A very happy new year to all my friends, supporters and followers wherever in the world you may be and let us all hope for a much better 2021 after all the challenges, trials and tribulations of 2020 and Coronavirus.
I thought I would start the positivity off with the story so far about Newt, a Highland Pony, who will be four this year. I will be continuing the backing processes with Newt in the Spring of this year and it has been an interesting one so far, with the very best still to come hopefully, and we all need some hope in these days.
From a very early age, nine months on, Newt was slowly introduced to the idea of a certain level of respect for his handlers. This is essential as the early days are when problems that can show later can actually start. Prior to being gelded I was very careful to allow Newt to express himself as a youngster but to at least have an awareness that one day he would need to be very well behaved. Right from the start he showed grand potential and was as boisterous as any youngster but very willing to listen and learn. Newt had to learn to respect my body space and not be too easily distracted. This was achieved without force or physical punishment of any kind. Just the use of my body positioning and voice, gleaned for four decades of training and the realisation that horses try much harder for kindness than they do for physical punishment and brutality of any form. Newt has to this day never ever been hit with a stick or smacked in the mouth whilst having a bit in, that is the only way in my opinion if horses are started correctly and never over faced. Patience is the key, it was with Newt.
Forward straight and calm
Of all the thousands of problem horses I have seen and handled over the decades, I would say every single horse I was presented with had an issue with its lack of ability to be either forward, straight and or calm, some of them all three. It matters not what the intended use of a horse is, or the level of performance, without all three of these most important factors there may well be trouble ahead. All of the gadgets, gismos, gimmicks, potions and other nonsense are all aimed at horses who do not possess any or all of these three simple traits. Horses should move forward with at least a degree of energy, they must be straight moving and they should be of calm temperament. I believe all horses are trainable to this goal. Some will test the trainers ability, but that is life. As a yearling I was able to get Newt established in a show halter, moving forward, in a straight line, calmly. It took some patience but once achieved Newt will have it for life and it can be built upon steadily to produce outstanding results.
Royal Cheshire Show 2018 – live training
In the picture you can see Newt being shown in hand, at the Royal Cheshire Show, already Newt has shown a real presence in the ring and this was very much an exercise in familiarising Newt to what he will see a lot of in the future when he is competing on a more regular basis. It was a tremendous success and Newt was placed well and had his first rosette, not bad for a start, in the ribbons at a Royal County Show. A star is born we hope, and hope is very much what this article is about, hope for better days.
Introduction to hazards
From my days training police horses I know how important spook busting (to give it one of its many titles) can be and Newt has had a slow and steady introduction to some things which I know can be very threatening to horses. I also used Emmett, a cain terrier to improve Newt in his ability to respond sensibly to environmental changes around him which we cannot control as handlers and riders. Dogs can be a huge problem to horses when things go wrong so I wanted Newt over that as soon as possible. My way with spook training is to simulate the challenges in a training setting where possible and then roll the trained horse out into the big world, it was devastatingly effective for me with the police horses and it is working with Newt too. You can see his curiosity with Emmett is such that he needs time to weigh things up and this process takes longer with some horses than others, Newt is very quick to learn to make good decisions, things are going well for him. It also helped him learn to stretch forward for the bridle, two things learnt at the same time.
The engagement of the inner hip when turning
Once again a key element in a young horses early days is to move the inside hind leg forward and across when the horse makes a balanced turn. I establish this without the bridle fitted first then with the bridle and bit fitted, in Newts case. When I back horses this is where the separation from bitless and bitted horses occurs and the training takes a different path in some ways. Up to this point everything I do is the same regardless of the horse being ridden bitless or with a bit. My preferred bit for new starters is the fulmer snaffle, with keepers fitted, for those who don’t know they are the little leather tabs that hold the bit in the correct position. Remembering of course that THE most important thing will always be the riders feel, the best and the worst bits are basically the same without good feel in the hands for the trainer, particularly in the early days. Poor feel probably causes more issues for horses and riders than any other single thing. It is just so subtle and at times abstract that a lot of people fail to appreciate and understand this.
It is a well established fact that great feel is very rare in riders. It is the last thing the very best riders achieve. It is what separates the best trainers and riders from the rest. There are people who ride horses and there are people who pull the reins is a very old and very wise saying. I have worked very hard to avoid any damage to the sensitive inter dental groove in Newts mouth. This is the part of the mouth where the bit sits and there are no teeth. Just a reminder here always check a young horse in the mouth for any issues that might arise with teeth as discomfort can be very uncomfortable for the horse and very misleading even for experienced trainers. If in doubt check. Anyway a horse that is to be ridden in a bit must learn to trust the contact, this trust can be easily broken but must be nurtured carefully by the expert trainer and will last a lifetime if got right. Newt has a wonderful mouth at this stage.
The next stage, getting on board
Now that Newt is bitted and going well he will start the ridden processes in April, his mouth is set his body has strengthened, and in his long reining he is accepting the contact beautifully, moving straight and is calm in all his work, 2021 is looking good for Newt and Natalie, his owner/rider who has even had a little gentle sit on Newt in the stable.
Happy New Year to everyone and thank you for all the feedback I receive, I do respond to every e mail and message, via social media. I hope it’s a better year for us all. Stay safe.