Breaking Bad

I am held captive to my computer sitting on the trans continental flight. 4.5 hours of sitting in one place! Of course, there is a blog coming out of this.

Moxee enjoying a Hawaiian moment.
Moxee enjoying a Hawaiian moment.

This week has been some ups and downs with the absurdly variable weather. We went from 18 degrees on Sunday to low 40s on Monday morning. I watched Letty walk through a pocket of warm air and stop mid-stride, gasping at the oddity of the miniature Hawaiian moment.

As you can imagine, this wild weather has caused the horses’ to show their absolutely most rotten best behavior. On a good day my ankle can handle about two serious rides, where I actually ask the horse to work in all three gaits and behave. After that, my ankle is screaming and I need to go for a placid walk with the next two horses. And then work the final horse in hand. I don’t feel like I’m exactly backsliding, but I sure don’t feel like I am progressing at all. I keep telling myself that whether my horses work on travers today will not make or break my dressage test in April. It’s better to at least work on our walking skills than to ride them poorly and in pain.

Ellie being mounted carefully.
Ellie being mounted carefully.

I am inspired to blog about a very important subject, one that is near and dear to my heart as a trainer. When should you bring a young horse to be broken to ride? First, I am going to assume that you have picked your trainer carefully and you have considered some important items. What degree of “broke” are you looking for? Do you just want someone to get on the horse for the first time, teach it to steer and whoa? And then you take the reins from there. Or are you looking for a trainer who will develop the horse further in its education, and take the steps towards making a show horse?

I have been given both types of scenarios and several in between. Breaking a horse can be a very personal event for the owner, or it can be hands-off and they enjoy the end product. There is no right way, but you have to find a trainer who fits with your schedule and riding abilities. Talking with the trainer is the absolutely best way to make sure you are both on the same page.

But here are a few guidelines that everyone should consider:

  1. Break the horse before it is 17+ hands and 4 years old.
  2. Bring it before it is spoiled with treats and allowed to bowl over you (this can happen at any age!)
  3. Don’t bring me a horse has never been told where the limits are. I would rather have a horse with no human experience than one who thinks that horses are bigger/stronger/dominant over people.
  4. Do bring me a young horse after you have done what you can with it. For example, one can very easily teach a two year old how to enjoy grooming and the basics of hoof care. Do you own a rubber hose at your house? Then make it a plan to introduce the youngster to gushing water at an age where it is still impressionable and not thinking it rules the roost.

That last rule, #4, just takes some time and small steps, as most everything about horse training does. Even when we have a weanling, we will spray the mom’s legs off daily and expect that the baby stands by and is patient through the process. It might not feel the water on its body until a sweltering summer day (that is a tip!) but it has been introduced to the idea and watched the mom set a good example. After weaning, the process continues, maybe not on a daily basis, but frequently enough to know that I could give that horse a bath or wash a wound without getting a concussion in the process.

Only I won't be smiling.
Only I won’t be smiling.

I want to elaborate on #1: don’t bring me a giant monster. At the moment, I am breaking a mare who is way more bonded to other mares than she is to me. This is not her fault. She has only known the herd for 4 years, and now she is plucked away and deposited into a very stressful situation. We are on day 5 together and despite the weather horrors, I am managing to get some great groundwork done with her. But, it is made all that more difficult because she does not, and may never had, considered humans something to respect. She really likes humans! In fact, she very much expects me to give her treats. She won’t get a treat out of my hand for a few months, to be sure! Because, we have a whole lot of other basic issues to discuss first. I do wish that she was a year younger, and not 1200 pounds. She is huge. And opinionated. And falls deeply in love with any mare that she can see.

I don’t begrudge the owner for any of this, like all of us, we are usually trying to do the right thing in life. Including, raising solid, athletic young horses who have potential to be happy partners for a rider. But, if this blog reaches anyone out there who is has a young horse in a field and wants to watch it grow… please, for the safety of all involved, and the horse’s sake as well, break it to the world around 3 years old. On behalf of trainers everywhere, we thank you.

Of course, horses have a knack for hearing the words always and never. Early this year, I was complaining about this very subject as I was brought a giant mare named Ellie. But, her personality is very different than this mare’s and Ellie keeps her inner dominant personality in check. I absolutely love the way that she was practically begging to be ridden and have a job. I fact, I loved it so much that I bought her from her breeder, Silvana Bobba! Ellie has that lovely mix of assertiveness and confidence while also wanting to do the right thing. I can only hope that the new mare will come around to decide that her new life is not so bad, afterall.

I will write another blog next month to see how the new mare is doing!




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