What happens when you mix green horses with green people?
“Why would green people buy green horses?”, asked one of my first coaches to my mother. My mother had just three months before, bought me a just broke 3-year-old and a 7-year-old. My mom looked at her a minute digesting the question and said, “Repeat that question and there is your answer.”
I wanted a horse and I was lucky, my mom bought me two. It was a good deal. $1,800 each or two for $2,500. My mom is always on the hunt for a good deal. She told my dad that she saved him $1,100. Wipe the smile from your face, she had no idea what kind of money was going to be spent on horses in the future.
One of the two horses was a 3-year-old, Paint, gelding, who had just been gelded and had only been broken for three weeks. His name was Joey. I was 10-years-old. My mother loved him because of his pretty colour. She also bought Katie, a 7-year-old, Pinto coloured, Quarter Horse/Percheron/Arab cross, mare, who had also only been broken for three weeks. My mother really loved Katie because she looked ‘majestic’ and Katie was initially for her to learn to ride on. Needless to say, my parents were not horse people. No person who knows the slightest thing about horses would buy two just broken horses for their 10-year-old daughter, who only learned to ride a few months ago at pony camps.
Katie did not event the first year I owned her. Calling her unrideable is an understatement. She used to buck constantly especially when I would canter her. She spooked hard, at everything. Sounds, sights, just because, Katie spooked non-stop. In most riding arenas, there would be a section I could not ride her in because I literally could not get her to go there. My mom rode Katie a handful of times and fell off. Her riding career was very short-lived.
Joey was pretty, but he was also borderline feral. Joey and I had a love/hate relationship. Part of Joey scared me and the other part I loved him because riding him around gave me my daily adrenaline high. Ignorance was bliss and I ‘trained’ him diligently because I eventually discovered the joy of competing and I wanted to win ribbons. We did our first event together when he was only 4-years-old. I had no concerns about it being his first event. My biggest concern was getting a ribbon. Unsurprisingly, we did not head home with a ribbon, but we finished.
I was hooked on Eventing and determined to do better next time. I evented Joey up to the Pre-Training level, and we did end up winning some ribbons. I sold him because I decided that at 5-years-old, he lacked the scope for Training level.
I remember after selling him, having a mini panic attack and wanting him back after I had my new horse. I did really love him and missed him and, at 12-years-old, I felt guilty for selling him. However, I did get over it because competing at Training level and beyond, was what I really wanted.
Flash-forward 11 years and I am riding a 4-year-old again. His name is James. This is my homebred (science experiment), KWPN/Irish Sport Horse cross. Canadian eventer, Tik Maynard, broke him for me the month of February 2015, and then I gave him a little holiday. In July of 2015, I started riding James myself, this year he began his Eventing career with me and is currently competing successfully at the Pre-Training level. But one thing is for sure, I have certainly noticed numerous differences in how I ride a green horse today…
10 years ago, this is what I thought about breaking young green horses.
1. Lunging religiously, before getting on is a must. Lunging a youngster for 20-30 minutes, before getting on so it would be tamer, was my best survival tactic. Little did I know that was not good for a 3-year-old’s growing legs.
2. You only need to canter down the long-sides of the arena. Instead of picking a fight with my horses about keeping their canter through the short side of the arena, I would let them trot. If I tried to force them to keep cantering through the short-end, they would buck or just ignore me. What was the point of even trying? Cantering down the long-sides was more fun anyway because you could get a good lick of speed going. I eventually realized, that teaching your horses to canter continuously around the arena allows you to gain even more speed.
3. Ground manners meant minding my manners. Joey had me more trained on the ground than I had him trained. My parents nicknamed him ‘Jurassic Joey’ because he would whinny (scream) like a dinosaur. When he got stressed out, he would make his T-Rex sound effects, run me over, head-butt me, bite, etc. He had me scared silly about trying to keep him happy when I was on the ground. He was big, I was small, so I catered to him. Now that I have grown up, I am at the top of the pecking order.
4. Punching a horse in the head is acceptable training. When horses would bite my trainer or were being too pushy, she would haul off and punch them in the head. I thought this was standard horse discipline… I tried it a few times but it always hurt my hand.
5. Dads are good for bridling horses. The first week or so of going to the barn to ride my new purchases, only my mom would come. My dad told us when we bought the horses, “Do not even expect me to go to the barn to even pet the horses,” because he was scared of them. But my mom and I were too short to get the bridles on the horses when they would lift their heads up in the air like giraffes. After a few consecutive nights of not being able to bridle the horses, we begged my dad to come to the barn just for that one job because he was taller. He did get the bridles on, and he started going to the barn on a regular basis. He now is quite an excellent groom!
6. Horses buck constantly. The first time Katie bucked me off, I got a bit nervous and asked my coach how to make her stop bucking. My coach replied, “Horses buck. You have to get used to it.” I did get used to it, and over time Katie bucked less and less. My parents used to count how many bucks she would do each night so we could keep track of her progress. The amount of bucks during a ride is not a measurement of training progress.
7. Parents have to time your rides. My parents would supervise my rides and tell me when I had been on him for five minutes then I could pick up a trot. When I had been on him for 20 minutes, I could pick up a canter. Once it was canter time, I would just canter up and down the long-sides of the arena because that was fun. My coach at the time dubbed me the ‘Cantering Fool’. After one hour of riding my first horse, my parents would let me know that the ride was over and time for the next one. Now when I train my horses, I do not just take them out for a rip (Canadian slang).
8. Horses were meant to be ridden, why were mine so difficult? My horses would frustrate me because my friends had horses and mine were not nearly as good as theirs. I did not understand that their parents had purchased them ‘school masters’. Why was Joey frightened of flowers and other jump fillers, and my friends’ horses were not phased? Why did Katie refuse to jump? I thought horses were like motorcycles. Once you figured out how to ride them they did everything you asked, consistently. Growing up watching old western movies, I really assumed people could hop on and go, and the horse would know what you wanted. I mean sure they would act crazy the first time you’d saddle one up, but surely after five minutes of a riding and holding on for dear life, the horse would be trained. I felt that my horses were flawed because they lacked “natural rideability” (like that was a real thing). When I started riding, I had no idea of the training involved for me and the horses.
While it is undeniable that 10-year-olds ideally should not be riding just broke horses, it is not the end of the world. When I sold Joey he was a solid Pre-Training horse as a 5-year-old. With my determination and my drive for success along with the help of a couple of patient coaches, I was able to train Joey to be a very easy ride. He actually became such an easy horse to ride in just two years, he went to an adult amateur as a trail horse and she is still riding him today.
I kept Katie until she was 11-years-old and by that time she had won buckets of first place ribbons at the Pre-Training level. She also went to an adult amateur. Sadly, Katie passed away two years ago. I am confident that this time training my 4-year-old horse will be easier on him and me!!!!
Hats off to all of those poor ponies that endure children and non-horse people. These agreeable equine souls are the unsung heroes of our Eventing education.