Young Horse – The Scales of Training with Tor Fenwick
As part of our young horse training series for July, we asked dressage rider and trainer, Tor Fenwick, for her advice on starting a young horse. With so many areas to get right, here Tor looks at simplifying the process with by going over progressing through the scales of training.
The young horse is both an exciting adventure as well as a rollercoaster ride sometimes you wish you never got on. However the satisfaction that comes with developing a wild, gangly and naive young animal into a dressage horse is second to none, but how do we achieve this?
Basics and a bit of guts!
Young horses require your confidence as a rider, so it’s always a good start to get them backed correctly, as this will always come back to haunt you if, you get it wrong.
The first things they learn will be the hardest to change or get rid of so we all need to try to imprint good behaviour from day one. When riding a just backed youngster the main aim is to encourage them FORWARD. You need to get the GO button from your leg and the STOP button, to begin with this will be a rein aid but over time will become more subtle the more the horse learns. This isn’t always a pretty time in the training however it will improve I promise!
Forwardness is the key to dressage at any level, you touch them with the leg they should react, this will get you out of all sorts of pickles… if they spook FORWARD, if they are nervous FORWARD, if they are thinking of being naughty FORWARD! However hard it may be!
Scales of training
Scales of training are your guidelines, or bible if you prefer, and are there to keep every riders feet firmly on the ground helping mould the training, these are;
All of the scales of training work together to create ENGAGEMENT. The fundamental point to start with is the RHYTHM. Ensuring in every gait the horse stays level and the stride length is consistent. Don’t get stuck in thinking the biggest trot is the most correct, even if the strides are small, if the length of stride is uniform throughout the session you have achieved a good basic rhythm. The trot can be built on throughout the training journey with your horse and in turn will help to create suspension in the future.
SUPPLENESS and BALANCE work together. These are slightly more tricky to come by on a 3/4 year old however, by 5/6 this should be more relevant in the training.
Suppleness can be very much dependent on each individual horse as some are stiffer than others, naturally. On a very young horse corners, shallow loops and 20m circles are a great way to start to encourage the horse to become more supple. Be aware, as you ride a circle or movement, each way thinking to yourself ‘was that easier for him this way or the other way’. It’s your job as a rider to work out his weaker points to be able to concentrate on building on them through more exercises.
Other question to be consistently asking yourself include; is he round my inside leg? Is he leaning more on one rein than the other? Does he fall out? These are all question that, once you have answers to, should give a good idea on how supple the horse is. Once these questions become more answerable the more you can progress exercises such as; 15 metre circles, introduce serpentines.
As your horses suppleness improves, so does the BALANCE. Balance exercises go hand in hand with suppleness exercises and progress onto being able to ride turns, corners and circles. This work will begin to help your horses co ordination and to improve their centre of gravity.
Transitions are your best friend
The more you ride the better! When riding any young horse, ride for QUALITY over QUANTITY, so small distances but lots of changes of gait, make them believe they can do it.
Contact, Straightness and Collection will follow on from riding a good Rhythm, in balance and with suppleness. Impulsion is developed throughout the training, in its most basic form it’s just kick and get a forward reaction!
Next up from Tor Fenwick…Will he ever be straight? We take a look at the final stages of The Scales of Training
For more information on Tor, visit her website