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AskHQ: Motivation with young horses

Q: How can I stay motivated when working with young horses?

A: Working with young or green horses can be an incredibly challenging experience and it is easy to become demotivated or despondent. Personally, I love working with the youngsters – I see them as a clean slate; a blank canvas ready to be painted! However, as much as I love them, the many young horses I’ve worked with over the years have taught me invaluable lessons on patience and adaptability.

For any young horse owner, it is completely normal to imagine and dream of all of the possibilities the future could present. You may have dreams of taking your young horse up the grades with the aim of being an open showjumper, or the next Grand Prix superstar, or level-four barrel racer. It is important to have a goal to work towards. However, when working with young horses, it is just as important to focus on the steps you need to take between starting and reaching your goal, as it is on the final goal itself.

When starting your young horse, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormous task ahead when they are struggling to simply strike off on the correct canter lead! Therefore, I suggest setting smaller, more attainable goals, which you consistently work towards. In order to compete successfully in any discipline, it is imperative that your horse masters the basics. For example: instead of focusing on being able to jump a 1.20m course, aim first to master rhythm, suppleness, balance and adaptability, and plan your exercises accordingly. This was an important lesson that I learnt with my very first off-the-track Thoroughbred. There were days when I felt like we would never be able to canter in a straight line, never mind jump a course! So, each ride we focused on one achievable goal – even if that meant just walking quietly. I also started to keep a journal, detailing every ride. I noted what went well and what didn’t; the things she enjoyed; or how we solved a particular problem. This journal often helped me through moments of doubt, as I would look back and remind myself of all of our victories, no matter how small!

Remember that each young horse must be treated as an individual with their own talents and challenges, and you must remain patient and adaptable. Not every method will work for every horse, and you must be prepared to take the time to figure out exactly what your young horse needs and enjoys. Young horses are like children in many ways – both need to be stimulated mentally and physically in order to build confidence. When working with any young or green horse, it is most important that you never push the horse beyond his physical or mental limitations. You can work to stretch your horse’s comfort zone, but never totally overwhelm him. Time spent together must be enjoyable and your young horse should want to spend time ‘working’ with you.

Lastly, make sure that you always end your lesson on a high note. Even if it means going back to an exercise that your horse has mastered, strive to leave the arena with both you and your horse feeling positive. You are setting up associations and habits for life and, if you make learning fun and lessons enjoyable, you will be setting your horse up for a much happier and more fulfilled life in the future.

Answered by Farryn Day