Ground Work & Handling

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A hot humid day. One rider. One horse. Both are exercising at a moderate level. Who is more likely to overheat? It might surprise you to learn that your horse gets hotter much faster than you and is more susceptible to the negative effects of heat stress. Prof. Michael Lindinger, an animal and exercise physiologist at the University of Guelph, explains: “It only takes 17 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in hot, humid weather to raise a horse’s temperature to dangerous levels. That’s three to ten times faster than in humans. Horses feel the heat much worse than we do.”

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Should young horses be left in pasture to grow up or brought in to begin their training? While arguments can be made in favour of each plan, the ideal approach is actually somewhere in the middle. In order to enjoy athletic lives later on, youngsters do need regular exercise, but the structure of their training should differ from that of a mature horse. Primarily, it should be shorter, slower, and avoid concussive skeletal forces.

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Keys to an effective horse training session. I’ve trained a lot of horses. After nailing up my sign as a “professional horse trainer” several decades ago, I learned quickly that overhead is high in the horse business so you’d better make some hay if you’re going to pay your bills. Consequently, I rode many horses each day, breaking young ones and tuning up show horses.

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Are They Good, Bad, or a Bit of Both? Colt starting competitions are wildly popular with audiences, imbuing a sense of wonder at what trainers can do with previously unhandled three-year-old horses (colts) in just a few hours. They’re judged events, where each trainer is paired with an unbroke horse and has just a few hours to start it under saddle. While the trainers work with their horses, they explain their training methods to the audience. On the third and final day of the competition, the trainers show off their horse’s skills over an obstacle course. The young horses are started by top-notch trainers, the spectators are entertained, and the trainers win prizes and kudos for their skills. So, what’s not to like?

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If you have ever owned a horse that had difficulties loading you know how determined a horse can be to not get in the trailer. It is easy to accuse the horse of being stubborn or obstinate, or we can make excuses for them, especially if they have ever been hurt or scared in a trailer. Unfortunately, sympathy will get you about as far as being frustrated will — basically nowhere.

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Sadly, ponies get a lot of bad press. Even so, their reputation as being lazy, stubborn, and difficult to train, plus their seemingly inherent displays of poor behaviour, have less to do with their innate nature and more to do with a lack of training.

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For generations, riders and horse lovers have been enthralled by the mystique of horsemen (and women), but many struggle to define what a “horseman” actually is. Is a horseman someone with a laundry list of skills such as starting young horses, nailing on shoes, being knowledgeable about horse care, and having the ability to train horses to the highest levels? Or is a horseman someone who lives in the moment, has mastered their emotions, and understands a horse’s mind? Perhaps a horseman embraces all of these attributes; perhaps none.

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