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By Liz Cornell

Your Horse’s Foundation: Three Trainers Discuss The Art of Training Young Sport Horses


he best way to start young sport horses, from breaking to walk-trot-canter under saddle, is a touchy subject for breeders and owners of young horses alike. Methods

and opinions vary immensely across America, ranging from the breeder/owner who can put on a trainer’s hat and do it him- or herself to those who send their youngsters to a local cowboy to rodeo through the potential bucks and spooks. Then there is the growing group of trainers, including those using the Parelli system, who focus on “natural horsemanship” when starting youngsters. Ask ten different breeders/owners how they started their young horses under saddle, and you’ll most likely hear ten different answers. Larger breeding operations generally have their own trainer

or trainers on staff responsible for starting the youngsters, or will at least coach students through the process. Yet the smaller breeder or the owner of a young sport horse is faced with the challenge of finding trustworthy local help to get the job done if they aren’t able to start their youngster on their own. After a few minutes searching on the web, various equine chat rooms will quickly reveal people sharing their daunting experiences: trainers who “ruined” their horse, or trainers who promised to ride four times a week and only rode twice a month, or a top trainer who only put his students on the horse and wouldn’t risk being hurt on a youngster. On the flipside, one reputable barn in California has recently

decided to get out of the business of starting young horses since they found that the vast majority of clients weren’t willing to pay for their very affordable 90-day training package. Plus, there is a complete lack of consensus on what people consider “correct training,” ranging from the owner who wants the horse on contact from the very first ride to the owner who doesn’t want the horse on contact even by the final ride. The inconsistencies in what people demanded and expected made it a losing proposition for this training stable.

A European View “Sport horses need to be started in the classical way, regardless of which career they specialize in later,” advises Dutch-native Jos Sevreins of Newnan, Georgia. Jos has competed in dressage (to Grand Prix), as well as eventing and jumping. He is also a USEF breeding judge for the registries KWPN/NA, AHHA and NAS, and has more recently been actively judging for the Young Horse Show (YHS), a series of shows up and down the East Coast for young

72 September/October 2012

horses, ages one to five, in all disciplines. When Jos refers to classical training, he is primarily referring to what we label as the dressage training scale. For him, work with an unbroken horse always begins on the lunge line. The discrepancy in

training methods and expectations can be traced to the types of horses used years ago in the U.S. hunter and jumper classes, says Jos. “Before, the hunters and jumpers were mostly Thoroughbreds that have a different way of moving and who have a different temperament and conformation than the Warmbloods. America’s training system for those types of horses developed accordingly. However, today the European Warmbloods dominate the hunters and jumpers, and the Warmblood–Thoroughbred crosses are becoming more and more popular in eventing. These horses should be ridden more European style: focusing on balance, asking them to use their backs from the beginning, moving forward into a steady contact,” he explains. “The correct seat and aids for the rider are critical to achieve this.” “Look how many Warmbloods are imported from Germany and Holland for the hunters!” he continues. “Recently a well- known hunter trainer came to my farm to try a young prospect we had started. After a few minutes, this trainer was able to figure out the connection with the horse and was extremely pleased with the level of balance the horse carried himself in.” Change may be coming to the hunter ring. In April, the U.S.

Jos Sevreins, breed judge and trainer.

Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) announced, “The USHJA Officials Committee is a strong advocate of allowing a horse to show expression, not to the point of it being a safety issue or significantly disrupting the round, but natural and enthusiastic about the job at hand.” Recent criticism from industry pundits has expressed concern about the extreme tactics people are using to calm their horses down for showing over fences. Perhaps this announcement by the USHJA regarding how hunters will be judged is a step in the right direction to ultimately influence the training, moving towards a more classical approach. “In Europe, all horses are basically started the same way,”

Photo by The Equine Project

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