Now as someone who has recently bought a young horse but has never had a young horse before . I have learnt so much in a very short space of time. The realities of owning a young horse can be far more difficult than you expect. Your expectations may need to be altered somewhat. Young horses are so rewarding but such hard work and many people back/break in them in so differently. It can be quite difficult to decide how you want to do it.
So I would like to share what I have learnt so far. On my journey with Gracie a now 5 year old PRE x Merron, who I have now owned for 7 months..
Its nice to have a plan but be prepared to change it
When I first bought Gracie, she was very lightly backed. I always knew that if I bought her I would send her away to be backed properly and schooled with my French instructor Noelie and that is exactly what I have done! However since she has come home my plans have had to change dramatically for various different reasons, her health, my health etc. It’s great to have goals and plans but they need to be flexible.
Surround yourself with a team of supportive professionals and friends
For me I knew I needed to have a team of people around me to help me with Gracie. Not every single day. But I needed to know that I have people around us that care and do things the way I like. I have some great friends at the stables. I bought Gracie off of the yard owner so I know they always look out for her when I am not there.
I have 2 coaches. Noelie my french coach who backed Gracie. Kate my friend and english coach who carried on our weekly lessons when I couldn’t travel to Noelie’s due to Covid. It’s nice for me to mix it up a bit. They both know Gracie and both have similar teaching styles. But Kate is my friend so understands when I have struggled with things. She can firstly explain it in English to me (big help!) and secondly be a bit more sympathetic than Noelie can be sometimes! Although Noelie’s butt kicking does me good every now and again!
For Gracie, I use the farrier that has always done her feet and knows her. The vet that has always looked after her and I have found a saddle fitter and an osteo that my friends have recommended.
I love growing this network of people but they have to be the right people for me and Gracie.
Lots of people will have opinions but listen to the advice that suits you
This is key for your network of people. Some instructors I have had I just haven’t clicked with. Some health professionals attitudes have not reflected the same values I have when I have asked for advice. Lots of people offer their opinions too when I haven’t asked. But instead of this stressing me out. I take the bits of advice I do like and be a sponge. Ignore the unhelpful bits and absorb all the different useful bits of information you receive from all sorts of people. Not everyone’s techniques will suit you. But something they say may resonate with you so be sure to learn from that. Pick and choose which opinions and advice suit you and surround yourself with people that share the same values.
I have read so much since buying Gracie about schooling techniques. How to teach your horse to hack, how to do this, how to do that. I wasn’t sure until I started looking for advice on Youtube or in books how I wanted to train Gracie. Now I have a very good idea. I have educated myself with techniques that I think will suit us and follow the advice of people that I respect.
There are so many horse trainers out there. You have to find the ones that you like and decide how you want to train your horse. Educate yourself on how to do that.
Listen to your horse
It’s all very well listening to lots of people but the one you really need to listen to is your horse! We were cooking on gas after Gracie came back from Noelie’s. Having weekly or even twice weekly lessons. We had started to do our online dressage each month and had started to jump little cross poles. But around February/ March time Gracie started to seem like she was souring to the arena. We had improved in some things but had actually gotten worse at others. Our dressage tests didn’t improve. It was not fun for me to ride and when Kate and I asked for her to bend Gracie reacted quite violently kicking out with her back legs when we asked her to leg yield. Her jumping was not good either. She was calm but not very forward and it just seemed a struggle for her.
I just knew that Gracie was telling us something but had to figure out what! Her saddle seemed fine and her farrier had put front shoes on her. She was seen by an osteo in February and there were a few minor issues but she didn’t really improve in her ridden work. So I got another one to come in April and it turns out she did have a big problem in her neck. Which explained the bending issues and why she no longer seemed to be able to hold her herself properly.
I am so glad that I have listened to her. It has actually led us down a much slower, easier route this year. Gracie has been turned away since the beginning of April to grow and strengthen up before we start some hacking. My osteo basically told me that Gracie is not physically ready for the work I was asking of her, which has made me reassess our goals completely for this year. (Noting my first point!).
With all of this I had to admit that I was disappointed that we weren’t going to be off arena eventing this winter. Or going to our first showjumping show. Its even harder when you see others on instagram or wherever zooming around 100cms courses on their 5 year old. I couldn’t help but think we had failed in some way.
But then I realised that there is no right way for everyone. One size does not fit all. I will never put Gracie at risk to follow my whims of wanting to jump now before she is ready. Now I have learnt how much she has to develop she will have time to do that.
We may take longer to get going. But I am confident my horse will be physically able to do the stuff I ask of her when I do. That will hopefully lead her to have a long happy life.
Some days can feel like a complete waste of time with a youngster. One day Gracie is so ‘good’ and other days she is completely wired and seemingly completely distracted. So that I just can’t get her attention. It can be infuriating.
You have to be patient with their training, with your aims, and with yourself. As I feel like I am doing a terrible job a lot of the time when actually I am doing ok!
It’s hard but worth it!
Eventually you will get there with your youngster and start achieving the goals that didn’t seem possible at the beginning! Remember to enjoy the little moments along the way as training a baby horse is hard!