-By Charles Wilhelm-
Foundation training for a young horse is some of the most important training we can give. I feel good about the foundation training program I completed with my horse Jazz. I worked with her two or three days a week and during that time she learned a lot: acceptance of a halter, leading, line work, tying, de-spooking and beginning saddle work. In addition, I introduced Jazz to many new objects such as a tarp, a leaf blower and a waving flag. I have taken her to new places and let her experience new environments, crowds of people and different horses. The combination of her willing nature and the de-spooking training molded Jazz into a horse that is calm, relaxed, and willing to accept the adventure of our trips. This is our goal with foundation training.
Many times, people tell me that they can’t work with heir horses as much as they would like and think they should, since a trainer may work with a horse five or six days a week. My response is this concern is—do not worry about it and don’t try to rush the training process. A young horse should not be worked like you would work a fully mature horse because a young horse is developing physical structure. A young horse, say a 3-year old reining horse, that is overworked may suffer physical damage and later require hock injections; the horse may also suffer mental fatigue. A training schedule this is less intense is better for a developing horse.
Through the early days of training Jazz, I did not ride her a lot because of the stage of her physical development. Toward the end of the seventh month of training Jazz really started to develop quickly – she just grew up – from about 13 hands to more than 14 hands at the withers and more than 15 hands at the hindquarters. This up and down type of growth process is normal on every baby. Eventually, the withers catch up and then the hindquarter grow again, and then the withers. When the horse is going through these growth spurts, your training should be slow and easy.
So, how long will it take you to train your horse if you can work only two or three days per week? In theory, if I had worked Jazz five days a week, it would have accelerated the training but I chose to go slower. For example, if I worked with a 2-year old horse five days a week and the horse had a good mind, by the time she was three years old, she would have good basic foundation training on her, meaning she would have left and right lateral flexion, vertical flexion, soft and responsive should and hip control; she would be able to do leg yields and she could side pass, stop and back up. The horse would also be able to perform all three gaits in a relaxed manner, do upward and downward transitions and be comfortable on the trail and crossing objects. If the same training was completed working the same horse only two or three days per week, it might take four years to finish the foundation training. Or, if the horse was not as compliant and trainable, she might be five or six years old by the time the foundation training was finished. The same training needs to happen but it may just take a little longer. Also, if you are training only a couple of days a week, you may need to repeat lessons more often to reinforce the learning. This is normal and is fine. With horses, we always may need to go back and retrain a lesson. Don’t think of his as a negative, but as a training opportunity.