Author: Eclectic Horsemanship

When Should I Start a Horse?

When Should I Start a Horse?

Foal with mother

There is a lot of debate about when is the right time to start a horse. I will talk about my personal opinion, but I recognize that other people have different views. The following “schedule” is mine, for an ideal world. Not everyone would send their horse this young for training.

Horses are usually fully finished growing when they are 4 or 5 years old. They are usually weaned when they are 6 months. I believe it is best to begin the process of starting a horse around 3-6 months. Bring them with their mother into the barn and arena, pick up their hooves, halter break them, etc. When they are this young it is important to not do very long sessions because their attention span is very short.

When they are weaned you can start doing groundwork. Do all the ground work you want still in fairly short 20 minute sessions. You can do multiple sessions a day, just give them a break for an hour or so in the paddock. Make sure the horse doesn’t learn to push on you at a young age. If you establish a foundation with the horse when they are this young, then when you start riding when they are older everything is much easier. Older horses, like 5 and up, that were started late are harder to train; they are more rebellious and have more of an idea of what they want (usually the opposite of what you want). But young horses are eager to just go with the flow.

Horse and Rider

By the time they are 1 or 2 I would like to have had a light saddle on them, like a bareback pad or a gallop saddle (a very light saddle used to gallop racehorses). I don’t think it is a good thing to ride a 1 or 2 year old because they are not fully developed and riding will cause exertion and harm. But they are ready for riding prep at this point. They should be able to switch eyes, maybe you can sit on them, I would have had a bit in their mouth and be ground driving, learned to stand at the mounting block, taken them to new surroundings, etc. I would still be doing fairly short sessions at a time and in between training months I would give them a few weeks to a couple months of just hanging out in the pasture with other young horses.

By the time they are 3 I would start riding and work on steering. At 4-5 they will be able to continually progress with their riding since they are fully grown.

Serpentine Exercises

Serpentine Exercises

We all get into ruts sometimes. If you are bored of riding the perimeter of the arena, here are some serpentine exercises to keep time in the arena interesting and progressive. These serpentine exercises will especially help horses who are rushy, anxious, and who have trouble with lope transitions. For the sake of description I will use a dressage court as a basic arena setup. Follow along on the draft of a Cowboy Dressage court, which is a modified Dressage court. Remember to make your loops full, instead of going diagonally to each letter. Refer to the pictures here for examples of 10 m and 20 m circles, and shallow and full loop serpentines.

Horse and rider trotting in serpentine.

Warm up Serpentine

A good warm up to start with is a simple four loop serpentine. This can also help to settle a horse if anxious, just repeat the loops until they are relaxed. You can do this at a walk or a trot. Starting on the left rein at the F begin to serpentine to the E, changing bend and diagonal (if applicable) in the middle of the arena. From the E loop to the M and continue to the H. Repeat on the opposite side of the arena looping from H-B-K. From K continue to F and go diagonally to H. Repeat this exercise going the other way, starting at M-E-F and from K-B-H. From H continue to M and go diagonally across the arena to K.

Shallow Serpentine

This three loop shallow serpentine is great way to practice changing bend. It is easiest to get the full benefit at a trot, posting or sitting. Just remember to always change diagonals when you change bend. Starting at F make your first loop to X, changing from left bend to right bend. From the X loop to the M, changing bend from right to left. Continue from M to H and repeat on opposite side, H-X-K. From F go diagonally across arena to H and repeat from M-X-F and then from K-X-H. Go diagonally across arena from M-K.

Serpentine with Lope

Horse and Rider loping in circle.

Now that you’re all warmed up and have been practicing bend, it is time for some loping. These serpentine exercises are great for horses that have trouble taking a nice lead departure, have trouble taking their lead, or are rushed and anxious in the lope. Starting at F make your large serpentine pattern again going from F-E-M. At M take your left lead. Don’t worry if your horse doesn’t lope instantly, this exercise will help teach them to transition and lope calmly, eventually they will be able to lope off more promptly.

Lope one 20 m circle, or one circle at that end of the arena, and transition back to trot around M, continuing your serpentine at H. Loop from H-B-K. At K take your left lead once more and lope another circle. Transition back to trot around K, and go diagonally across arena from F-H. At M start serpentine pattern again M-E-F. At F transition to lope on right lead, lope on circle and transition back to trot around F. Loop from K-B-H. H transition lope right lead and lope one circle. Transition back to trot and go diagonally across arena from M-K.

Shallow serpentine with Counter Trot and Canter

This serpentine exercise will help the rushy horse and help create bend and better steering. Do this exercise at a trot, until the lope cue. Starting at F begin your shallow serpentine changing bend to X. At X stay on right bend and loop to M. At M go onto 10 m counter trot circle and before you get back to M, leg yield to the rail. You should still have your right bend and once you get to the rail, or just before, transition into lope and lope down to F. You can continue to lope a 20 m circle and then stop, or you can stop and rest, then go to the other side of the arena and repeat the exercise again. At K loop to X changing into left bend. At X do not change bend and loop to H. H 10 m circle counter trot, leg yield back to the rail and transition into lope.

Serpentine Exercise Example Pictures

Serpentine Exercise Example Pictures

4 loop serpentine. Note: each loop is full not diagonal, and you should be changing bend on the X line down the center.
Shallow loop serpentine.
20m and 10m Circles.
Mounting Solutions

Mounting Solutions

Person mounting horse

It might not seem like a big deal, but having your horse stand still and wait is extremely important, especially while you are mounting. If every time you are half mounted they walk off, even if you stop them when you’re half mounted, it can lead to a bigger problem like an eventual runaway.

Before you try and mount make sure your horse’s feet are square, that way you know they can bear the weight of you and aren’t moving because they are unbalanced. To get their feet square grab the horn and cantle on your saddle and pull back and forth, swaying the horse’s weight side to side. That will get them to balance their feet and distribute their weight evenly

One way to teach your horse to stand still while mounting is to use counter conditioning, this method works if you are using a mounting block or the ground. If using a block just never stop standing on the block. If the horse moves while you are getting on, get back on the ground and get them in a trot circle around you. Have them trot a circle and then stop them roughly in the same spot they were in before. Try and mount again; if your horse moves again do the same thing but make it two circles. Continue to increase the amount of circles by one every time the horse moves. Do you realize why this is counter conditioning? Because your horse is made to work and then rested while you get on, this makes mounting the reward.

Horse related activities are inherently dangerous and caution should be used at all times.