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BELOW: Illusion and Bobbie head out on their fi rst trail ride together. Photo by Kristi Unsell.

“Starting the Young Horse Right” is more than a head- line; it is a challenging statement for any trainer. From my perspective, “right” is a personal situation defi ned and shared by horse and teacher that is dependent upon a student horse’s unique individual mental, emotional and physical condition. Keep in mind

TOP: Tricks such as retrieving the Big Ball or retrieving can be shaped through coaching and understand- ing, which increases the coop- eration of the horse and dissipates resistance. Trick Training is about increasing a horse’s ability to learn and a human’s ability to teach.

you on a working line or longe line, it should be an easy transition to ask him to move away from you while in the driving rig. I like to teach a horse to yield soſt ly to the bit while standing next to him in preparation for driving so the bit pressure doesn’t take him by surprise or make him fearful. It’s a good idea to wear gloves and to carry a driving whip if a light touch is needed to ask him to move forward. (We never shake the reins to ask for movement as it sends a vibration to the horse’s mouth.) A few laps in the round pen or even in the arena with easy turns are fi ne for the fi rst few sessions. T e halt can be introduced on the third or fourth session followed by a few steps back. We drive our young horses for about two weeks until they are profi cient at executing turns at a walk and trot, halting in balance, and backing. An aspect of saddle training oſt en overlooked is that the skin

on a horse’s back needs time to toughen with the movement of a saddle. Wearing a surcingle can accustom a horse to light back pres- sure literally years before he is physically mature enough to carry a rider. It can be worn during regular ground schooling or even when a youngster is ponied on the trail with another horse. Starting a young horse right can be accomplished in 30 minutes a

day. As Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” T is is true for both you and your horse! In future issues we’ll continue to explore how slowing down your training can actually speed up the results!

Sue De Laurentis and Allen Pogue live in Drip- ping Springs, Texas, where they own and operate Imagine a Horse and Red Horse Ranch. T ey blend modern and classical horseman- ship to make Trick Horse Training understand- able and fun for horse and human. Visit online

at and 64 | June 2012 • WWW.TRAILBLAZERMAGAZINE.US

that these at ributes can and will be both dynamic and static. Illusion, our “subject” horse in this article, came

to me with a fresh mind and exuberant at itude— nearly a blank slate, with no bad habits other than a tendency to “mug” for treats. From her fi rst day at Red Horse Ranch, she was an overachiever but with no developed ability to focus. She arrived in the fall of her three-year-old

year in an awkward growth stage very common for young Tennessee Walking Horses; her lanky body had grown tall (over 16 hands) very quickly, and her coordination was still catching up. T is made

her a perfect candidate for cross training that included alternating ground and saddle training with trick training and agility training. “Right” for Illusion was fi nding ways every day to help her

be successful and stay mentally stimulated and interactive (engaged). Saddle training alone, which is built by necessity upon rote responses and may not be so much fun for the horse, could have easily caused her to become frustrated, because her physical responses were slower than her mental acuity. Alternating disciplines, keeping sessions frequent but short, and maintaining a low stress factor kept her at itude fresh, and she remained interested in her work. I oſt en worked Illusion three times per day: from sessions in the Trick Barn perfecting the lay-down, to working in the arena on lateral movements or negotiating a rocky hillside on the trail, and back to the arena later in the day to retrieve a Big Ball or practice an extravagant Spanish Walk at liberty. Her ears were always up in the paddock as she watched me, as if to say “Take me!” By the time she went home she had a remarkable resume of skills with a vocabulary to match. A mix of modern sport training combined with classical

methods that have stood the test of time, such as ground driving and even ponying on the trail before a horse is physically mature enough to ride, can enhance the quality and longevity of any horse’s athletic life. Solid educational and age-appropriate lessons added to training (from foal- hood on) can make “breaking” a horse a thing of the past. We have seen this play out time and again as our adoles- cent horses seem to see the location of the rider on their back rather than beside them as no big deal. “Starting the Young Hose Right” is, in our opinion, being fl exible and progressive enough to change strategies at any given mo- ment to ensure they are for the good of the horse. Illusion “graduated” from our program by going home to become the wonderful companion and trail horse her humans had dreamed her to be. —Sue De Laurentis

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