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Rein-back is an exercise in which the horse steps backwards in a footfall of diagonal pairs, as in trot. It is not normally ridden in the first year of training, but at the beginning of the second year when the young horse can make full halts easily from walk and trot. It is too soon to ask for rein-back when a horse has not learned to take weight behind through halting correctly.

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Getting used to the great outdoors
The basic training of the young horse should be varied and develop all his skills. Riding cross-country over varied ground and over small natural obstacles plays a very important part in this and teaches many horses to be worldly wise and sure-footed. Basically, the more the horse grows up in a natural environment and learns to work on varied terrain, the more confidently he will move. In our experience training a horse for cross-country can highlight his individual attributes, which can indicate in which direction his future lies, such as specializing in dressage or showjumping.

We will now examine the first steps of cross-county training, and continue by discussing how best one can introduce young horses to typical cross-country fences.

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Once we can ride our horses safely on hacks and they trust us, we can introduce the first solid obstacle.

To succeed over the first natural jump the rider must pick a safe place with an inviting obstacle such as a small tree trunk or wood pile. It must not be too small, otherwise the horse may try to stop abruptly and jump from a standstill. The inexperienced horse may waver on the approach, so the fence should ideally be enclosed on one or both sides. This could be by a hedge, or fence, or one could use a pole or jump wing if one is available. The obstacle should be a maximum of 50-60 cm in height and preferably about 4 m wide across its face. A wide face has the effect of making the jump look lower, gives less opportunity for a run-out and, if a problem arises over the distance between the lead horse and the youngster, it allows for the possibility of both horses jumping side by side. Before approaching the jump, the rider should make sure the ground is safe (no holes and not too deep or muddy) on both the take-off and landing sides.

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Riders of young horses often ask: ‘How often should I ride out and what should I practise with a young horse.’ Progress through the training timetable is usually slowed down by the winter weather. Hacking out is primarily useful for loosening the horse in the first year of training. Weather and ground permitting, the young horse can be ridden out once he is accustomed to the rider’s weight, to loosen him up before work, or to dry him off afterwards. Given the chance, riding the horse outside to dry off in autumn and winter is an ideal opportunity to give him some fresh air and is a good way to prevent him from getting too excitable, which can happen if he spends a lot of time indoors.

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