Having self-produced my second pony, Socks, I'm now in the process of making my first horse, Kings Ceilidh, into an all-rounder too. It's an exciting time, but a very formative one too. If you follow these steps then you will be on the way to providing your young horse with a solid foundation to its working career, especially if you're looking to create an eventer.
Socks, who I produced, over one of her first XC fences.
Hacking is incredibly important for an eventer - I generally try to hack about 2-3 times a week. It gives the horse endless benefits like trust, confidence in the rider, 'sure-footedness' and opportunities to encounter new things. With my horses, the first thing I do is hack out because I nearly always encounter something new that the young horse is unsure about. The beauty of hacking is that the things you encounter are rarely too frightening for the horse, so it provides them with endless confidence in the long term. However, if the young horse is nervous or requires a little 'moral support', ensure the horse you're hacking out with is also brave and experienced. As the young horse gets braver, he can then go in lead file for longer intervals throughout the ride.
The other advantage of hacking is that the horse will get used to a whole host of terrains - this is important for eventing as the horse needs to remain unfazed by boggy and deep ground in front of jumps. If you can, take every opportunity to ride your horse through puddles, trot over some small logs (check the landing and take-off spots beforehand!) and ride in unfamiliar surroundings.
There are many other benefits to hacking - even walking on a hard surface, like a road, strengthens the tendons and ligaments as it encourages the production of collagen (a structural tissue), so it is crucial for making your horse fitter. Hacking is very important throughout the horse's career too, if you want a happy and healthy team-mate for the event season.
A thing of the past? Certainly not! Both hunting the 'clean boot' (following a human scent) and 'drag hunting' (following an artificial scent that has been 'dragged' over a course) is incredibly beneficial to the young horse. It is important that your horse is fit enough for the fast work and accustomed to the busy atmosphere at the meet beforehand, though. For a horse that has not hunted before, it is sensible to take him Autumn Hunting a few times beforehand (this is at a much slower pace, it is often cheaper and there are normally less attendees). Autumn Hunting is very important because it teaches the horse to be sensible and gets him used to the atmosphere – it makes them learn that it’s not all about galloping! Hunting is great for the young horse, when introduced correctly, it gives the horses bravery, it teaches them to stop and start when you ask and it accustoms them to busy situations, like ‘the meet’. If your horse hasn't been hunting before, it is advisable to wear a green ribbon on your horse's tail and consult your local hunt beforehand for advice. You can use this hunting directory to find hunts near you.
Once your horse has well-established flatwork, polework can be easily introduced. Polework is an under-rated tool but it is beneficial for horses of any age. Introducing poles can easily be done by placing a few at random places in the arena. Your horse will encounter them as he is walking and trotting around. If he is un-fazed, you can approach them at a canter or assemble some in a line and trot over them. If he is excited by the poles and gets on-ward bound, 4 poles at each 'quarter' on the circle gives the rider a fighting chance of keeping the horse in a rhythm!
If you are doing more complex polework exercises, it is a very good idea to have a professional or knowledgeable person on the ground with you. This is so they can adjust the poles to the right distances if you knock them, saving you interrupting your horse's flow by getting on and off. When setting up a pole exercise by yourself, be certain that you know the correct distances between poles for trot and canter.
Progressing to competition:
After your horse is happy training at home and is relatively relaxed, it is good to take him to some new venues so he isn't shocked if he goes to a new place when he's competing. Make sure he's seen mirrors, he's had lots of outings in your lorry/trailer and he doesn't mind things like white boards, mirrors, or spooky things like jumps and fillers stored in the corner of the arena. A good way to get him used to the 'warm-up atmosphere' is to take him to a few clinics and group lessons. This way he can get used to having other horses around him whilst you can remain relaxed, without other factors distracting you, like competition nerves.
By Ella Vincent, a 16- year-old aspiring eventer, who is generously supported by Eqclusive.
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