Help needed with training plan for 4.5 year old well-started Friesian sport horse!

Approaching 60 years old, I’m taking one more fling at horse world (see my thread on “Talk me down! (maybe…)”, and will soon be the excited-but-terrified owner of a 4.5 year old, well-started Amish-bred Friesian sport horse, who has already done harness / driving / supposedly a dressage schooling show. Whereas I have only owned older horses in the past, not ones that are still green and growing.

He’s currently 16.1 and a half, still a bit wiggly but well put together, and I’d like some pointers (to website, PDF, book, whatever) on what his weekly work should look like (he’ll be getting about 4 days a week of work for now - we’re coming into winter, yikes).

ETA: I plan to show in dressage with him (as far as we are capable of going), but also some trails, and some crossrails for fun (as long as he’s agreeable).


  1. Seller said he needs a day a week (for a while) of lungeing in loose sidereins to create stretch over the back; he has the typical upright neck of the breed and comes readily into a ‘frame’ under saddle, but needs to learn to stretch down.
  2. A day under saddle, focused on…?
  3. A day of groundwork? focused on…?
  4. Another day under saddle? focused on…?

I can’t begin to express my appreciation for the deep reservoirs of knowledge in this forum, and how readily you all share them…thank you!!


I shall be interested to see what others say, but IMHO if his future is as a riding horse, he needs to be ridden… when you’ve lunged, or groundworked, hop on for a few minutes as he gets to understand that’s the end goal. It’ll help you get your riding legs too.

And 4 days a week through the winter is a good plan. He’s still got some growing to do.


Thank you for this! I did an ETA my plans for us (shoulda had those in the first place.) I would love to do some bareback with him, but don’t know how soon is reasonable. He seemed calm and sensible in my test ride…

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4 days a week of work sounds about right for his age. A good trainer should help you develop a program for him and the approach to use to develop him in an appropriate way for your goals.

As far as additional resources, look up Jec Ballou’s books. She has a couple on excercises and putting together fitness routines.


I have a bronze medalist to help train him, and she’s currently my only resource in this area – wanted to ask the forum for help, since this is a new thing for me (developing a teenager). – Thank you for the book recommendations!

Research using a chambon vs side reins. A properly adjusted chambon can help a high headed driving horse type learn to stretch his neck forward and down. If my memory serves me correctly, the book Riding Logic talks about this.


Do you know what has been done with the horse under saddle so far? Do you have access to hills and various terrain?

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Basic dressage under saddle; supposedly a dressage schooling show (no way to get more details). I might have access to hills - barn is right next to one, but do not know ownership of the land, need to ask barn owner. Barn is next to flat, safe dirt and asphalt road; and hillier, less safe gravel road.

My week might look like:

Sunday: Long lines/in hand stuff.
Monday: Day off
Tuesday/Wednesday: Ride. Sometimes I will longe a green horse for 15 mins before I get on, especially if I don’t trust them yet and I want to emphasize the contact with the sidereins.
Thursday: Trail ride/hack outside the ring
Friday: Day off
Saturday: Ride.

My horses regardless of training level usually get two days off sometime during the week. Fridays and Mondays for me, Mondays because I need to prep for the work week and Friday because I usually just want to go home/go out. It’s my designated social day. With young horses I try to get them out of the ring after a couple days of hard work, both so they don’t get bored and so they’re tired and less likely to be silly when they first go out.

I don’t take this stuff that seriously. I know what we need to work on, when and with how much structure isn’t as important. They don’t know it’s Tuesday. Maybe they know I’m going to show up that day. Also know that whatever you decide they will derail it. Especially as young horses.


Thank you for a glimpse into your schedule! I think my main concern is that I want to make sure I’m doing age-appropriate stuff. For example, under saddle:

  • Should I be focused mainly on transitions and straightness right now, not too much bending/circles?
  • When is it OK to start lateral work, shoulder-fore/shoulder-in? Should these things be taught in-hand first?
  • What about transitions within gaits?

…and so on. If there’s a book that puts this all into a good progression, based on age, that would be super helpful!

Do you have a trainer you’re working closely with? If you’re asking these questions and don’t, I would start there. They’re going to be able to tell you what’s appropriate to work with your young horse much better than anyone online can.

Transitions and straightness are introduced as soon as you a have a horse that can stand up on four legs with a rider. And of course you can’t introduce straightness without bend. No small circles for growing horses, but figure eights and bending lines are great as soon as you have steering. Transitions within gaits are great, usually we ask for lengthenings down the long side but I try to push them more forward in the short sides as soon as there is longitudinal balance because they tend to get stuck on the short side. Letting them find their own balance and then improving on it is key. This really requires you to stay out of their way which means your hands are independent of their head and your seat, which should really only be following and steering at this point.

Anything that keeps their brain engaged. I rarely work a young horse more than 35 mins. I’m only estimating based on where my horses usually are at 4. Yours might be more/less educated than mine.


No help with a Program, but I’d suggest having a friend present for that bareback trial.

I’ve ridden all my horses bareback on occasion.
Warmest seat in the house in Winter :grin:
Some horses - age not a factor - are sketchy about the contact sans saddle.
Some get over it, some would rather you did not.

He might be “Meh”, he might go rodeo.
Have a friend hold him while you get aboard, then lead him for a couple steps.
Take it slowly & be ready to dismount.


This is all stuff I do on long lines with an in-hand/driving whip before I introduce under saddle. My preference is always long lines, but leg yields and haunches in (which should be introduced later) can be done with only a cavesson, side reins, and a lead line to keep it simple. Shoulder fore/in I like to do with long lines. Again, if you’re not familiar with this and don’t know what you’re looking for on the ground, find somebody who is really good on the ground to teach you. The long lines are an art! Especially because I think you’re the person with the Friesian, and it’s very easy to get a horse that’s a little downhill with a high set neck to drop their back, fake collection, and curl over on the long lines (and under saddle, but it sounds like you know that already!).

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Excellent tips! thank you! I’d read elsewhere that about half an hour of work is about enough for this age. One question: does ‘work’ include the warming up and cooling down also? any lungeing or in-hand before riding? just want to make sure I keep him happy and fresh, not bored and stale.

The barn owner is principal trainer here (winter barn / indoor arena); she has vast experience with horses and all kinds of riding. She’s also incredibly busy running the barn, so can be difficult to access for questions. In summer I’ll be boarded at a small private place with a nice arena and a bronze medalist to train me/us.

You might take a look at Basic Training of the Young Horse by Reiner and Ingrid Klimke. Best Wishes!


You can’t really cookbook it; it’s about reading the horse in front of you. I started my WB mare at 4, and the 4 and 5 year old years were pretty tough. Your guy sounds like he has a better attitude :wink: so it may be a matter of just making sure he’s not getting mentally or physically too tired. With my mare, for a long time it was just about getting her going forward. Sometimes that took 15 minutes, and other days it took 45. I remember one day I warmed her up on the lunge, hopped on, and she trotted and cantered both directions right away, so I praised the heck out of her and was off and loosening her girth in under 10 minutes.

Lateral work can be introduced at the walk as soon as the horse understands the basic forward and turning aids. Then it will be a tool in your toolbox to begin to straighten and supple them in the trot and canter. My usual progression is spiraling out on the circle to begin the idea of LY, turn on the forehand, leg yield, and then yielding the shoulders (turn on the haunches but bent away from the direction of travel). It can definitely be helpful to teach these things from the ground first and then move to the saddle (or have a ground person help while you’re in the saddle if the horse isn’t getting it immediately).


I would only add that you need to be extremely consistent when it comes to ground manners. In other words…no pulling you around on the lead line, wait at the gait or stall door to enter/exit, stand quietly to be haltered and tied/cross tied…really basic stuff. Horses this age are just discovering they are bigger and stronger than humans. Insisting on manners every day, every way, prevents bigger problems down the road. :slightly_smiling_face:


I guess I’m just anxious about being able to ‘read’ his mental and physical state, because I want very much to preserve his calm willingness and his lightness to leg and rein. So much for both of us to learn!! – and thank you for sharing your own experience - it’s helpful!

Excellent, excellent advice - thank you!

One more book recommendation: My DD, who trained working Malinois, said you might also like Dressage School by Britta Schoffmann.