23 Jun How to Train a Young Horse: Everything You Need to Know
Tips For Training a Young Horse
If you’ve ever worked with young horses, you can probably agree with the fact that it’s different than working with older horses. Young horses are just like young children; they have short attention spans and must be taught things in the simplest form.
The earlier you start training a young horse, the easier it will be for them to grasp concepts down the road. If you’ve never worked with a horse between the ages of newborn to three years old, it’s important to know how to approach each session so that you have the best outcome.
Here are 10 easy tips for training a young horse:
- Limit the Length of the Training Sessions
- Focus on Small Goals That You Can Accomplish Within the Session
- Get Your Young Horse Used Human Touch
- Incorporate Human Touch Into a Reward
- Teach Young Horses Respect For Your Personal Space
- Make Everything a Game
- Communicate Through Pressure and Release
- Remember to Correct, Not Punish
- Start Desensitizing Now
- Form a Consistent Routine With Your Young Horse
Many people may just think “well, I’ll just start working with the horse when it’s old enough to understand and be ridden.” Believe me, if you wait until your horse is full-grown before you start working with them and teaching them to respect humans, it will be much more difficult for them to grasp compared to if you had taught them these concepts when they were young.
The earlier you start handling your young horse, the easier it will be for them to learn and grasp training concepts. Keep reading to get a more in-depth look at each point listed above!
1. Limit the Length of the Training Sessions With Your Young Horse
When working with a full-grown horse, it’s easy to just let the time get away from you. I’ve sometimes realized that I’ve been riding and playing with my horse for hours when it’s just felt like a few minutes.
This is not something that can be done with young horses, especially horses under a year old. Their attention span is a lot shorter, their bodies aren’t fully developed, and they’re just learning to associate with humans.
If you take a young horse out and work them hard for an hour, you can put a lot of strain on both the young horse’s body and mind. Since they have a short attention span, the longer you stay with the young horse and demand something from them, they will start to get frustrated.
This can cause the horse to view humans in a bad light, which is not a thought you want to nurture in a young horse. If a horse starts thinking this when they’re young, it will be much harder to change their way of thinking down the line.
Horses under a year old should not be worked for more than 15 minutes at a time. Once the horse has become a yearling, you can add 5-10 minutes onto that depending on how mentally developed the horse seems.
When I work with these horses, I’ll set a timer on my phone for the allotted time. It’s important to monitor the level of physical fitness you’re requiring on your young horse as well. All of the work you do with horses at this age should be done on the ground. The last thing you want to do is put unnecessary strain on a body that is still developing.
2. Focus on Small Goals That You Can Accomplish Within the Session
Since you should only be working with your young horse for a few minutes at a time, it’s important that you focus on small goals that you can accomplish within the session.
Your young horse may not be able to grasp a whole new concept within the allotted time for your training session, and that’s OK. If you can get the horse to even start thinking and considering the new concept you’ve introduced, then that should be enough.
I recently started working with a client’s yearling and the first thing I wanted to get across is that the horse should respect my personal space. In the first session, all I worked on was getting the horse to back up when I wiggled the lead rope and asked them to do so. I wasn’t expecting them to be very responsive by the end of the session, but if they could take one step back, then I was happy.
In the next session, I reviewed backing up on the rope, then I added getting the horse to step its shoulder away when I put my hand up to its eye and asked them to move. All I was looking for was the horse to take one small step with its shoulder. Now a few weeks later, the young horse has been able to grasp the concept of respecting my personal space just through the small steps we took at every training session.
3. Get Your Young Horse Used Human Touch All Over
Remember, the earlier you introduce a concept to your young horse, the easier it will be for them to accept compared to when they are older. Now is the perfect time to get your young horse used to being touched all over their body. No one wants a horse that threatens to kick every time their belly is touched.
To get your young horse used to human touch, start rubbing your hand over their face and neck. If the horse seems to enjoy a certain spot, stop and take time to scratch them in that area.
As you do this, the horse is learning that your touch feels good and will reach those scratchy spots for them. Keep working your hands over the horse’s body and legs, rubbing any scratchy spot you find.
What to Do If Your Young Horse Doesn’t Like a Certain Area Touched
If there is an area that the horse doesn’t seem to like touched, move your hand back to the closest area the horse accepted. This pressure and release concept will help your horse eventually grasp what you’re trying to do. Slowly and gently work your way close to the area that the horse was unsure of.
If you aren’t comfortable doing this with your hands or you’re worried that the horse may kick out at you, start off by standing at the horse’s shoulder and taking a lunge whip or carrot stick and rubbing that over the horse’s body and hind legs. Once the horse has accepted the carrot stick, then you can try it using your hand.
4. Incorporate Human Touch Into a Reward For Your Young Horse
To help your young horse continue to grow in trusting and accepting human touch, incorporate it into a reward during your training sessions. When your horse does something good, rub and pet your horse all over their body, finding those scratchy spots.
A horse, just like a human, finds it much easier to accept something as an award compared to as a punishment. If you don’t take the time to get your horse used to human touch and then the only time you touch them is to smack them when they’ve done something bad, it will be much harder for them to learn that human touch is good.
5. Teach Respect For Your Personal Space To Your Young Horse
The very first thing I teach to any horse, whether young or old, is to respect my personal space. Working with a 1,000 lbs animal that doesn’t respect your space is dangerous, and it’s just a matter of time before you get stepped on, pushed-over, or kicked. If your horse respects your personal space, they will lead well, pay attention to you, and start to look to you as their leader.
To teach your young horse to mind your personal space, a simple thing to do is just lead them around and correct them every time they start to pull or get ahead of you. Most young horses don’t lead well, but when you start demanding respect for your space, that will change.
Over the next few sessions, you can work on having your horse back away from you and start moving their front and hind ends away from you when asked. Soon, your horse will start to understand what you’re trying to get across.
6. Make Everything a Game When Working With Young Horses
If you ever watch a young horse in the pasture, you’ll notice that they love to play! Young horses love to examine new things and have fun with their pasture buddies. If you can make your training session just as engaging and interesting, it will be much easier for your horse to focus and want to learn.
One thing I love to do with the babies I work with is set up new obstacles for them to encounter. I’ll put cones for them to weave around, narrow poles for them to walk through, and tarps to walk over. The new obstacles keep their minds engaged as well as making the training session fun!
To learn some other ways you can keep your young horse engaged, read our article How to Get Your Horse to Pay Attention to You. Here’s a short video I made going through some obstacles with a young horse I was training:
7. Communicate Through Pressure and Release When Training Young Horses
When you start working with a foal that hasn’t been handled that much, it may seem as if it is hard to communicate with them; this can be to the fact that a young horse has never been introduced to the pressure and release concept humans use to communicate with them. One of the first things you’ll want to start doing when working with your young horse is teaching them to yield to pressure.
A horse yielding to pressure is following the pressure application in hopes to escape it; for example, if you tug on a lead rope to get your horse to walk up to you, the horse should move up to yield to the pressure you applied. By moving towards you the horse understands that the pressure will be released.
To teach a horse to yield to pressure, you want to ask them to do something in pressure phases. You’ll start by applying the lightest pressure possible, and if the horse doesn’t respond, you gradually increase the amount of pressure used. As soon as the horse responds correctly, release the pressure. Once your young horse understands yielding to pressure, it will make it so much easier to work with them.
8. Remember to Correct, Not Punish Young Horses
One important aspect to remember when working with young horses is that they don’t know any better. An adult horse has had years of interaction with humans and has, for the most part, been able to tell the difference between right and wrong. A young horse, on the other hand, is still new to being handled by humans and the expectation of how it should act around them.
Some horse owners have an instinct to punish if a horse does something wrong because they think the horse should know better. When it comes to working with babies, this is not the case, and punishing your horse can make your young horse feel really insecure around humans.
It’s important to have the mindset of correcting rather than punishing. Punishing correlates with responding in anger while correcting is responding from a place of patience and communicating to the horse what should have been done instead.
9. Start Desensitizing Young Horses Now
Desensitizing training is when you get your horse to accept things that they would normally be afraid of. This could be getting your horse to walk through a puddle, throwing a tarp over their body, or blaring a car horn to get them used to traffic.
Desensitizing should be viewed as a tool to not only make your horse safer to ride and handle, but also to help your horse be able to stay calm in situations where they could freak out and get injured.
Since it’s easier for horses to grasp concepts when they’re younger, you should start desensitizing your young horse as soon as possible. If you want a bombproof horse that can ride out anywhere, this is the place to start. We have a whole article on how to desensitize your horse to a number of different situations. Check out my article for Bombproof and Desensitize a Horse: The Ultimate Guide.
10. Form a Routine With Your Young Horse
The best thing you can do for your young horse is starting to form a routine with them. Horses learn by repetition, so if the have a routine they can get used to, it will make it easier for them to learn the things introduced to them in the routine.
All too often, young horses are taken out only once in a while from their pasture to be handled, and things don’t usually go well. This is because the horse hasn’t had consistent work and doesn’t understand what’s expected of it.
A good place to start is setting aside a time to handle your young horse daily and take them out of their pasture. It’s easy for young horses to get herd bound, so removing them from their field and doing something else can help them get used to the concept of being away from their friends.
Another thing to add to your routine is brushing your horse, picking up their feet, and running your hands all over their body. This will help them be more comfortable with being touched.
I hope this article will be helpful when it comes to training and working with your young horse! Young horses can be difficult yet so rewarding, so keep at it! If you’re looking for more to work on with your horse, here’s my article on The 5 Best Groundwork Exercises to Do With Horses.
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I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.