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Respect Your Horse's Age and Rate of Progress



“Movement is the art of equestrianism- which resides in creation, comprehension, maintenance and guidance of the horse’s efforts in a state of physical and emotional harmony.”


Let’s break the above down. 


We all know by now that movement is key. Horses that are stuck in a box (I honestly believe that box rest does more harm than good) or have limited turnout a day has a negative impact on their mind and body, which overall affects their posture, movement and wellness. 


Respect the your horse’s AGE & Rate of Progress


For me, this is ANY AGE OF HORSE.


Young horses need time and space to adjust to their body, learning to coordinate their reflexes and develop stimuli to their environment. 




By not allowing young healthy horses time, early human interference can negative impact the neuro-sensory development, muscular control and therefore innate locomotion. 


Early restraint and pressures on young developing horses could be the reason riders are encountering “problems” early on in the starting and riding process. 


I can personally relate to this.


I spent a good 5 years starting a variety of young horses from all different breeds -TB, warmbloods, Connemara, Arabs, Cob etc… all having had different foaling procedures. 


Early on I was always interested in how people start young horses especially because I was the jockey for most of them, even though I had very limited fear getting on any horse, I would always have some understanding about things like:


  • How old they are 

  • The breeding 

  • What they have done before I was thrown onboard. 

  • How many days under saddle 

  • How many days Long lines (LL)


Reflecting back, now, I wouldn’t have got on any of those horses, if they were in front of me today. I would start from the ground with proprioceptive training and providing a safe space for each horse to express themselves- guiding me to when they would be ready for the next step. 


The most “successful” (I say it like this, because the goal back then was to get a horse started with the rider on board and ridden away in a “safe” manner so that they could go into training. 


Northern Ireland 2019,  I was part of a team of 4 riders and 2 groundwork trainers. As a team we started over 80 yearlings in 4 days, which included;


Day 1: 

  • Being brought in from the field 

  • Lunged in an arena (no real timeframe) 

  • Saddle on 

  • Rider on 


Day 2:

  • lunged with saddle

  • Rider on 

  • Outside canter ring 


Day 3: 

  • rider on 

  • Canter ring 


Day 4: 

  • rider on 

  • Canter ring 

  • Walk through the starting stalls 

  • Lorry Loading practice 


What an experience. 




Again, let me reiterate, this is NOT how I would start any horse today, however at the time, I know no better. 


You only know what you know. 


The reason I’m sharing the above, isn’t because I agree with starting 80 horses like this, although you can imagine that for the trainer, it was efficient and cost effective. 


One colt with very good breeding took a record 4minutes from start to finish. I remember, as I was the rider, we brought him into the arena and he was so chilled, so calm and laid back. When we started lunging him, the ground person said, he’ll be fine, grab the saddle and let’s get on. 


I was like “what?” Really? Not long lining no lunging with the saddle?


The person who I was risking my life for, was known as a “horseman” and was good at reading and understanding horse behaviour.


He turned to me and said, right, let’s get you on. 


To be fair, he was right, this young horse, even though confused to my leg aids, was a little unsure to start however took me by surprise as had never had a rug on, no saddle or any weight on his back before, yet accepted and allowed me ride him. 


Why? 


Remember, these horses were fresh from the field, no stable routine. They were weaned from  their mother and lived in a herd of young horses on the Irish countryside, until we arrived and asked them to come into a barn and be ridden. 


I am in awe of horses everyday. 


Their kindness, their power and honesty.   


Knowing what I know now, I would not start any young horse this way, both from a physiological and psychological perspective. 


There were so many young horses that broke my heart.


I remember a Chestnut filly, she was a yearling and honestly not even 15hh. She was tiny. Broke my heart. You would take one look at her and agree that she needed another 2 years in the field, being left alone to grow. She was tiny, weak and immature. 

Because I was the smallest rider there, many of them were guys, which the thought of someone heavier riding her just didn’t sit well with me.

To be fair to the person I was working for, did ring the trainer up and express his concern about her height and immaturity, however due to the demands of the industry and external pressures, the response was no she needs to work and develop strength. 


Young horses need time and space with regular monitoring to assess their growth rate. 




For me it was either a choice of I ride her or a heavier man rides her, so I took her on. Luckily I was allowed to play with her, by this I mean, do groundwork and get to know her out of the saddle. She was only with us for 6 weeks and then had to go into training and I remember when she left, how much I cried and hoped that she would be okay.


A month after she left the yard I was working at, I was told that she was sent back to the breeder to grow! Thank god!! Although I do wonder where she is today… 


After her, I started noticing a pattern across the young horses. The ones that seemed “difficult” or “dangerous” or “awkward” to start under saddle, were the ones with postural weaknesses:


  • croup high 

  • Narrow chest 

  • Asymmetrical pelvis, shoulders,

  • Muscle atrophy 

  • Limb deviations 

  • Short neck- long back 

  • Long back- short legs 

  • Long neck 

  • Flat feet 

  • Asymmetrical heels bulbs 


The list goes on…. 


Why is this? 


The more I read around neuromuscular physiology and muscular fatigue, in all horses, however especially young horses, I believe that early incorrect restraint inhibits neuro sensory development therefore impacting muscular control and locomotion. 


I’ve not only seen this from a therapist perspective but also reflecting back on riding young horses. I remember this yearling TB filly, big white blaze, dark bay and two white socks (see the image below).





She was stunning however very “quirky” is how she was described. The horseman I was working for at the time, asked me to ride her in a set of ears “ which was basically this hood- think of Batman but on a horse. They were noise cancelling ears which are nothing like the ones you see available in horse shoes “not these le meiux” ones. 

To be fair these ears did make her rideable, but my gosh she was “sensitive”. Looking back at posture and feeling her movement, given what I know now, I can 100% say that she wasn’t comfortable. No head knod, but body lame. 


Have you ever heard this saying?


“You ride the body of the horse not the limbs.”


This lovely young mare needed time and space to grow, to mature and develop into the frame she was growing in to. It does make me think, what if these young horses were given time, allowed to grow, develop their innate sensory stimulus to environment change as opposed to being forced and restrained so early on, what would they be like to ride if they were just given TIME?


Each horse should be allowed to develop its own circuits and programmes. 


End of part 1.


I'll release part 2 next week.


If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me:



Thanks,


Nika x


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