by Eric Hought
The commonly accepted practice of starting the purebred or part Arab endurance horse prospect at ages 4-6 years is one for debate. The main concern: are the legs properly developed to support a rider’s weight.
Much can be done with the young horse at 2-3 years of age as long as the rider uses common sense and safe practices. Groundwork is very important. There are many methods available from today’s clinicians, so select an approach from one whose methods best fit your preferred style of preparing the horse.
No harm will be done through groundwork, saddling, ponying and standing tied to “soak” for a couple of hours. It goes without saying the facility must be safe for a horse standing tied before and after a ride. The use of leg protection is the rider’s option. The girth should be pulled only as snug as needed so the saddle will not turn while the horse is tied and moving around.
Why stand tied? The horse learns patience and to wait for the leader. I saddle and stand my young horses for up to 2 hours per day for at least 4-5 days per week. Look for the horse to demonstrate that this practice has become “just what we do.” This is a valuable routine he will experience for the remainder of his life. He may not be tied as long at home, but there will be times in the future in unfamiliar settings where having learned this patience will help him manage the situations and time factors.
This is how I start 2 year olds. I give each horse my total focus and commitment. Typically, I saddle and stand him a couple of hours before I ride. I will usually do this before each ride for about 3-4 months. By the 3rd month of riding, standing saddled for an hour is fine.
I ride at the walk with some trotting for 60-90 days. During this time, I focus on foot, face and body control. When I am riding in an arena, I time each ride for exactly 15 minutes. The short time factor keeps the horse’s mind working and avoids boredom for both horse and rider. I am fortunate to have access to riding areas outside the arena on dirt roads, single track trails, hills, uneven ground, walkovers and water crossings. These rides are about 1-1 1/2 hours. I am careful not to do any sustained trotting on any unprepared surface because it takes time and miles to begin to develop leg fitness. This is by far the best setting for starting young horses. Of course I do not just sit like a sack of potatoes. I work on foot, face and body control. Leg and body development are occurring simultaneously while keeping the rider’s and horse’s minds working...
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