We live in a time of change. Modern technology has made everything easier and quicker; it has chained people’s lives. What often took a year, now takes a fraction of the time. Speed plays a definite role in our lives but can have some unfortunate consequences where horses are concerned.

At horse auctions, 3-year-old animals have been shamefully offered for sale as top dressage horses or eventers. Horses who were only just broken to saddle were already believed to have the attributes to go far in a specific discipline. An experienced horse-handler, who knows the long, patient process needed to educate a young horse from basic training to specializing in the various disciplines, cannot countenance this. But how many horse-lovers nowadays have sufficient expertise to put this process into practice? In recent years, much of the riding fraternity has relocated from the countryside to the town. A new generation of riding enthusiasts is growing up, but they have not grown up with horses. They either view their free time with the horse as simply having contact with nature, or as a form of sport. Nowadays, too many riders are more interested in boasting about their recent purchase than in learning about stable management and the details of training the horse.

The outcome of this approach is obvious in riding competitions – how many dressage and jumping horses do you see with their necks held in tightly – horses who have not learned to find their balance in the three basic gaits and are already competing in Elementary and Medium level dressage? How many horses have never seen cavalletti or ground-poles, or do not have the opportunity relax out hacking?

Another point is that, in many cases, degenerative bone conditions are caused by physical wear and tear and are the result of specializing in a certain discipline far too early. Over the last few years horses have been bred with better necks (with regard to conformation and how the neck is set on the body), and this desirable feature should be allowed to remain so, but the young horses are ridden too quickly in the gaits too soon, and with a short rein contact. Inevitably, the looseness of the back is overlooked. A longer and deeper positioning of the neck (a lowered neck but with the forehead vertical to the ground) is essential for the development of the back as the centre of movement. This incorrect riding explains why so many horses have tight backs and restricted movement, with the possibility of sustaining back injuries which frequently require treatment by the vet. Riders also tend to sit on horses rather than riding them forwards sufficiently to be in front of the leg, resulting in tense, restricted gaits.

The aim of basic training for the young horse is to use a systematic method to create a solid foundation for future specialization in a given discipline. This development is not possible with a tight rein contact. We want the young horse, with the weight of the rider on his back, to stay in balance and outline while retaining his natural movement. This is the starting point for developing his potential for the future; in this way, basic training will be established which will enable the desired goals to be achieved with further progress. Even so, just as is the case with people, not every horse will reach top level in the chosen discipline. Many riders are happy to achieve Novice level, and are fully aware that this level of training is as far as they will get with their horses. On the other hand, there are riders who aim at a higher level than they or their horses are capable of achieving. They do not blame themselves, but blame their horses as they strive for more, destroying the horse’s trust in the process. A correctly trained horse should have few problems at Novice level but a horse who is forced to compete before he is ready will become tense and may develop further problems in the future.

Experience acquired during the basic training of a young horse can provide valuable insight into his future training and which area to specialize in. However, experience also teaches that we should not be too dogmatic in our approach. While it is true that we give all our horses a thorough grounding in dressage, we have had many horses

with a considerable talent for this discipline who have later developed as jumpers, because they were responsive to the aids, physically strong and simply enjoyed jumping. Conversely, we have had others who were very clean and careful jumpers of small fences, but fell by the wayside when the jumps got bigger, and were thus redirected in other directions.

A moment’s reflection will confirm that these examples reinforce the fact that thorough basic training is important for all riding horses, whether they are destined for recreational riding or for the competitive disciplines. Careful gymnastic work aimed at muscle building and achieving suppleness of the back, and developing responsiveness to the aids, are essential in order that the horse remains healthy and is able to cope with more specialized training in the future.

One Response to “The Aim of Basic Horse Training”

  • Horse racing syndicates says:

    Nice article. Can these horse training techniques be applied to the breaking in of a wild horse? Or should that follow a completely different set of methods? Cheers

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