work your way back up to the level of your previous broke horse is an amazing feeling. You will get back to the top, just not overnight. Don't give up after a frustrating ride or a bad horse show; those are just another step towards the end result. I wanted to give up so many times throughout the training process with Charlie... around month 2 of feeding him grain off the bridge and him still refusing to walk over it or the 10th time he moved his foot in showmanship pivots at horse shows... it was a tough process but my dad kept reminding me that no horse starts out finished and eventually they will get there. The day Charlie laid out a flawless trail pattern with no ticks at the Pinto World Show and tied for Reserve World Champion was one of the happiest and proudest days of my life. All those tedious hours trying to make him a good trail horse and all the days it seemed impossible were worth it in the end to know that we had overcame the struggles. No one else knew (besides my family) how truly important that lost tie for a buckle and that big yellow ribbon was to me: to take a horse that was once too scared to lope poles and walk over a bridge and used to literally hit every. single. pole. to that level  and succeed was so incredibly rewarding. Someone had to take that time to teach every one of those amazing all around horses to be what they are. If they can do it, so can you... and it will be so worth it in the end.

I am so glad I took the time to make Charlie into the all around horse he is today; the journey to get here was rough but it is so rewarding to say that I did it all and made him the all around superstar horse he is today; a horse that loves his job, does every event right down to the barrels and does it very well. Ella will get there too, I just keep reminding myself that they all start out as blank slates and you have to sculpt them into great horses. One day you can look back after winning high point and say wow, what a great horse I have created and all the frustrations will be irrelevant.

Baby 3yo Charlie
Finished All Around Charlie
~ What are your experiences with starting over fresh???

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