Give Your Horse the Best Start

“When he has been well broken in he will do very well.” My master said he would break me in himself, as he should not like me to be frightened or hurt…..

A client bellies over just before mounting her horse for the first time

Every one may not know what breaking in is, therefore I will describe it. It means to teach a horse to wear a saddle and bridle, and to carry on his back a man, woman or child; to go just the way they wish, and to go quietly. He must never start at what he sees, nor speak to other horses, nor bite, nor kick, nor have any will of his own; but always do his master’s will, even though he may be very tired or hungry; but the worst of all is, when his tack is once on, he may neither jump for joy nor lie down for weariness. So you see this breaking in is a great thing.

From Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)

As Black Beauty notes, there are many skills a horse needs to learn to be safe and reliable. We are convinced he would have felt the Intelligent Horsemanship approach to be sympathetic to his needs as an equine. The systematic, careful, and considered introduction of these areas of education will have a lasting impact on any horse. It’s crucial to get it right! Undoing early mistakes, and filling in the gaps later, can be difficult, time-consuming, and dangerous.

How is it Done?

We generally start youngsters by bringing the horse to us for a period of a few weeks. We encourage owners to watch and participate in as much of the work as possible. We wish to enable you to have the service and the experience you want, and to be involved to as great a degree as you feel comfortable to be. We have on several occasions worked with experienced riders to enable them to be the first person to mount their own horse- which is a dream for many people.

Bouncing up and down to notify the horse of our intentions

We use Join Up(R) of course, and introduce the horse to his first saddle, bridle, and long-lines. With some horses the introduction of the lines may require some further desensitisation. Whether or not the horse is going to be wearing a bit, we ensure that they understand how to yield to pressure and are good to lead. Standing still is another skill that some horses may need some help with! The first rider is introduced when we feel it is appropriate. For some horses this might be on the first day we work them, for other horses it may be after a fortnight or more, or it may be felt that the horse needs further time consolidating or growing at home before they are ready to accept the rider.

It’s important that the horse knows what the sight of a rider will be like

How much of the ongoing education we do depends very much on the individual horse and the length of time they are here for. As work progresses, we usually have a fairly clear idea of what we are likely to achieve in a given time, and will work to your priorities as much as possible. Ideally, we would like to have the horse walk, trot, and canter in the school and out and about on a hack.

Owners who bring horses here for starting typically go away with greatly enhanced skills in reading and communicating with horses, leading, handling, in-hand, riding a youngster, and long lining. We use a treeless saddle (the Mondial Freedom Holistic Saddle) so as to avoid the need to use a treed saddle that might not fit. We work with many owners to find a solution to the saddle issue which both their budget and their horse can accommodate.

Bellying over and allowing the horse to move with the weight of the rider

How Long does it Take?

There is so much more to starting a horse than that first backing, and to fully educate a horse is obviously an ongoing process over many years. Getting the basics right with a starter is our priority, and enabling the owner to consolidate this work is essential.

 

 

Following detailed training and rehearsals, this client mounted her horse perfectly

Horses come here for starting for as little as two weeks, but we prefer to have a longer, less intense timetable, so that we can adjust it carefully to the horse’s needs. Four weeks is not too short for most horses, but six or eight is more sensible for those who want to minimise the risk to themselves, and take the horse further along its education. Best of all, some people living locally have kept their horse on livery here for a year or more to really consolidate the work.

 

 

A few moments later, and we are relaxed enough to pose for a photo

For some young horses we begin with a call out some weeks or months, occasionally years, before they arrive. We recommend this as it means we can see the home environment, and meet the owners, and they can meet us. We usually look at any issues to do with handling, hoof care, and leading, and take the horse out for a walk if it is likely to be able to cope. This combined with some coaching on how to lead a horse generally sets people up so they can do some quality work in the upcoming time. This allows the horse to make a smoother transition into being ridden when he gets home.

Horse and rider having their first walk without a lead

How Much does it Cost?

Our usual rates apply, currently £44 per hour. However, there are times when two people are required. Our most experienced team is Adam on the ground and Nicole riding. The hourly rate would be charged, plus £25 per ride (or per hour, whichever is the greater) for the rider (usually Nicole or our senior student, Rachael Bartlett). We also charge £15 a night for a horse staying here on short term livery (if we are working with your horse at your yard, travelling costs of £30 per hour apply).

Long lining has taught the horse to respond calmly to body language and directions from the rein

If your horse is here for an extended stay of three months or more, we would charge on a different basis: Livery is currently £90 per week, and we offer our livery clients a reduced rate of £40 per hour for training. A typical working session for a youngster in for starting would involve about 45 mins- 1 hr of work in the pen or school or a hack of similar duration. Therefore it is safe to assume a daily cost as follows. On days when we are setting initial training in place, such as join up, leading, first saddle and long lines, we would expect a total cost of £48-59 per day (including £15 livery). This assumes a 45-60 mins session involving only one of us. Each of these sessions we would hope to follow up the training with the owner(s) walking out their horse around the village, or on the routes we will go on for the first hacks, either alone or in company with one of our horses.

The first of these walks would involve another hour or so of our training time, but subsequent to that we would hope to arrange it so you were escorted by a working pupil, or able to go out alone. Three days to three weeks is a guide to how long we would recommend this work is done here for most horses. Some of them then take a break and go home, to do more of the same in their home environment as preparation for coming back to be sat on.

The rein is used to ask the horse forward- it’s obvious to go where we are heading.

Then there is a phase in which we back the horse. If you are sufficiently confident, competent and keen to do it yourself, this will involve only the usual £44/ hr with just a little extra time in which we would use our own horses to practice your mounting together, to ensure we do not discover that we don’t understand each other at the key moments. Clients wishing to do this should expect to pay the same £49-£54 per day, inclusive of livery. Those who wish to have one of us ride would be asked to pay £25 more per session, making it roughly £74-79 per day. First hacks would often be undertaken with a second, sometimes a third rider and horse (that would probably be with you initially riding one of ours and then your own horse while we escort you). We charge £6/hour for the use of our horses in support of this training.

I don’t think it’s just me and the client who are feeling pleased with themselves!

There follows the phase in which we have begun to hand the reins to the owner. You would tack up and long line your horse without charge or supervision at the beginning of the session and we would join you to help you get on and help you from the ground to begin showing your horse how you would like him to carry you around! Some of these sessions may be very short in terms of our input and would be priced accordingly. At this stage, therefore, sessions may only cost you £22, for example, if they involve only half an hour of teaching from us- daily cost would be just £37 in this event.

This cost structure does not provide for any tuition you may wish to have to assist you in long lining for example, so you should factor in some additional costs here- it takes most beginners 2-4 hours of practice to learn long lining sufficiently well to be able to do this. Most people who come with a starter also get some seat training and private lessons while they are here, although there is no obligation to do so.

An excellent dismount, again carefully rehearsed

We invite owners to do as much of the work as possible. In order to save on costs, owners will be invited to groom, tack up, and long line their horse in preparation for it being ridden, when the horse and owner are capable of doing that work without difficulty. Through this and also by involving our assistant trainer and working pupils as much as possible, we hope to keep your costs to a minimum while still providing your horse with the best start.

 

Well done pony!

In this way we hope to make the experience of backing your horse one in which you fully participate, the memory of which you will cherish for years as you ride into the sunset on your new pony! For many owners this will involve learning new skills and achieving personal growth as well as a better bond with their young horse. They leave with the confidence and capability to continue to work safely when they return home.

What an achievement!