Rider’s Blog: Donna Harrison – Young Horses

Rider’s Blog: Donna Harrison – Young Horses

October 2019

I started working with young horses at the age of 18 when I decided to leave college and chase my dream of working within the industry. I was lucky that my then riding instructor was about to sign up for a fantastic sponsorship which included backing, schooling and competing in showjumping. I was offered a groom position within this sponsorship and was allowed to continue my equestrian education, which was provided at the time through Reaseheath College in Cheshire.

Within my groom position I spent a number of years learning and growing with a huge variety of horses of all ages, sizes, capabilities and many different breeds. Each and every horse that I dealt with taught me something new. Sometimes lessons from these horses would be good and other times bad, however, the important thing that I would remember was that every lesson would surely prove beneficial in the long run. I enjoyed my time as a groom and truly believe that I learned the most here, and still think back to these days with great fondness.

Moving on from my time as a groom I thought that it was time that I started to earn some decent money as I wanted to buy a home of my own and being a groom just didn’t pay enough for this. In my new job I met the most lovely man that I got to know quite well, he learned about my passion for horses and proposed I look after his herd for him. Many of these horses were young and unbacked, however well-loved and handled.

This is where all of my past experience came into play, I was on my own and needed to prove that I was worthy of looking after these beautiful horses. I very quickly backed a seven-year-old Irish Draught bay mare, and after that was trusted and left to my own devices. I am still situated at this same yard today (seventeen years and counting).

From the eight horses at the yard my main focus is on the following three horses:

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Candy: ID X TB mare, 16.1hh.

Candy was quite big and strong from the moment we got her (she was not homebred), she would walk over you without thinking and needed to be given some manners so I spent a lot of time on ground work, gaining her respect. Once we had established this she came on leaps and bounds, proving easy to back and progress with. She is currently competing Novice dressage and is ready to move up to Elementary in 2020.

Donna riding Candy. Image credit Harrison Equestrian
Donna riding Candy. Image credit Harrison Equestrian

Grace: Westphalian X TB mare, 16.1hh.

Grace most definitely had a mind of her own from the day that she was born. I really needed to ‘explain’ to her why we were doing something new and gain her ‘buy-in’ to anything new or different, however, once she understood something it was then accepted and we could move on to something new.

Grace as a foal. Image credit Harrison Photography
Grace as a foal. Image credit Harrison Equestrian

She really needs to be comfortable before you can move on as she seems to let her mind (and behavior) explode quite quickly, which results in her becoming very sharp and unpredictable, especially if you give her too much to work on at one time. I backed her myself at the age of six, and she is ready to start competing Prelim dressage in 2020. I have really taken my time with her as I want our partnership to enjoy complete trust and understanding, especially as I have dreams of Prix St George.

Donna and Grace not long after backing. Image credit Harrison Equestrian
Donna and Grace not long after backing. Image credit Harrison Equestrian

Harlequin: KWPN X TB mare, 17 month old filly, currently standing around 15hh.

Again I will back Harlequin myself in 2022, and I plan to event her. Even from day one though she proved herself to be a challenge. Her mother has always been a very sharp mare with a massive jump so I partnered her up with a very trainable stallion in order to try to create a master eventer.

Harlequin as a foal enjoying the sunshine. Image credit Harrison Equestrian
Harlequin as a foal enjoying the sunshine. Image credit Harrison Equestrian

Time will tell with this little beauty, however. her personality is fantastic so I am looking forward to the future and a fresh challenge.

Helping Others

Apart from my own herd I also like to help friends with their youngsters, and there is one mare in particular who will forever stay in my mind. Havana is a beautiful horse which I started to help my friend start back in May 2019. She has been very well handled, lunged, long reined and mouthed.

During my first visit with her, I managed to get on and be lead around sitting on the saddle with my full weight. After this, we progressed with a few more sessions as we started to change rein and move around with me in control.

Havana and I were more than ready to take the next step, I felt confident enough to be taken off the lead. We started well, however, as we walked around the school Havana decided to spook which led to uncontrollable rearing and jumping both forwards and sideways, which didn’t stop until I very ungracefully landed in a heap on the floor. She well and truly managed to get the better of me. In pain I managed to get back on and we did some walk and halt transitions until she was once again settled and accepting of me.

Following my fall I had the expected aches and pains, followed by substantial bruising on my right hip and leg (the area that took the most impact), a large lump on my shin (I think this hit the cantle on my way down), a damaged kidney and a broken rib, both of which were picked up on a hospital visit two days later. Most of my injuries have now healed however I am still in physiotherapy for my hip. The experience soberingly reminding us all how unpredictable young horses can be.

To end this month’s blog I would like to say that working with young horses has so many plus points however you also need to be careful. You don’t bounce as well when you get a bit older!!

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