Here’s another exercise that is a bit more challenging but excellent for a young horse to take on. I did this one with Cosmo before we went into complete lockdown in March. It was tough but very rewarding when we got it right.
WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE GOOD FOR?
Making your horse more sure-footed
HOW TO SET IT UP
For this exercise you’re going to want a large amount of space. I set mine up in the middle of the arena but it could be set-up at either end of the arena too.
For the Trot Poles:
Two sets of 3 x raised trot poles – 5 footsteps between each pole
Each set should be placed at opposite sides of a 10m circle
For the Canter Poles:
4 x poles
Placed on a 20m circle at 3 – 6 – 9 – 12 as if on a clock face
You should place your canter poles around the outside of your trot poles.
HOW TO RIDE IT
Riding the Trot Poles:
To ride the trot poles you want to make sure you have a nice forward trot with a good even contact on the reins to help balance your horse.
Start by riding a circle around the outside of the trot poles, encouraging your horse to bend its body around your leg
Once you establish a nice even rhythm, ride your horse into the first set of trot poles, making sure to keep the bend over the poles. You may find that your horse will struggle the first few times over the poles but if you can maintain consistency in your rhythm and contact, they’ll get there themselves.
After doing the first set of poles on each rein a few times, its time to complete the circle and include your second set of poles. You may find the circle a bit tight initially but again, once you maintain a consistent rhythm, your horse should flow through both sets of poles.
This is quite a tough enough exercise for a young horse who is still developing their topline so be sure to give your horse plenty of breaks when doing this exercise.
For the Canter Poles:
The canter element of this exercise is much more simple but equally as challenging especially if you have a horse who struggles to hold themselves together in the canter.
Similar to the trot poles, start by riding a larger circle around the outside of the canter poles to help establish a rhythm. You want to settle your horse into a nice forward canter with a slight bend through their body.
Once you’re ready, start over your first pole focusing on maintaining your rhythm and keeping your horse up in your hands to encourage them off the forehand as you ride the full circle of poles.
Do this on both reins while making sure to give your horse plenty of breaks.
Check out a quick video of Cosmo giving this Circle Challenge a go!
I definitely found the trot pole element of this layout way more difficult than the canter poles but I felt both myself and Cosmo settled into it in the end and we got some really lovely results. Our biggest problem with canter work is that Cosmo tends to lean on the forehand quite a bit so I sometimes have a hard time keeping him up and light in my hands. I definitely felt an improvement by the time we finished up with this exercise though.
I am genuinely a bit shocked that I’m back here again, owning another 4 year old horse. I thought if I ever made the decision to sell Coco, I’d take on something a bit older with more experience and honestly that was my intention until I sat on Cosmo. While Coco and Cosmo are two completely different horses, I have to say I learned a lot from bringing Coco on from the nappy, bunny-hopping 4 year old that she was to the 7 year old all rounder she is today. I can be proud knowing that I did a lot of things right with Coco but I’m also aware that there were a few things that I could have done better and things I know I did wrong.
With that in mind, I decided to compile these 6 things I feel are absolutely essential to know when you make the decision to take on a young horse. For the sake of clarity, when I talk about a young horse I am talking about a horse who is broken, has been turned away and brought back in, ready to start their ridden career. Typically this is when a horse is around 4 years old but this obviously depends on the individual horse.
1. Variety is Everything
Keeping variety in your work with your youngster is so vital to their development on so many levels. The last thing you want is for your horse to go sour to ridden work as this can cause a stream of behavioural issues down the line.
Mentally, you want to keep them happy and focused on the job and the best way to do this is to give them a good mix of days with hard work schooling and days where you do something fun and different, all with the correct amount of time off in between. In addition, this also does wonders for them educationally as doing different activities during each ride gives them new experiences to get used to and enjoy, which is vital when producing a young horse.
For Cosmo – I give him two days off a week which are scattered between his ridden days. The other five days consist of two hard work days and 3 easy days that may involve riding in the field, a road hack, a lunging session or a very short walk-trot-canter session in the arena where he doesn’t get pushed to do anything difficult. Unless its a lesson, the hard work days will never be longer than 20 minutes.
2. Focus on Building the Correct Muscles
A young horse is constantly developing which is clearly demonstrated in a graphic we recently posted on Facebook which details the stages of equine skeletal development. Indicating that the horse’s spine isn’t fully developed until it reaches 6 years of age, this graphic serves as an eye opener to how important it is for us to look after our young equines and, most importantly the muscles that surround and protect these ever changing bones.
With this in mind, your key focus when deciding which exercises to do with your horse should be anything that helps to develop your horse’s topline. The topline is the string of muscles that stretch across a horse’s back from the base of the neck right back to the croup. When this group of muscles is correctly developed, your horse’s back is in a much better place to be able to cope with the different levels of work you expect from him.
3. Feed them What they Need
This may seem like a very obvious statement but bear with me. While we all know that horse’s have basic nutritional requirements, some horse’s require a little more help than others. For example, a large 4 year old tends to take much longer to develop and mature than a smaller 4 year old horse as there is much more of them to grow and fill out.
When it comes to helping Cosmo develop his topline, I know he may need some assistance so I intend to start him on a supplement that will promote muscle development. Darielle is currently using Equitop Myoplast on Dante and is seeing great results so I may give this a go. This isn’t something I ever considered starting Coco on as she was a much smaller horse who, with the right exercises, built topline without requiring assistance.
4. Don’t Allow your Riding to Suffer
This was something that I really took liberties with when I had Coco as a 4 year old. I 100% used her young-ness as an excuse for why my riding wasn’t as good as it should have been. We tell ourselves that sometimes your position needs to give way to the needs of the horse and in some cases this is true – for example, I used to put more weight on my inside stirrup when riding Coco in an arena she was prone to spooking in as this would put me in a better position to sit the spook if it came. But for the most part, there was no real excuse for my rounded shoulders, vice-grip knees and up-turned heels.
Earlier this year, I really began to focus on fixing my position and I made serious headway before I broke my foot. Now that I’m back riding I’m determined not to allow my old habits to sneak back in just because I’m riding a 4 year old. If anything I need to be stricter with myself as I discovered once I started taking better care of my position, it had such a positive impact on Coco’s way of going. This just reaffirms that the correct position and riding will only help your youngster in his education with you.
5. Take Regular Lessons
This kind of stems from my last point but there’s a little more to it. While taking regular lessons helps you keep on top of your own riding, it’s also so so important for schooling your youngster. I genuinely regret not doing more lessons with Coco in our first year together. I told myself that I didn’t want to spend the money on the lessons when all I’d have to put up with was a ratty bunny-hopper who wouldn’t go straight but this was probably when I needed lessons the most.
In your young horse’s early days, it is invaluable to have eyes on the ground that can pick up on something that you’ll most likely miss. An instructor will catch any of your bad habits that might be hindering your horse’s way of going and they can also provide important exercises for you to work on to help you both develop. This time round I am making a point of doing lessons with Cosmo as often as I can afford them.
6. Time Off is Essential
This is one that I’m not sure everyone is aware of, I certainly wasn’t when I got Coco. We all have a good idea of how the breaking process goes. Horse gets backed and lightly schooled and introduced to the basic concepts for a few weeks before being put out to the field for 3 – 4 months to mature and think about what they were taught. After this time they are brought back in and ridden away to get produced. At this point most people assume the time off part is done but I’ve come to learn that this might not always be the best way.
Of course it all depends on the horse and how it was broken and what it’s being produced to do but I think giving your horse some further time off after they’ve had a few months of work and schooling put into them, is something that everyone should consider doing with their youngster. I don’t mean that they should get another 3 – 4 months off but even a few weeks to a month after they’ve been schooled well, have tried their hand at everything you’d like to do with them, entered a few low level shows and just generally seen the world could be just what the doctor ordered to keep them fresh and keen on their new job. This is certainly what I intend to do with Cosmo anyway. I’d like to spend the next 2 months or so to get him working well and out to a few small training shows before giving him some time off in December to digest everything he’s learned.
With this being my second time round, I think I’m much more prepared for what’s in store with Cosmo. I know he’s a completely different 4 year old to what Coco was and in some ways I find him much easier than she was but in other’s I feel I have some new challenges to face which I’m looking forward to. I think if I keep all of the above in mind, I’ll have a good shot at producing another well-rounded horse.
Have you recently made the decision to buy a young horse? I don’t pretend to be an expert in any way, but if you have any questions I’d be glad to help as best I can – just leave a comment 🙂
Thanks for reading, hopefully you’ve found this helpful!
The first week with a new horse is always one filled with a mix of excitement and anxiety. The horse world doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to buying & selling so you can’t always bank on bringing home the same horse that you tried. With that being said, you can tell a lot by your first few days with a horse and it all starts with the arrival home…
After picking Cosmo up we had a good 40 minute drive home. Half of that he spent pawing the floor of the trailer and making a general nuisance of himself while I spent that time calling him a git! Thankfully he eventually settled and we had a quiet uneventful drive home.
We arrived home and I hopped in the jockey door to see a less than relaxed horse. He was a bit on edge, obviously not used to the trailer experience and also wondering where the hell he was (poor divil). It took a bit of time to get him off the trailer as he was so confused about how he was supposed to do it. It was amusing enough but my main concern was making sure he didn’t try turn in the trailer as that would have ended in total disaster. Eventually he clambered his way off the trailer to see his new home!
I walked him around to give him a good look at where he was. Getting his travel boots off was another interesting experience as he was totally freaked out by the sound of the velcro. It was around this time that I started having the “Oh shit…why did I buy another 4 year old?” thoughts! He was so jumpy but once we got the first boot off he seemed to realise the end result was worth it so he began to relax and we managed to get the rest of them off. Aside from those two instances, he was remarkably calm about taking in his new surroundings. With that I brought him to his stable and settled him in for the night with some grub.
Day 1 – Getting to Know Each Other
My first day with Cosmo was all about us getting to know each other and showing him a bit more of the yard. So first thing was a quick groom to familiarise ourselves before clipping on the lunge line and heading out for a walk. We headed up the yard towards the main arena, taking our time and stopping to have a look at anything he found interesting. When we got to the main arena I spent my time in there walking him around the track and into the corners so he could have a good look.
Our arena would definitely be spookier than most so I was expecting at least a bit of a reaction when we got in but amazingly, all he cared about were the horses in the field beside us and once he got over them he didn’t look twice at anything, not even a flinch. I couldn’t believe it..he was just so chilled.
Next we moved into the sand arena where I took the lunge line off to let him roam. He spent most of his time following me around until he eventually decided to wander off and say hi to the horse in the field beside us. He had a bit of a trot around before coming back over to me where he pretty much stuck himself to me from then on. By this point I knew I was screwed because he had just totally stolen my heart.
Day 2 – First Ride at Home
I had originally planned on just doing a short lunge session with Cosmo on our second day together but Sue (friend + coach + horse-finder extraordinaire) was around to come down to the yard that evening so I said feck it – Ill hop up and see how we get on. I wanted to have someone there on the ground with me the first time I tried riding him at home just incase something were to happen (back to riding a young horse means all the extra precautions need to be taken) so I figured I should take advantage of the opportunity.
So we grabbed all of Coco’s tack, hopeful that her saddle would fit Cosmo and skeptical if her bridle would fit – amazingly, everything fit!! Her saddle, girth, bridle and martingale, I was shocked! Her bridle isn’t as good a fit as I would like and the girth is tough enough to close but they will definitely do the job until I can afford to buy new ones.
With the lunge line hooked up I gave Mo a quick lunge on each rein (his trot is so frickin cute, I can’t even cope) before heading up to the main arena and giving him a quick lunge in each corner to test the spookiness before I hopped up. I genuinely had nothing to be worried about though as just like day 1, he didn’t bat an eyelid at anything. He just seemed more excited about the fact that we were in a big arena with so much open space compared to the small lunge ring.
With that I hopped up – I don’t know what exactly I was expecting but it definitely wasn’t a totally chilled horse which turned out to be exactly what I had. From my first ride I knew he was very responsive to the leg so I made a point of applying very light squeezes to get him moving forward but aside from that he was a total saint. For the first day of ridden work we kept it easy with a good bit of walk before some trot and canter and then we called it a day.
Day 3 – First Ride with No Ground Back-Up
This may sound silly to some people but when you go from riding the same horse for 3 years, who you know like the back of your hand, to a new youngster who you’ve only ridden twice before – that first solo ride can be a bit daunting. Horses and especially young horses can be unpredictable so it’s important to have your wits about you and be prepared for anything. Thankfully I needn’t have worried though as Cosmo was just as well behaved as he was the other times I rode him.
Again, I gave him a quick little lunge before getting on. For this ride I focused a little bit more on transitions from walk to halt to walk and also some circle work in the trot. With a big youngster like Mo, all of this basic schooling is going to be so important in building the foundation for his flatwork. He’s still incredibly weak in the canter so I don’t want to challenge him in this gait just yet.
Day 4 – Introducing Polework
After seeing how well Cosmo handled the first few days of ridden work, I wanted to make sure to keep his work interesting so I decided to introduce him to some polework (after a quick little lunge first).
I set out a simple variety of poles – a single pole on the longside, a single pole on the centre line and three trot poles. I started by just walking him over these to get him familiar with the concept of lifting his legs. After some nice work in trot I started him over the single poles first, using the pole on the centre line to change rein and then we tried the trot poles. For his first attempt he did incredibly well, I just need to get used to his rhythm and way of going so I don’t push or hold him too much over the poles.
I finished him then with a quick canter on each rein which is improving more and more with every ride.
Day 5 – Day Off for Cosmo, Physio for Me
Mo had a well deserved day off while I went to the physio for my foot & ankle where I was told there is huge improvement but still quite a bit of stiffness so I need to keep up my exercises to ensure I don’t have problems down the line – other then that, I’m all clear and no more physio visits are needed..YAY, it only took 11 weeks and 6 days!
Day 6 – Darielle’s Turn
Day 6 was a Friday evening after work and I definitely wasn’t in the mood for any hard work so I kept it light and easy, just doing a walk, trot and canter before finally giving Darielle her first spin on Cosmo! Up to this point I hadn’t actually seen someone else ride him so I was dying for Darielle to give him a go. By now, I had a good feeling Cosmo would behave himself and he didn’t disappoint. He was an absolute gent and rode no differently to how he would go for me so I was delighted to see that he’s consistent no matter who’s riding him. I think once Darielle got over the shock of riding a 4 year old again, she enjoyed herself too!
Day 7 – First Ride in the Field
Something so important when training young horses is to remember to give them their fun days. The last thing anyone wants is a horse to go sour and not enjoy their work so being able to ride in a field is almost a requirement. With Cosmo being young, I expected our first venture to the field to be an exciting one with at least one outburst of excitement…and yet there was absolutely nothing. He was forward and felt happy to be out but there wasn’t a single point where I felt I didn’t have control. I swear, this horse must not know he’s a 4 year old – HE’S SO FRICKIN CHILL and I love it!!
Check out a lil video I made with a few clips from the first week!
And there you have my first 7 days with Cosmo. I’m still kind of in shock that he’s so level headed but I have to say it’s such a welcome change to the sharpness of Coco. Seeing as I don’t seem to have to worry about any baby antics (for the time being anyway) I feel like we can get stuck right into getting some solid flatwork in place and get to building up those muscles.
I’m so looking forward to seeing what we can achieve together and regardless, I think we’re going to have so much fun doing it!
I am so excited to introduce my new steed – Cosmo.
Cosmo is a 4 year old 16.2hh Irish Sport Horse. His official name is Killossery Diamond Ring and he’s by Jack of Diamonds out of Killossery Ringwood (Dam Sire: Touchdown).
He was broken as a 3 year old by the person I bought him from. He hasn’t done much but he’s been hacked up and down busy back roads to the extent where he leads the pack and has done a good bit of cross country and has proven to be an absolute machine. His flatwork needs a fair amount of work but he has great foundations which so far has made working with him very rewarding.
I know this all seems to have happened quite quickly and come out of no where so I wanted to take some time to explain how it all came about…
How it Happened
To be honest it all happened so fast I could barely keep up but it feels like things have worked out the way they’re supposed to.
About 3 weeks ago I made the very difficult decision to sell Coco. Considering I hadn’t been riding her for the last 2 months and she was a bit unfit, I decided to send her to a sales livery yard (which comes highly recommended) where she would get the focus and work she needs to get her fit and ready to sell. Considering my injury, it would be another few weeks before I was back to full strength so this seemed like the best choice for the two of us.
After making that decision the excitement of the horse search began. I had a scope through DoneDeal and made some enquiries to get a feel for prices. Being totally transparent, I was originally looking for something a bit older around 9/10/11 years old that had been there and done it all so I could go out and have fun competing at the level I wanted to be at. And then Sue Byrne (friend + coach + horse-finder extraordinaire) made some enquiries to her friends in the industry which turned up a ‘fabulous grey gelding’. We were given tidbits of information – ‘the one from Killossery’, ‘by Jack of Diamonds’, ‘brave as a lion’. So far I was hearing all the right things until I heard that he was 4 years old. I had to think ‘did I really want to go down that road again?’ I reasoned that the right horse with good breeding might be doable so I’d at least have a look. One thing we didn’t have yet though was a picture and there was the possibility of someone else taking him so I wasn’t getting my hopes up on this guy…until…
…the next day we made a last minute decision to pop out and see him. My phone was hopping the whole drive over as I was being sent pictures and videos of this ‘fabulous grey gelding’ in action. When I finally had a chance to take a look I suddenly became very excited about the horse I was going to see. He really was fabulous and seemed very easy going around a course of fences.
It was short notice on a Sunday afternoon so the owner was not prepared to ride him first so I just hopped straight up. The very first thing I noticed and loved was how responsive he was off my leg. All he needed was light little squeezes to encourage him forward, just what I like in a horse. I was told he had no flatwork and this would need work so I had zero expectations for an outline but low and behold all I had to do was ask and he gradually settled into a lovely rhythm and came into a shape. He was heavy in my hands and had all the typical tendencies of an unbalanced youngster but despite all that, he just blew me away. He was such a genuine horse, happy to work and didn’t give a fiddlers about the other horses galavanting around the field beside us.
I gave him a quick pop over a handful of jumps – my first time jumping since I fell and not once did I feel in any way nervous. This horse made me feel so comfortable and confident. I just trusted that he would look after me and he did – even when we struggled to get a straight line into a jump and he only found his take off point 2 strides out!! In the end that’s what totally sold me on him.
So I had fallen in love with the first horse I tried but sometimes things are just meant to be so next up was to get a vetting organised. Amazingly we were able to arrange for a vet to come out the next day. It was probably the longest day of my life but it ended up being so worth it as he only went and passed!! By the end of the day I was organising when I was going to pick him up which would be the following Saturday – and so started the longest week of my life!!
I am so excited to get working with this guy. He has such potential and I think we can have so much fun together. As with all youngsters, I know it’s not going to be all plain sailings but I learned such a huge amount from my time with Coco so I’m looking forward to putting it all to the test with my new guy.
Thanks so much for reading and if you have any questions at all please just drop me a comment below, Ill be happy to answer anything 🙂