“Intelligently fearless” is not an oxymoron. It is possible to be fearless in an intelligent way and this combination is essential when working with young horses. Over the past couple of years, I have watched Lynsey Rowan, work with two young horses. Lynsey is the assistant rider and trainer for my coach Canadian Olympian Belinda Trussell. I spoke with her about the two young horses she is training.
Beau arrived at Oakcrest Farm as a six-year-old. His owner felt that he had excellent gaits and was showing great potential, and needed to be in a good program to allow him to develop these talents. Lynsey told me what Beau is like.
“When he first came he was worried about things. He was a horse that needed more time, in his body, to mature. Some young horses do need more time to mature and they will tell you they need this. Now that he is seven he is more confident and knows what to do with his body. You can’t push too soon. “
Lynsey then said something that, to me, indicated her intelligent approach to riding young horses.
“Riders need a half halt! Or try to address the issue in another way. If you do not do this you can set the horse back a year or more or…. forever! And why would I overstep with the horse? What is an extra three months.”
There is a plethora of opinions out there in the dressage world about what the horse should be doing at each age. At five they should be able to do this. At six they must be able to do that. This is the cookie cutter approach to bringing a young horse along and is not likely to lead to success. Lynsey has certainly done a wonderful job with Beau who is now a much more confident horse. At the recent Cornerstone Dressage Summer Festival Lynsey showed Beau in Training Level tests and achieved a spectacular score of 80%.
Feng de Lys
Feng came to Oakcrest as a three-year-old stallion. He had only been backed ten times. When Lynsey got on him for the first time Belinda held a lead rope as you never know how a youngster will react when they are this young and green. Feng seemed to be fine with a rider on his back but did not understand the aids when asked to go forward. He did get the idea but as Lynsey told me it was not simple for him.
“He was very confident in himself but didn’t know what he was doing. He was very wiggly and not interested in working or going forward. He wanted to just stand and hang out.”
So how did it progress?
“For the first year I would ride him three times a week, just sitting lightly on him, or taking him for a hack for 20 minutes to give him a basic understanding, not doing any real ‘work’. I realized quite early that he was very smart and could easily get bored. When I took him outside he was a different horse than he was in the indoor arena. I always kept the rides short and kept him interested. If he decided it was not interesting he would use his smarts to say “No! I don’t want to do this!”
After his first year in training it was decided that since his owner wanted him to be a competition horse he would be gelded. Some stallions can go to shows and still maintain focus others cannot. It had become clear that Feng was a stallion who would not be able to keep his mind on the competition. It would make showing him very difficult so the decision was made to geld him. He had sperm collected before he was gelded so there could still be some Feng offspring in the future.
Now at five Lynsey has started to compete with him and he also went to the Cornerstone Dressage show. Lynsey showed him First Level and he scored a 75%. Clearly First Level was not difficult for him. And what are the plans for the future?
“Maybe he will do the FEI six-year-old test next year. We’ll see where he’s at. The six-year-old test has to be crisper and has a flying change.”
Lynsey stressed the importance of evaluating each step of the training as she goes along.
“The young horse can be confident when you are careful as to what is introduced and when. They don’t want too many surprises. You have to take as long as they take.”
But that does not mean they just get to do whatever they want!
“It has to be black and white. When I say ‘go forward! Now!’ there must be a response. I cannot back off for a second until it is clear to them what I am asking for. Sometimes it can take ten minutes sometimes much longer until I get the point across.”
“The most important thing is consistency. This is how you describe the job to them. If I am not consistent it can only take one day to go right off the rails.
“When something goes wrong or something happens it is how it is addressed that matters. If it is not nipped in the bud it can become a bigger problem.”
And finally, what is the most important thing about training a young horse?
“The horse must come first. Always the horse first and not the expectations of the rider.”