Advice on Getting a Young Horse Started Off in Eventing

Hi everyone,
I’m reaching out for some advice/tips on getting a young horse (and myself) geared up to have a successful career as an eventer. I too have never done eventing, so I am giving both of us a ton of time to ease into it. I do have a lot of time to prepare as well as my horse is still a baby (he’s a month old right now!). Next fall I will be working with him in a class for school that is focused on ground manners and basic things like loading in a trailer, lunging, etc. I will then be taking him home and am free to work with him from then. He is a Colombian Sporthorse/Thoroughbred cross if anyone is curious.
I am planning on starting him under saddle as a two year old. I hunt with a hunt club and so he will also go hunting form time to time once we’re ready.
So how should I start getting him ready for eventing? Where is it good to start from? I definitely do not plan on rushing to compete. As he grows I plan on taking some instruction on experienced horses so I have more experience and confidence before getting him going.
Thanks in advance!

In four years, think about getting a good trainer. :lol:

Until then, just focus on making him a ready, willing, brave partner. Walks around the neighborhood will make the outside world less exciting and alarming.

Going hunting will be great for you. I also am a fan of running around in the woods with a lead horse and jumping fixed objects like logs, etc. Make it fun and throw a party every time he gets it right.

once he is two teach him to long line - then you can go all around the fields working on steering, whoa and even over poles. Getting him used to all sorts of interesting sights and you can walk through water.

Also when he gets older you can lunge him over logs, etc.

Every horse/rider combination is different, so you’ll have to decide the proper activities/rate. But here’s what I’d suggest, adapt to your needs - everyone has their own style:

  1. I’ve broken/backed horses as young as 18 months - but no longer. We like our eventers to be late bloomers, so we no longer do any training, much less backing of them, until they’re 3. Let them be babies and mature. Ground work OK, normal handling, farrier, vet, etc., but avoid lunging particularly in tight circles. Don’t stress young joints OR minds.
  2. No jumping until they’re fully 4 years old, not just “January” 4 year olds. Even then, if the joints haven’t closed or if you’re doubtful, delay. later is better for an eventer, and they’ll last longer.
  3. When you’re ready to start, get a coach. Doesn’t have to be a big name, but make sure they’re someone who have started - successfully - lots of young horses. Many people will claim they have …
  4. Use positive reinforcement almost 100% of the time. Sometimes negative is needed, so use it as appropriate and then go back to positive. Never rely on negative. Praise and love are extremely effective and the best reward is your voice and the appendage on the end of your arm, not treats.

Enjoy the journey! Take only what the horse offers, but the never includes SHIT!

Don’t worry about getting him ready for eventing. Just give him a good start. Let him grow up and just be a horse for a few years. I’ve had a couple that I’ve shown in hand…but for the most part, I just let them hang out in the field and be baby horses.

Once they are 2, I will start to do a bit more with the…wear tack, maybe sit on them but not much. I typically don’t start to ride them until they are 3 (and even the it is only lightly). I often will pony my young horses off a good horse on just easy walking trail rides when 2 to 3. That’s how I introduce going through water and up and down hills. Then when I start them undersaddle, we do a lot of easy slow trail riding. Alone and in groups. Going hunting is a great start as well but usually not until they are 4/5. I really don’t worry about eventing…and a few I haven’t evented at all until they were 5. I get them out to dressage shows, h/j shows…out fox hunting. We may do some little xc schools but eventing isn’t where I start them out. Just take your time and have fun.

I also just bought a one month old foal, a sport-bred Morgan filly, and have had long talks with her breeder about young horses. Most of the horses she breeds come back to her to be started; she doesn’t jump, but her babies are willing enough that they will pick it up quickly. She breeds for an ammy-friendly temperament and the ones that don’t come back have usually been started by their ammy owners. She prefers to not start them in “real” saddle training until they are late 3 YOs or into their 4 YO year, though they start wearing tack much younger and may have someone hop on to walk them around a bit as 3 YOs if they are mature enough in brain and body. So here is the plan she and I developed:

0-1: Baby is at the breeder’s learning all the good manners (stand for vet and farrier, lead, move away from pressure, trailering, grooming and handling all over the body, etc.) I visit a few times to work with her and learn the breeder’s methods/cues.

1-2: I have the baby here, find a place where she is turned out as much as possible (full day or 24/7) with other horses, work with her 2 or 3 times a week to keep her “basic skills” fresh, take her on outings, etc. Pony her if I have an appropriate horse (my older Morgan mare probably is NOT that horse!)

2-3: same as above, but introduce long-lining and tack – wearing a bit, surcingle, saddle, etc. early in this year. Take her to shows, etc.

3-4: same as above, but late in the year baby will go back to her breeder to be started under saddle – at least 90 days, maybe more. I may get on her before this… She is a very smart little girl and quite precocious in her training already, and the breeder says the hardest thing will be to stay off of her, because she’s maturing mentally way ahead of schedule. Once I have her back, we’ll be in regular lessons and I will get a trainer with young horse experience on her every week.

(Link below goes to her photo album if anyone wants to see her cuteness!)

OP, good luck with your foal! I am not experienced with young horses, but I’d say maybe back everything up by 6 months to a year to let your baby mature.

Is this your first time raising a foal? When I was raising my mare, I spent the first two years making everything FUN and building confidence. I always set her up to succeed and tried to everything more about “look at this cool, fun thing we can do together” vs “look you have to do this for me.”

I took her on a lot of “trail rides” in hand and ponied her when I could. We showed her in-hand at local shows for fun when she was a yearling/two year old.

I think right now, you just need to focus on having fun and creating a mentally sound, well balanced horse. The eventing stuff should come easily with that foundation. After the first 2.5 years with me, that mare spent her next 2 years as a reined cowhorse for my beginner dad. When I started riding her again, she switched easily to English with me, and she was phenomenal her first time cross country. (It helped that she was a fantastic mare from birth.)

I also agree with the other posters about pushing back your schedule, so that the baby is started at 3 instead of 2.

I wouldn’t start him at two.

Riding too early has an impact on the growth plates. The growth plate is the weakest part of a bone, and is easily damaged. During adolescence the growth plates fuse and are replaced by solid bone. There is some debate about this as different joints finish growth at different rates, and even this is different for individuals, but it is generally accepted to be between 4 and 7 years old in a horse. My horse was backed at 18 months, he is now eleven, and has mild arthritis in his stifles and hocks. He’s super talented at dressage, but I wouldn’t personally be happy about jumping him.

Also you do run the risk of over facing an immature mind. This can cause issues further down the line, and it is far easier to avoid than overcome. Most of the top eventers are started at four, some even later, because you need a very sane, sound animal, perhaps the most out of all of the disciplines. Also you need this soundness to be long lasting, because of the progressive nature of the sport. Event horses are said to reach their prime at twelve years old.

Of course it’s your decision, this is just my personal experience, but you only get one shot at a horse’s first introduction to ridden work :slight_smile:

Take him out and see the world, ponying and long lining is HUGELY beneficial until he is backed. Walk him over all sorts of spooky things, take him for plays in water. You can even take him to show grounds and just walk him around!

I agree with others, tonnes upon tonnes of solo hacking. Teach forwards at all times. When you do start riding him, hunting is often a good foundation for giving them confidence across country. You need a bold horse that won’t dither, because when the obstacles are solid that can be dangerous. I think it’s just about building his confidence in you, and then building his strength on top of that. All the best, it’s a fantastic sport :slight_smile:

Thank you for the advice everyone! I definitely do not plan on starting him any earlier than I absolutely need to now. It sounds like the approach is much like what we take with our hunt horses. Our best hunters start under tack when they reach 2.5-3 and then finally get some good under saddle work as 4.5-5 year olds and no jumping until even a bit later. I will work with him a lot from the ground, hand walking and trekking through water and fun stuff with lots of rewards! I will probably also take him to the hunts and let him hang out at the trailer and watch all the sights and sounds. I love the idea of ponying, I’ll probably take him out with my hunt horse who is solid as a rock so he can learn some good manners. I have another question: I’m sure this may bring in a lot more opinions but how are eventing horses kept? Stall with turnout, 24/7 pasture, etc? Our hunt horses are ALWAYS turned out 24/7. I am a big believer in 24/7 turnout unless there are other problems to take care of that require stall rest. I just think that having lots of room to move around and adverse terrain keeps things functioning well and strengthening muscles/tendons/ligaments all the time as well as giving the frog , or as I call it, “the brain of the hoof”, new things to feel and take in. I also compete in endurance racing with my Arabians and I know that competing endurance horses should NEVER be stalled. So what is the general consensus for eventing horses?

The best thing you can do for baby is find him a foal pasture. IMO, horses should grow up with other horses their age (and maybe a mare or two to keep them in line) and on hills.

So many people buying babies stable them like working horses and look for things to do with them. Yes, you need to teach them how to lead, tie, load and tolerate things. But that doesn’t take many hours per day. Living in a stall and paddock alone can’t do for a young horse’s mind and body what a herd and a pasture can do.

24/7 turn out is ideal if they are young. After that…it depends on the horse…but for the next 5 years, if he is good turned out…leave him out. Now, sometimes injury etc may prevent 24/7 turn out. I have a youngster with constricted tendons (long story but he got sick then grew two fast)–and for him, because of this, he has to come into a stall some to rest but we try and have him out with buddies as much as he can physically tolerate.

I’d start him just like your hunt horses. Only difference may be that some hunt horses don’t get into rings much. When he is 4+, you should start doing some basic dressage work and some jumping in rings as well as your hunting and trail work.

But most of my young horses have gone hunting (starting with just hound exercising) long long long before they go eventing.

You’ve gotten tons of great thoughtful answers and thanks for clarifying more with your second post.

I think the #1 best thing to do with the young horse once he’s under saddle at 3 or so – is just take him out! Put a gazilllllion trail miles on him so he learns to use his feet in all conditions and balance himself. Let him see all the scenery at lots of different paces. It’s not really about “making an eventer,” it’s more about getting a “broke” horse that you can have fun eventing, if he’s got the mind for it.

And I’m a huge advocate of not stalling horses. Ever. I didn’t even use the barn I paid for at the last boarding facility and now the horses are home and I don’t even HAVE stalls. They have their swanky run-in and they are very happy and stay sounder. Horses are built to move move move.


Basically what Wildlifer said!!! :stuck_out_tongue: