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Training Tips: Coral Keen’s Advice on Starting Young Horses

Total_darkness_CoralProducing young horses is a talent that not all of us possess and having the understanding, patience, facilities, skill and time is not always something we can provide. Are you producing at home with high hopes for a special youngster? If so, read event rider and Horse & Hound blogger Coral Keen’s top tips to get started on the right foot.

Starting Off

Start handling early. Typically our unbacked three-year-olds are halter broken and good to lead and handle. This is important for a mannerly and manageable horse. 

Introducing the bit. Put a bridle on in the stable to get them used to the bit in the mouth. Leave them to “mouth up” for just a few minutes to start with.

Tip: Don’t tie the horse up and have them loose in the stable so that they don’t feel restricted and then panic.

Increase the time slowly so that they are happy to have the bridle on for up to 20 minutes at a time.

lungeingTeaching them to go forward on the lunge.

When you introduce the lunge it’s really important that you use your voice very clearly and consistently. Use different tones when you teach them to go forward and to slow down so that they understand quite quickly what you mean.

Lunge with the bridle on but the lunge line should be attached to either a head collar or a lunge cavesson.

Do not attach the lunge line directly to the bit at this stage.

Tip: It’s important that you are safe – wear a hard hat and gloves – and that any helper is safe too.

Putting on the roller.

Once the horse is walking and trotting on the lunge happily and is obedient to your voice, put a roller on.

I spend time putting it on from both sides and I am never too worried about making a bit of noise. Flap the numnah around, rub it all over their body, let them sniff it – it all helps to de-sensitise them.

Long reigning.

Long reigning is a key part of their early education and I would spend a lot of time making sure they go forward from the voice. They also learn independence, walking out in front. 

Start with a helper alongside and once the horse is happy in the school, take them around the stable yard.

Don’t be worried if the long reins flap against their side as it all helps with their education.

Tip: The reins should be attached to the noseband or cavesson.

Putting on the saddle.

After a few days of getting used to the roller, put on a saddle, tying the stirrups under the girth so that they don’t flap around and frighten the horse but they still create a little bit of movement as if your leg is against the horse’s side.

Long rein, putting the reins through the stirrup, and once you feel you have control, the horse is responsive to the contact and responding to you voice, attach the reins to the bit and continue long reigning.

Getting on.

Stand on a block next to the horse, jump up and down, run your hands all over the horse to help de-sensitise him.

Stand off the block, get on again and then lean over. Do this lots of times so that it all becomes normal.

If they accept this, lean over fully and when the horse is relaxed get someone to lead the horse around.

If your horse is happy, you can then get on, staying in a light seat and leaning forwards so that the horse doesn’t look back at you and get a shock seeing you sat up tall on his back.

Repeat and react.

It’s then a case of repeating and reacting to the horse.

Start in the school and when you are happy that you have steering and are in control take them outside.

For me the sooner I am out hacking with the horse going forward naturally the better but it is down to the individual horse. Tip: Having a nice sensible hacking partner will help, go out with a horse who’s well-behaved and will make a good lead horse if need be. 

Once they are out hacking, I will have my first canter, but not everyone has great hacking so you might use the arena at home.

Keep sessions short.

I’d far rather work a horse for less time twice a day than for a long time once a day. Twenty minutes sessions are fine as they easily get muscle fatigue and will soon get tired which is when difficulty could occur.

You’ll get a better result in the long run if you work for short periods.

Going places.loading_a_horse

The sooner you can get them out and about on the lorry and going places the better. It will quickly become a normal part of life, particularly with the sharp or spooky ones.


This will depend upon the condition of the horse, but I recommend keeping their food behind their work. It’s really important not to overfeed a horse before you know what you have. 

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