My Theories:

1.) At 18 mo.s to two years of age, a horse is ready to be introduced to serious groundwork education. I feel this should be given anywhere from six months to a year and would include things such as: bathing, clipping, tying, standing still, ground tying, blanketing, fly spray, trailer loading, sacking out, touching all over the body, handling the ears and mouth, head lowering for halter, opening mouth, receiving shots, and the most important skill: leading.

As the horse gains confidence, skills are continually being refined and distraction (i.e. as in other horses, people, noise, movement around etc…) is added. Exposing the horse, in a gentle way to build confidence, to stimuli such as other animals, cars, traffic, trails, etc…. which could include being trailered to showgrounds for walking and ground training – as well as being ponied on trail rides.

By the end of the year, all these experiences should be No Big Deal. The horse would be confident with his handler, knowing the handler would never ask anything the horse wasn’t able to do – building the bonding with incrementally, harder exercises of trust and acceptance.

JMO but the idea of breaking horses this young to actual saddle-riding is why you now see so many horses with poor back musculature and swaybacks. Around here, it seems training means to put a huge, heavy western saddle on and then get a fat cowboy to ride out the buck – 90 days later you have a “broke” horse.

2.) From 2-3 years of age, the horse begins the more formal education of learning basic directional aids of turning, stopping, backing and the formation of circles, turns on the rail, changes in rein on the circle etc… First through leading, then lunging, then lunging with a saddle, then with a headstall (i.e. bitless, sidepull or bridle depending on your own personal direction), the cue for turns is continually refined and lightened.

JMO but any exercise to be asked, in the future, under saddle should first be trained on the ground. Period. Even if the horse is under riding, return to the groundwork to teach a new skill. You will be further ahead with the skills on the ground then the ones in the saddle – for instance the horse may be lunging to voice commands of walk-trot-canter, but only riding walk-trot; the horse may be working on shoulder-in on the ground, and only doing leg yield in the saddle.

Weight on the horses back, is started through an incremental process of chunking it down: a.) weight on back; b.) weight on back, with horse-led walking; c.) rider with basic, big turns directed by the Rider; d.) short trots being horse-led; e.) rider-led short trots with basic, large turns, stops and rein back etc….

JMO but the downside of what I see is people commanding the horse – who doesn’t know anything – and only building the horses’ confusion and frustration. Easygoing horses will let the frustration build up and then go WTF – okay do what you want and I don’t care (checking out); the dominant horse decides to take it to a throwdown and then when s/he doesn’t win, goes WTF, okay do what you want and I don’t care (checking out).

This all results in very deceptinvely, accepting horses, that in reality harbor deep resentments which will later emerge as an unpredictable explosion or in apathetic, sluggish behavior. This horse apathy is what the trainer will complain about (i.e. he’s so slow, breaks gait, won’t take canter, is lazy, stubborn etc…) even though they have created it.

Keeping the enthusiasm, the interest, the free will (as much as we can), the Buy-In, the want to please you, and I Love to Be with You! attitude is so important yet, so often neglected during the horses’ education, that we end up with a Riding Robot.

It’s a delicate balance in advancing the horses’ education, keeping him interested in what you are doing together, while also building a serious work ethic with your horse.

3.) By the age of four the horse is ready to begin the more delicate and harder work of learning to balance with weight on his hindquarters, to stretch, the changing of gaits within the gait, gentle extension and some collection.

What a horse can do is largely dependent on his own conformation and aptitude. For example, the short backed Baroque horse may already be collecting, whereas the Thoroughbred is extending.

At this time (if ever!), am I not interested in a horse being “in a frame” or “on the bit” but one that is moving FORWARD, with good BALANCE during transitions and turns, with RHYTHM and CADENCE, and RESPONDS to my aid requests.

All and how far you go, depends on the physical development of the horse… too many folks are pushing horses that are not fully developed physically into sports and riding that they are not ready for – this leads directly to horses who break down, needing hock injections before they are even 10!

4.) Age five begins the serious quest towards a sport that suits the horses’ personality, nature, ability and conformation. More can now be demanded athletically in terms of performance, always building upon what the horse knows and his capabilities.

The upshot? We shall see if I’m going to eat my words and what type of horse is going to be produced through my training methods…

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Now, you see why people aren’t going to wait until age five to do these things in this McWorld. The reason why horses are not trained this way in the U.S. is all about money, egos, and stupidity:

1.) People want the Microwave-Ready Horse. People want horses ready to go so they can satisfy their egos and pocketbook. The longer they wait, the more investment in feed, stabling, training etc…

These are the same idiots who you see their trainer riding their horse at the show and then 5 minutes before the gate opens for the class, the rider hops on board and “wins!” These same riders will call themselves a “trainer.” Sad, but true.

2.) Buy young and then do nothing with the horse. Time slips away and you see these horses at age 10 with no training or “90 days of professional training put on horse 6 years ago” for sale all the time. They usually end up at slaughter or a very poor home.

Unfortunately, whether you want to admit it or not, many “natural” horse people fall in this category: plenty of groundwork that goes no where to applicable riding skills. I have more respect for people who state upfront – my horse is a pet.

Pandora is a pet. There.

3.) Horses are a money-making industry. To make it cost effecient for trainers who are working for owners wanting the Microwave-Ready Horse they have to be able to churn out rideable horses in a short period of time.

Taking “the time it takes” is a lie for professional horse people. There is no owner in the world who is going to keep shelling out month after month without seeing results – and in their silly little heads, results mean a horse pulled out of pasture can be be taken to the show and win in 90 days!

Let’s not even get into an argument about this – I have worked, boarded, shown and leased horses at several different training stables. I also have taught riding lessons. To make money, or to even break even, it is not cost effective to keep an investment horse (one you are turning for money) around longer then 6 months and that is pushing the investment.

4.) Ageism. People have a stupid idea that solidly, trained horses at ages 14 and up are ‘too old.” Even though these horses would be perfect for the beginner and the weekend rider because of their vast experience. Instead, these shoppers turn to a two year old, get thrown off, in the ER and then lament how they just can’t find the perfect horse!