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 Training Corner

Starting the Endurance Horse
Prospect - Part 1


Eric Hought



The commonly accepted practice of starting the purebred or part Arab endurance horse prospect at ages 4-6 years is one for debate. The main concern: are the legs properly developed to support a rider’s weight.

Much can be done with the young horse at 2-3 years of age as long as the rider uses common sense and safe practices. Groundwork is very important. There are many methods available from today’s clinicians, so select an approach from one whose methods best fit your preferred style of preparing the horse.

No harm will be done through groundwork, saddling, ponying and standing tied to “soak” for a couple of hours. It goes without saying the facility must be safe for a horse standing tied before and after a ride. The use of leg protection is the rider’s option. The girth should be pulled only as snug as needed so the saddle will not turn while the horse is tied and moving around.

Why stand tied? The horse learns patience and to wait for the leader. I saddle and stand my young horses for up to 2 hours per day for at least 4-5 days per week. Look for the horse to demonstrate that this practice has become “just what we do.” This is a valuable routine he will experience for the remainder of his life. He may not be tied as long at home, but there will be times in the future in unfamiliar settings where having learned this patience will help him manage the situations and time factors.

This is how I start 2 year olds. I give each horse my total focus and commitment. Typically, I saddle and stand him a couple of hours before I ride. I will usually do this before each ride for about 3-4 months. By the 3rd month of riding, standing saddled for an hour is fine.

I ride at the walk with some trotting for 60-90 days. During this time, I focus on foot, face and body control. When I am riding in an arena, I time each ride for exactly 15 minutes. The short time factor keeps the horse’s mind working and avoids boredom for both horse and rider. I am fortunate to have access to riding areas outside the arena on dirt roads, single track trails, hills, uneven ground, walkovers and water crossings. These rides are about 1-1 1/2 hours. I am careful not to do any sustained trotting on any unprepared surface because it takes time and miles to begin to develop leg fitness. This is by far the best setting for starting young horses. Of course I do not just sit like a sack of potatoes. I work on foot, face and body control. Leg and body development are occurring simultaneously while keeping the rider’s and horse’s minds working.

After my ride, I step off, loosen the girth, give him a horse candy, lead him to be unsaddled, brushed and stood for up to an hour. Consider the total time, standing and riding, about 3-3 1/2 hours. The horse learns much during this time. No stress has been placed on him physically or mentally, he just learns to walk forward (riding) and how to wait (standing tied).

Horse candies are a reward for work well done, but is frowned upon by many because they believe it is “not what a horseman does.” The mental maturity of the horse is that of about a 3 year old child. Yes, it works, yet it can be abused by the rider if he is not conscientious about when to administer the treat. I give one when I mount if he stands still, at slow walkovers and anytime I want to give him a reward (treat) for correctly performing a maneuver.

So the question is, is it a good idea to wait until the horse is 4-6 years old? If the rider waits for this length of time, he usually encounters two problems: the horse becomes stronger physically and mentally. He has most likely had his own way for all that time, then suddenly someone comes along, changes his routine and confronts his way of doing things. I do not support waiting 4-6 years to start any sound horse.

The structured program mentioned earlier is effective, if the rider can follow the plan. What problems are encountered by the rider? How are they managed? How many riders can commit and devote over 3 hours, 5 days a week for 60-90 days? When the 15 minute arena plan is used, the horse is actually handled or managed about 3 hours. Most horses can focus for 15 minutes. My horses never have a bad ride which is positive for them. Some rides may require more work than others, but the horse understands work. He will become protective or defensive to pain from jerking on the reins and spurring abuse. During the “soaking time,” the rider is free to clean pens, prepare feed, ride another horse or visit with a friend.

What limitations get in the way of commitment to the horse? Let’s start with the rider’s knowledge, time constraints, the availability of a helping hand when needed and the riding facility.

Heck, ride him as described above for 20 rides within a 30 day period then put him on pasture for a month. Just stay in touch as the leader with occasional groundwork review and let him stand tied maybe an hour 2-3 days in a row to reinforce “just what we do.” Should he not respond as you would like, repeat the groundwork and “soaking.” When he gets the idea, reward him with some time off. It is not rocket science, it is just staying in contact him. Do not pick at him, use your observational and interpretive skills as a horseman to observe his body language and actions.

Do you “talk the talk or walk the walk?” I know some who “talk the talk.” What is your practice?


Keep Ridin’, Eric

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