1. GENERAL TRAINING
It is never too soon to start handling a foal. As soon as the mother will allow it, the youngster should become accustomed to being handled and controlled by a human. For example, it is good practice to put the foal into a foal-head collar, and lead it, with the mother, from paddock to paddock instead of letting it run loose with the mother.
The foal must also be handled while it is in the stable so that it becomes used to being touched. The foal should be lightly groomed if it is kept in at night, since this is a good form of training, teaching the foal to stand, a capability that will be useful when it comes to showing. It should be noted, however, that a foal which is kept out should not be groomed since this removes the natural oils to an undesirable degree.
As the foal becomes older and stronger, it must be taught to lead correctly, and must be taught to lead away from its mother. It is important that the trainer lead from a position level with the foal’s shoulder, and never look back at the foal, or pull in order to make it lead.
At about six months the foal is weaned and training continues. The head collar is still used, not a bridle, and the foal is taught to halt, to walk on straight and to lead from either side so that it does not become one-sided. The foal should also learn to trot up from the voice rather than needing to be dragged along. The important thing at this stage is that the foal should become accustomed to human intervention, and to learn to trust the human. This implies that handling is kind but firm. There is nothing worse than trying to train a foal that has been either bullied or spoilt. The foal must be disciplined and obedient if it is to enjoy adulthood.
A yearling that has physically matured may be lunged a little. It is wise to restrict this training to a few minutes only on each rein since the joints have not yet formed completely and there is a serious risk of injury if the still developing muscles are over- stressed.
The Cavesson is used with the lungeing rein. The Cavesson is in the form of a head-collar that has a well-padded noseband on which is attached a metal plate. Attached to the plate are tree swivelling metal rings to which the lunge rein may be attached. The noseband must be tight enough to prevent the cavesson from slipping around. If it does slip, control will be lost.
The lunge rein should be at least six metres long and make of
strong lightweight material like canvas or nylon. It has a clip which attaches to the cavensson’s swivelling rings.
Lunging combines training and exercise for the horse. The horse is required to move in a circle around the trainer who holds the loose end of the lunging rein. Training the foal or horse to lunge on
a circle left is begun by standing just behind the foal’s shoulder. The horse begins to move on a very small diameter circle at first but gradually more of the rein is given and the circle becomes larger. The rein is held in the left hand, and the whip is held in the right. The rein is used to control the head while the whip points just behind the hind quarters, controlling the quarters and providing impulsion. The aim is to get the horse to walk, trot and halt correctly at the word of command. When the table of exercises has been completed on one rein, it should be repeated on the other. In this case, the procedure is reversed, the rein being held in the right hand and the whip in the left.
It is important that the foal moves gaily and when coming to the halt stands on the track and does not turn inward towards the trainer. When first starting to lunge a young horse, a helper is required to lead the horse and keep it on the appropriate track. As the lesson develops, the rein may be let out until the circle has a radius of about 15 metres. Once the helper has led the youngster a few times round the circle, the horse should have the idea of what is required well enough to proceed without being led. The helper may be needed, however, to assist with the halt or the transitions from walk to trot and back again. The idea of this training is to get the horse to obey voice commands.
THE TWO TO THREE YEAR OLD
Most horses are too immature to be broken as yearlings and must be made ready physically and psychologically before further phases of training are attempted. A race horse is reared with a view to being raced at 2 years, but even a race horse may not be ready to be trained for racing until it is a year older.
For the average horse, backing and breaking is usually delayed until the third year, when it has matured sufficiently to undertake the heavier work involved in this phase of training. It can be seen that ‘readiness’ is essential. This is a matter of judgement, but a sound rule is to err on the side of taking it slowly. Too many horses, especially horses ‘off the track’, have been harmed psychologically or physically through being ‘brought on’ too quickly.
Lunging should be continued at this stage, the circle being enlarged as the horse becomes more balanced, until it is trotting round a twenty metre circle. As obedience is developed, lunging can be moved from the enclosed school and take place into the open.
At this stage a small amount of canter may be attempted. It is essential that the horse strikes off on the right foot. If a mistake is made, bring the horse back to trot and ask for canter again. Ask for canter with the voice, reinforcing the command with a flick of the whip behind the hind quarters. In the early stages, only one circle of canter on each rein should be attempted. Note that it is important to make sure that exercise and training is given on each rein in equal amounts. Horses tend to be one-sided (as humans are), and they must be trained to be equally supple and capable on either rein. Once there is a reasonable amount of attention from the horse, and the horse has achieved balance, the roller may be introduced.
The roller is used as a gentle introduction to the saddle. A foam pad should be placed so as to protect the withers under the roller. It should be shown to the horse before being fitted, and it should be placed on the neck, sliding it down the neck over the withers, to rest as the saddle does just behind the withers. The horse should be patted and gentled during this operation and as much time as is needed should be given to it. A breast plate may be used to stop the roller from sliding back if this becomes necessary. When the horse has become used to having the roller resting over the withers, it can be gently tightened. Having achieved this, the horse may be asked to walk on, and once the horse seems comfortable, work can be increased, asking for transitions between walk and canter on the lunge.
The idea of using a roller is to get the horse used to wearing a girth. A saddle is heavier than the
roller and could get damaged. Once the horse is used to the roller, it may be replaced by a soft, sheepskin saddle and a mohair girth. These items are specified because the young horse’s skin is still very tender, and could be rubbed or galled very easily. Once the saddle has been accepted at all paces, it is time to introduce the bridle.
Figure 1: The Mouthing Bit
The secret of making a good mouth is to get the horse to accept the bit as being part of its mouth. The most common mouthing bit is a straight bar bit which has keys (small pieces of smooth metal) to encourage the horse to play with the bit.
Figure 2: A Padded Roller and a Foam Pad
The horse will be thoroughly used to having the cavesson fitted over the head, so the introduction of the head piece of the bridle with its cheek straps and brow-band should not cause too many difficulties. Attach the bit to one side of the cheek strap and gently ease it into the horse’s mouth, tickling the gums at the corner of the mouth if the horse is reluctant to accept the bit. As the mouth opens, slide the bit in and attach the other cheek piece before the horse can reject it.
Be sure that the bit is a good fit. It should rest on the bars of the mouth and just wrinkle the corners of the mouth when in position. It is a good plan to put a touch of molasses on the bit when it is first
introduced, since this makes the bit acceptable and encourages salivation.
The bridle should be left on for a few minutes at first, and this length of time should be increased gradually until the bridle may be left on while the horse is lunged. At this stage, reins or side reins should not be used, since these might jerk on the horse’s mouth which is, as yet, very sensitive. Once the horse is used to the feel of the bit in the mouth, side reins may be attached to the sides of the cavesson. Elasticised side reins give the feel of reins held in sensitive hands.
BACKING THE YOUNGSTER
This should be a relatively simple procedure if the horse has been thoroughly prepared as described above. The horse should be lunged as usual with all the tack on bridle, sheepskin saddle etc. At the end of the exercise period, it should be attentive but relaxed. Bring the horse back into the stable yard and stop it alongside a mounting block or a bale of straw. An assistant should be at the horse’s head while another person steps on to the bale or the block and leans on the saddle until the horse is taking all the weight. Once the horse will accept this in a relaxed and confident manner, place a foot in the stirrup while an assistant holds down the other stirrup (the girth should not be too tight at this stage). If the horse is still calm, gently swing the leg over the horse’s back (avoiding an accidental kick) and find the other stirrup. Do not sit back in the saddle but lean forward so as to take the weight off the centre of gravity. The assistant should now lead the horse forward a few steps and then return to the mounting block so that the rider can dismount. This routine should be continued each day, starting with lunging and then with gradually increasing periods of riding the horse while the assistant leads. After a while, the rider may take up the reins to establish light contact with the horse, but the legs should be kept completely still, the horse being ridden to voice commands given by the rider.
As the horse becomes accustomed to this routine, the lunging period may now be completed with a rider on the horse’s back, at walk and at trot. Side reins should be used to ensure that the rider does not interfere with the horse’s mouth. At this stage, leg aids may be gradually introduced, using a gentle squeeze on the sides when asking for walk. These aids should be accompanied by voice commands given by the rider.
The voice command for trot should be given and reinforced by gentle taps at the sides with both legs together. Use rising trot only, the horse’s back is still too weak for sitting trot. Once the horse responds willingly to the voice and leg aids, while being lunged, the next step should follow easily. This is removing the lunge rein and having the horse continue to walk and trot round the circle as it had been doing while on the lunge rein. Obviously, a very light contact with the mouth is needed, but control should be through the voice rather than hands or legs.
Once the horse has been taken off the lunge rein, a rubber straight-bar bit should be used. The horse is now broken and backed. It must now be trained.
SCHOOLING UNDER THE SADDLE
This stage of training has explicit objectives. These are to produce a horse:
- That moves forward freely in a balanced rhythm;
- With a steady head carriage;
- That is balanced in all gaits;
- That moves straight;
- That is supple and confident of its physical ability; and
- That is obedient to its rider’s aids
Training takes time. Horses learn through routine, repetition and reward. To examine these
objectives in more detail we will show the steps by which they may be achieved in training terms.
The horse should move forward freely
The first step is to insist that the horse stands quietly while being mounted. Initially this means having an assistant hold the horse while the rider mounts and dismounts
Once the horse has accepted this routine, ask for walk with a light leg aid, reinforced with a light tap on the hind quarters with a dressage whip. Once the horse has understood the leg aid, the whip may be dispensed with.
A similar process is repeated when trot is required. Canter should not be attempted at this stage.
Simple changes of direction may be taught at the walk, first putting light finger pressure on the inside rein while squeezing with the outside leg behind the girth.
Checking the pace
This is begun in a walk. The trainer closes his hands around the reins, with a light finger pressure to resist forward movement and uses the voice to check the movement. After a few paces, the fingers should be opened and the horse encouraged to move freely again with a nudge from the leg. This is a difficult lesson and the horse may well resist at first not knowing quite what is required. With patience the message will be understood and once this has been understood at the walk, the lesson should be reinforced, and success rewarded before the lesson is repeated at the trot.
Having a rider on its back alters the balance of a horse. The additional weight alters the natural movements of the horse. The horse has to learn how to accommodate the changes caused by the rider so that it can carry the rider in such a manner that its natural balance is not impaired.
The head must not be carried too high. A high head carriage may result in a hollow back and decreased activity in the hind legs. Horses that have learned to carry their head high may have learned a method of avoiding the bit.
When schooling, the rider must ensure that the hands maintain a soft contact with the horse’s mouth, keeping plenty of impulsion coming from behind (steady use of the rider’s legs) so the horse moves forward into the bit. The rider should be ever aware of the position of the hands, encouraging free movement. The thumbs should be held upwards so that the elbows can work to accommodate the movement of the horse.
Horses, like people, tend to be one sided, bending on one side more easily than the other. These are known as the soft and stiff sides of the horse. One of the aims of training is to make the horse supple, so that it can bend easily on both sides equally. To reduce stiffness, suppling exercises using bends and corners should be introduced. This entails going into the corner so that the horse must flex to round it. The horse may be flexed to one side at a halt. To achieve this, use the fingers to ‘feel’ the horse’s mouth without pulling back on the rein. As the horse’s head comes round, release the pressure with the inside rein but do not let the horse’s head straighten up. The horse should maintain the bend even though the rider has yielded with the inside rein. If the flexion is lost, ask again and be satisfied with a very slight amount of flexion at first. Make sure your hands remain soft and yielding so that the neck becomes relaxed and supple.
When asking the horse to turn a corner, the rider should move the inside hand sideways and
forwards so that the horse tends to turn on a wider arc. As the horse becomes used to this, introduce the diagonal aids, the outside leg placed behind the girth while the inside rein is gently used to nudge the corner of the mouth. If the horse falls into the circle, use the inside leg to push it out again, so that the idea of the horse turning on an arc is maintained. Work on large circles until the horse becomes used to the exercise and then reduce the size of the circle as a suppling exercise.
Work at the canter
The horse should be cantering readily on either rein while on the lunge before the rider tries to canter using the hand and leg aids. When lunging, great care should always be taken to ensure that the horse is cantering with the right leg leading.
When the horse has had a fair amount of work at the walk and trot with a rider mounted, the rider can begin work on canter. The rider must have achieved a good collected trot round the school. Then, on approaching a corner, ask for a bend to the inside. Simultaneously, sit down firmly in the saddle, press with both legs, the outside leg slightly behind the girth and use your voice to get canter. If necessary, a slight tap with the schooling whip will reinforce the other aids.
Do not, initially, ask for much work in canter. Try him on either rein, bring him back to trot and reward him.
2. SPECIALISED TRAINING
The types of training discussed in this section include dressage, show-jumping, three phasing and polo. Other forms of training like racing, trotting etc. are not covered because they are deemed to be too specialised.
Dressage is the training of the horse in deportment, responsiveness, balance and athletic ability, in which he is asked to submit generously to the control of the rider. The horse should be calm and supple, at one with the rider, and his work should show freedom and regularity in all paces and movement. In all manoeuvres, lightness, harmony and the engagement of the hind-quarters should be apparent. The well-schooled horse gives the impression of moving and carrying himself without the obvious direction of the rider, moving forward confidently and attentively, held between the motivating force of the rider’s legs and the controlling influence of the rider’s hands.
The continuing training of the dressage horse to improve the quality of these movements is carried on through lunging. The horse should learn to trot with a lively foot action and a relaxed, swinging back. He should present, eventually a degree of roundness in his outline, the poll being the highest point of the neck. Work can now begin at sitting trot, executing more complex manoeuvres and executing them with growing accuracy. Circles should be as round as they can be made, and movements on a straight line should be perfectly straight. The horse should be able to move deep into the corners without losing impulsion, rhythm and with the correct bend that it will enable him to go forward freely. The circle should be limited to one of twenty metres in diameter, the half circle to fifteen metres in diameter and the loops of serpentine twelve metres in diameter. To achieve this a schooling area of the correct dimensions should be marked out.
The novice dressage area measures 40m x 20m and has letters to indicate points in the dressage area to which movements must be related.
There are four types of walk that may be asked. They are called the collected walk, the medium walk, the free walk and the extended walk.
The differences between these kinds of walk are found in the length of stride appropriate to each. The collected walk has the shortest stride, the medium walk one is slightly longer, the free walk has a long stride (very little control from the bit) and the extended walk has a stride that makes the horse reach for the longer distance.
The walk is a pace of four times (that is, four steps, one from each foot making up one stride, each step coming separately in succession). The trained horse that is balanced and collected will strike off from the halt with the hind leg first. The following order might be observed: near hind, near fore, off hind, off fore. The young horse that is less balanced and a little on the forehand will start from the halt, striking off with a fore leg first, near fore, off hind, off fore, near hind.
There are four types of trot: the collected trot, the working trot, the medium trot and the extended trot. The different types of trot can be distinguished by the degrees of collection, impulsion, balance and length of stride seen in each type.
The collected trot
This trot is highly collected, short, bouncy and elevated, needing plenty of impulsion. Horses is advanced stages of dressage are able to do this.
The working trot
This is the normal trot of the young horse. It is the trot asked for in novice and preliminary classes of dressage.
The medium trot
In this gait, the length of stride is slightly longer than that seen in the working trot so that the horse covers the ground with good impulsion and balance. The horse remains showing a good shape, which is well balanced and collected with good impulsion, and is seen in dressage classes beyond the stage of the novice/beginner.
At this pace, the horse covers the ground with the greatest possible length of stride. It is accomplished only at the most advanced stages of training. This is a two-time gait, the horse springing from one pair of diagonals to the other, the diagonal being the off fore and the near hind, and the left diagonal, the other pair. The rider must take great care to change diagonals when riding at the trot, each time the rein is changed, to prevent the horse from becoming one sided.
There are four types of canter. The collected, the working, the medium and the extended. These are distinguished by the length of stride, the rhythm and impulsion, all showing a regular three beat rhythm.
The collected Canter
This is a gait that is shown only by the educated horse. The rhythm and impulsion are strong but the length of stride is short.
The Working Canter
This is the canter used by novice horses in which the horse moves forward freely, calmly and with rounded outline.
The horse moves forward, covering the ground with a slightly longer stride, maintaining good balance and energy.
The Extended Canter
This is a difficult pace since the stride must become longer without the gait becoming more hurried. Generally speaking, novice dressage requires that animals should move freely at free walk on a long rein, a working trot and a working canter. All young horses should be trained to novice dressage standard.
Transitions are the moments during which one gait is changed to another. With the novice horse, transitions should be from one to the next, that is, from walk to trot from trot to canter, or from canter to trot and from trot to walk. It is important that transitions should occur when desired (when aids are given) and should be smooth, not abrupt.
The Rein Back
The objective of this exercise is to teach the horse to go backwards on command. Teaching begins once the horse is well warmed up and has been moving freely at a trot. Ask the horse to halt, making sure that the horse is square (all four feet at the corners of an imaginary rectangle), the rider’s legs firmly on the horse’s sides. With the hands closed on the reins, use the legs for mild impulsion. Since the horse cannot go forward, he will move backwards. Rein back for two or three paces, then halt, and immediately move forward again, rewarding the horse. Note that the horse is not pulled back from pressure on the mouth. The aids tell the horse what quality and direction of movement is required. The rein back should be straight, with the head held still.
If you accept that training the horse is partially the development of a communication system between the horse and the rider, you will see that elementary dressage becomes essential to the horse’s basic education, from which he can develop special skills and attributes. The basic training must be maintained and a certain amount of time should be spent on this work no matter what other activity the horse is doing.
Horses are born with varying capacities to jump. The trainer’s task is to develop each horse so that is realises its potential, being able to jump various types of obstacles. The trainer must have a clear understanding of the mechanics involved in jumping from the horse’s point of view.
During the last few strides as the horse approaches the hazard, the neck and the head are stretched downwards. On take-off the neck shortens as the horse prepares to spring, the muscles of the hind quarters push the horse upwards and forwards over the jump. In flight, the neck and head stretch out and the hind legs are tucked up underneath. On landing, the neck and head shorten again, rising to lessen the dead-weight on landing.
The horse should be trained to at least novice dressage standard before commencing with jumping training.
Jumping starts with exercise over trotting poles on the lunge. The poles should be placed on the ground about four feet apart. Once the horse can trot evenly over the poles, they can be replaced by a cavaletti at its lowest height.
When lunging a horse over obstacles, the horse must be presented square on to the object, which means that the trainer must move at right angles to the cross bar and the horse will no longer be moving in a circle. When approaching the jump the horse must be given as much freedom as possible
over the pole to lower, stretch and extend his neck so as to use his head efficiently and naturally over the jump. As the jump gets higher, great care should be taken to ensure that the lunging rein is not snagged by the jump supports as the horse is jumping. A slanting pole resting on the ground at one end and on the highest part of the jump at the other should ensure that the rein passes smoothly over the jump.
On landing, allow the horse to take a few more straight strides before returning to the circle. Work should be done equally on each rein. It is advised that lunge-work be restricted to work over trotting poles, cavaletti and obstacles of no more than one metre in height. Assisting the horse over higher obstacles on the lunging rein takes considerable skill and experience. At this stage, the horse is ready for loose jumping in a small school or jumping lane. This will do much to increase confidence and experience. The horse should first get accustomed to going round the school without any kind of obstacles at all. Then trotting poles may be introduced, with large wings that discourage running out. To start with, an assistant is useful, to encourage the horse over a jump. When the horse has gained confidence in loose jumping, an experienced rider may be introduced to give the horse confidence in clearing different kinds of obstacles.
The ground should be soft so that the strain that might come from landing on hard, uneven ground is avoided: considerable strain is put on the tendons of a young horse should he slip. The fences should be small at first, and inviting rather than daunting. The rider should keep as still as possible over the jump, retaining only light rein contact so that the hands do not interfere with the natural movements of the neck and head during the jump. A neck strap should be used if there is any danger of the horse being jobbed in the mouth.
The rider should start with trotting poles as was done on the lunge. The rider will use rising trot so as to allow the horse’s back maximum freedom. Once the trotting poles have been successfully encountered, a small jump may be introduced at the end of the poles. There should be one stride of canter between the last pole and the jump, a distance of 6-8 metres, depending upon the length of the horse’s stride.
Once the horse is going quietly over the trotting poles and the small obstacle, the poles may be removed and replaced by very small jumps. These should vary in shape and appearance, and should vary in spread too, but the jumps should be kept very small. In fact, the more confidence the horse can gain in going over a wide variety of small jumps the better. Horses are alarmed more often by the appearance of a jump than its size.
While training a horse to jump, is essential to maintain normal flat training, and to take the horse out on a hack occasionally in order to avoid the horse becoming jumping stale. (Indeed, this is necessary with all training; vary the diet, no matter what the horse is doing. A bored horse might obey but it will not learn well.)
A jumper should not compete until it is five years of age. At this age, and with the required degree of training, the horse may begin to compete in novice jumping classes and will have to learn to do in public what is does regularly at home in the schooling ring.
This term is used to identify the exacting sport in which the horse and rider are asked to show their competency in three disciplines: dressage, cross-country and show-jumping.
We have dealt with dressage and show-jumping above. In addition, the cross-country horse should be confident in.
- Tackling any kinds of ground conditions including going up and down steep slopes and going through water.
- Jumping cross country fences that are soling and will not fall when rapped.
- Undertaking a demanding series of activities in all types of weather.
- Dealing with problems that might arise when going round the course fast, extricating himself and his rider from rubble.
The horse should be introduced to cross-country in the most natural possible way. Jumping over ditches, fallen logs, for example when out on a ride. In England, the horse would probably be used for season’s hunting before starting on cross-country work: in Southern Africa, to be used over as great a variety of country as possible would be beneficial.
The horse that will be used to play polo must begin with certain qualities. It must answer the leg and reins held in once hand quickly and easily. It must not mind being ridden by a rider who swishes a polo stick on either side of its head, and must run true to the ball.
Training begins with breaking and backing in the normal way, followed by the dressage training. Specialised work begins once the horse has become responsive to the aids. The reins are held in one hand in polo, so the horse will need to be taught to respond to neck reining.
Neck-reining is a method in which the horse is advised of the rider’s wishes as the hand carriers the rein to one side or the other of the neck. In either case, the rein bearing on the neck is on the outside of the arc on which the rider wants to turn. Further initial training includes simple school exercises, change of rein, figure of eight, circles of varying dimensions on a loose rein. When this has been accomplished, coming to the halt with the hocks well up underneath him should be introduced. Then the horse should rein back confidently, followed by a spring forward when given the aid. The horse should perform both of these movements straight.
The next manoeuvre is the turnabout. To do this, the pony must rein back and before moving on turn on his hocks to right or left. This is accomplished by maintaining strong pressure with the legs during the rein back so as to keep the hocks well under him. Thereafter, carry the reins over the neck right or left, using the outside leg strongly. The pony should pivot on the hind legs carrying no weight on the front legs at all.
Work at canter may now be introduced: canter on a loose rein, striking off on the right leg, change of lead through the figure of eight using trot should all be practised.
The polo pony also needs to be able to move sideways in either direction. The easiest exercise to begin with is the turn on the forehand. This should begin with a square halt. To turn to the right, ask with a slight bend on the right rein and a slight pressure with the right leg behind the girth.
This pushes the hind-quarters round to so that the front legs act as a pivot while the hind legs walk round them until the horse is facing in the opposite direction. The horse should then be asked to walk on.
If the horse does not move freely and actively away from the leg, the rider should use a stick to reinforce the aid. The polo pony must learn to move off actively when the leg is applied. It is not as necessary to require the correct bend at the neck as it would be for a dressage horse. Another good exercise for the polo pony is leg-yielding. This is when the horse is bent slightly away from the direction in which he is moving and is asked to move forward and sideways. During all this training, the stick has been carried and training to follow the ball should have been carried out simultaneously. The pony must be comfortable with the polo stick. He should see it and smell it before the rider mounts with it. Obviously, the stick should never hurt the pony. Once the pony is used to the stick and will allow the rider to swing it on either side, the ball may be introduced. Again, the pony must not be accidentally swiped by the stick while following the ball.
Gymkhana games can be very useful in the training of the polo pony, especially games in which a flag or stick is carried.
Once the basic training is over, training with the ball can begin in earnest. Whenever training with the ball, the pony’s legs should be protected by boots. Bandages would be satisfactory if there were not a risk that they might come undone. The player should start by knocking a ball about at a walk. Then the same can be done at the trot, and finally at a canter. There should be many balls available on the practice ground so that time is not spent chasing after a mishit shot. The player should always hit the ball with a definite object in view: accuracy is more important than great length.
It is most important that the rider should not jab the pony in the mouth when making a shot. To avoid this, it is a good habit to let the left hand go forward a little as the shot is made and ease the rein as the stick is being swung. At the end of this training, the pony should be able to stop quickly turn 180 degrees and spring away again.