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First Steps in Training a Young Horse, an OTTB, or a Highly Sensitive Horse

Julie Frykman

Posted on June 29 2017

Throw out your expectations and be happy with a hard tried response from your horse. Then Reward...BIG!

Training a young horse, an OTTB, or a sensitive horse. When I brought my OTTB gelding home he was fresh and I was naive. This is definitely not the combination success or dreams are made of. Thankfully, I had the help of a trainer who once worked at the track, had retrained numerous ex-race horses, and had a great foundation built on classic dressage principles. The dressage helped us make leaps and bounds week by week. But lets be real...you don't get on a highly sensitive horse and expect that elusive marching walk or swinging trot without a couple of side steps or crow hops to begin with. Or was that just my gelding? Ha!

So over a period of a few weeks I began to gather a strategy for how to start out our rides, or during a ride when my gelding needed a soft reminder to stay on task. I wrote these down so I could go over them periodically until they were ingrained in my mind.  Using these basic training techniques in the early stages are great for a young horse, an OTTB, or a highly sensitive horse.

Start with simple repetitive requests
Such as half-halts at the walk with big releases of the rein pressure with voice commands when he responds.
Give these half-halts liberally
It is most important that he learns a reward comes from a response. So when he gives you a try, be prompt with a release reward and relax the reins!  Lots of 'big praise' and rubs on the neck or withers went along way with my sensitive gelding as well. ** Only move on to the trot once this is mastered.
Moving on to the Trot
Trot in a large 30 meter circle. If he trots too fast, half-halt to steady him back to the original pace. At the precise moment he complies, give an immediate reward - soften the rein.

 Key Things to Remember:

  • Praise goes a long with a Sensitive Horse or a Thoroughbred.  In the beginning make a request. Reward him for the slightest response and this will set him up for success that builds confidence.
  • Be consistent, and don't lose patience. You have to tailor your rewards to any response, not just the perfect response, from your horse.
  • Don't be heavy handed or pull on his face. This only irritates and can encourage a Sensitive Horse or OTTB to "argue" with you, or worse, hang on your hands for support. 
  • Don’t rush ahead. Slow and steady wins the race here. Success comes in the teaching moments that ended with a big try and an enjoyable ride.
  • My trainer says that a 10 minute ride with one or two successful tries is far more valuable than 45 minutes of fighting for perfection.

Lots of 'big praise' and rubs on the neck or withers went along way with my sensitive gelding as well.

I hope this was helpful! It is great learning from one another - what other techniques do you use on your young or sensitive horses?

xoxo Julie of Equestrianista

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