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[RC] Starting young horses on the trail - Beth Leggieri - Sharon Hahn

Here's my one-rat study.  I am certainly not an expert as this mare is the only horse I've ever trained.

I started off by taking Gold to distance rides all the time, beginning when she was a year old or possibly even younger - I don't remember exactly.  Her job was to stand in the pen and observe, learn to deal with diesel trucks driving by, dogs, flapping tarps, etc.  She also got ponied around the farm and at the park, and I ground drove her a bit as a two-year old.  So the trail was nothing new to her when I took her trail riding for the first time. 

When I started her, I rode her maybe 10 times tops in the outdoor arena and then once we had "left," "right," and "whoa" down halfway decent, I grabbed a friend and headed to the park.  My friend rode my old horse (Gold's pasturemate and the one she'd been ponied off of).  I chose a park with nice wide flat trails, good footing, and no traffic, bike paths, water crossings, etc.  We walked the whole time because we hadn't learned trot yet.  She thought this was fun and interesting and I kept the rides short enough that she stayed interested and didn't get tired (maybe 30 minutes at first).  With this particular mare, I think she would have gotten bored and annoyed quickly in the arena, so since she was meant to be a trail horse and I wanted riding to be enjoyable for her, I did as little as possible in the ring.  I continued to ride her on trail with my old horse along for a while, then branched out to one or two other horses and some trotting (she basically learned trotting on the trail and from ponying - I found it easier than trying to trot AND steer to keep her going smoothly in a circle in the ring).  When I wasn't nervous anymore, I moved up to riding alone (actually, as I recall, it was a nice spring day, I wanted to go riding and couldn't find a buddy, so I looked at Gold and said, "If I take you to the park alone, are you gonna buck me off? "  She looked compliant so we went!)  We're OK alone now but still need more practice riding in groups of more than 1 or 2 others.

On the "lazy young horse" thread - this mare broke her ankle a couple of weeks after that first trail ride and was laid up for nearly 2 years.  I had to redo the ponying and arena training rides (so she had 30 days on her over a 3+ year period!), but I found her much easier to work with as a 5 year old than as a 3 year old.  She was just more mature (more brain and a longer attention span.)  But I think all of the casual training I did with her as a youngster was really helpful, because when I got on her the first time, that was the only new thing (and actually, I used to sit on her like she was a log when she was snoozing laying down in the pasture, so even that wasn't totally new.)  She was pretty calm and well-behaved throughout the whole training process.

It'll be interesting to read what other stories/opinions people have.

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