The Right Start Part 5 - Venturing Outside and Cantering
Welcome to our series 'The Right Start', covering the major stages of the training of young horses, 'The KA Way'.
This series is based on a set of articles we wrote for The Scottish and Northern Equestrian Magazine back in 2011 and knowing that Spring is the time of year people think about starting their young horses, we thought we'd edit and republish the articles in the hope we can help you in your journey.
If you missed Parts 1-4, you can catch up by using the links below:
Hacking out on your young horse is an important and rewarding part of their education and one that the majority thoroughly enjoy. Hacking out with another horse is, for a young horse, a relaxed enjoyable and sociable experience where they are able to indulge their inquisitive nature, learn what it feels like to go up and down hills with a riding on board, meet unexpected rabbits or pheasants and realising they don't have to run in the opposite direction.
In short, hacking out teaches your young horse lessons that are difficult to teach in an arena and as a result, considerably builds their confidence. At the same time, it offers an enjoyable addition to their routine. This article discusses how we at KA Equestrian prepare the young horse for hacking out and how it can be a great introduction to canter work,
How to know when he is ready
By the time we make the decision to embark upon our first hack with a young horse, we'll be confident that he or she is happy with us on board and that we're able to halt, walk and trot on command. Our first 'hack' may just be a few minutes walk along the drive and back with an assistant by their shoulder for encouragement. This is simply just to introduce the horse to the idea of being ridden outside the reassuring fence of the arena and get out into the open. Rarely do we have problems at this stage and the few minutes are enough for this first venture.
The first proper hack
Hacking out properly begins with buddying the young horse up with an older, experienced non-spooky horse who can lead the way. We'll choose a short route close to home avoiding any particularly scary or challenging obstacles such as roads or rivers to cross. We'll also be mindful to try and avoid open fields, field with herd of cattle who like to run or any harvesting or field-spreading that's taking place to try and create a calm, non-eventful first hack.
We're extremely lucky to have a network of onsite hacking trails around the estate, so we can avoid traffic and provides a fantastic route for young horses. Some horses will tentatively walk behind their buddy and take everything in. They might jump when they see something unexpected, become nervous and trot forward beyond their buddy, or stop and refuse to go forward. All of these reactions are normal and are all indications that the horse is just lacking confidence.
This is completely understandable and we would never reprimand or put pressure on a young horse for anything like this. They're looking for reassurance from their rider , so as with all steps of riding young horses, balanced and positive riding is a must. After a few of these short hacks with company, we'll have progressed up to including short trotting periods within them.
Hacking out alone
As part of our standard 8 week training plan, we'll have the young horses hacking out alone before going home and most will confidently do this after a few accompanied hacks. Some however will need a little encouragement from the ground to get them started. Much like we'll do from the start in the arena, an assistant will walk at the side of the horse and slowly walk further and further away so they are left hacking alone.
Every horse is different and each will require different levels of support from the ground. Particularly with the 3 year olds that we work with, we try not to hurry removing the support they look for, but at the same time we are conscious that we don't want them to rely on it long term. It's a judgement that needs to be made and that's when experience really serves us.
Young horse are, initially, quite often unbalanced in their canter and particularly with a rider on board. Purpose-built arenas with supportive surfaces are superb spaces to start your young horse's schooling and the relative safety they offer with their fences or walls help to 'contain' the young horse who is learning how to balance themselves with a rider on board. Arenas, however, can also close-in the space and potentially make horses back off from working forward. Any reluctance to work forward and into a contact, coupled with a little imbalance, can make cantering for the first time in an arena challenging.
We have found that some young horses, particularly the large or lazier ones, will find the space out hacking with another horse the natural time to take those first few canter strides.
By following an older more experienced horse into canter outside, the young horse will naturally want to follow and will be in canter before they even realise! We'll make that first canter just a few strides before returning to trot then walk. We might repeat this a few times and slowly build up the length of the canter.
The outdoor space means we only have to concentrate on going in a straight line and not worry about keeping balance in a tight arena. If the horse feels the arena is too tight for them to canter in, their stride can become short and hurried, tension creeps in and thereby making them more unbalanced.
What cantering outside offers is the space to cover the ground and time to develop their balance over a few sessions. We will, of course, start introducing the canter in the arena too but we will start on the long sides before building up to cantering in circles.
As with all work with horses, teaching a young horse to hack out and canter must always be progressive and consistent but equally as important is that we listen to the individual horse to decide on the timings for introducing new things.