Question: I have a 2yo AQHA show prospect in training in the US (I’m in Canada), what should my expectations be for the first 90 days? She is a well handled, reasonable filly with great ground manners. She has been worked with, saddled previously and even done a little showing in LL (but still sound and sane) with no issues. Any advice?
Answer From April Reeves: Great question, as I have seen some pretty sad horses return from ‘training’. I had the privilege one day to ride an expensive reining colt, returning with 3 months of ‘pro’ work on it. I lost half of my face from this ride.
Good foundation work on a 2 year old should only consist of the following:
• Good stop and go buttons
• Obedience off the leg
• Suppling of the head, neck and ribs – is the horse equal on both sides?
• Gait and rhythm control (the kind where you let the horse move on a loose rein and they stay in gait and cadence without any use of your legs, until you ask them to change)
• The ability to go straight (very important! Not just in the body, but can actually walk, trot and canter in a straight line also)
• Good guiding ability (where the horse stays between the reins without bulging or pushing out to one side or the other)
• Sensitive to the bit or hackamore, giving without resistance, but not too sensitive (behind the bit)
• Backing up – is non-resistant on loose rein and slow, but good diagonal movement (quality over quantity)
• Circling – does round circles (not eggs)
• Puts his nose into the turn (shows softness and obedience, foundation for guiding)
• Works in a very soft bit (snaffle, French link)
• Good lung capacity
• Horse can give head and neck in the halter without resistance.
• Horse does not spook easily – desensitized to common objects
What I don’t want to see:
• The horse backing up at speed (shows abuse and can damage hock joints and spine/neck)
• Over-flexion of the poll (an advanced exercise for 3 year olds)
• Hindquarter and shoulder moves from pressure – aids (too much stress on 2 year old joints and mind – exercises for 3 year olds).
• Lead changes (I like to see what the horse can do, but again he’s too young to carry himself through them properly, and if you try, you end up with a horse who may be difficult to change later)
• Resistance (was the horse rushed through too quickly, creating resistance?)
• Bucking, rearing, kicking, biting
• Unable to tie
• Unable to handle feet, mouth
• Horse uses twisted wire bits, or any shanks
• Horse gets winded easily
• Horse unable to work off of light control
• Hard stops and rollbacks
• Horse was ridden over 30 minutes, 5 days a week
• Intense transitions, from walk to canter to stop quickly
• Saddle sores
• Mouth sores
• Green splints
• Use of equipment – martingales, tie downs
• The horse longed before riding
When training 2 year olds, slower is faster. They also learn at different speeds, so your QH may be anywhere on the training scale of the good foundation. What is most important is whether the trainer created a pleasant experience for the youngster.
Moving too quickly can scare a young horse, which can last a lifetime. They need to build confidence and enjoy their new job.
What I really would like to see now, is the horse put to rest until it’s 3rd year. No riding what so ever, under any circumstance. Your young quarter horse still has many bones to fuse, and the back and neck won’t stop growing until 6. I’m always more concerned about that then the legs. There is so much you can do on the ground that transfers to the saddle.