If the chronicles have taught me anything, it’s that you’ll find ALL kinds of opinions on just about anything so bear with me. I have a new horse coming for training from a client. Acknowledge that I have NOT seen the horse yet and have only heard bits and pieces of what’s going on. So here is what I know:
The owner is wanting the horse to be more family-safe, they have kids who want to ride etc. The man whose horse it is, is the only one who can ride the horse at the moment as it likes to test its riders a bit. He says after lunging for a bit, then he can ride them. From what I know the horse is not in consistent work (which I believe to be one of the main reasons). But along the lines of helping a horse become more, child-friendly, let’s say, what are your training ideas? How would YOU go about helping a horse to stop testing riders and settle down a bit? This is not a young horse I believe, and has more or less been a pasture decoration. It has a pony companion who one of the kids ride.
I have my own ideas about going forward with this, and obviously I’ll know more once I see and start working with them. I always start from the ground up/beginning so I’ll get more of a feel once they get here. But any first thoughts?
ALSO: (the Chron of Horse is not typically a friendly atmosphere so just a reminder, if you don’t have something nice and helpful to say, don’t say it at all. Please don’t attack each other’s methods. Be KIND to each other.)
We all want what’s best for the horse.
Consistent work is the key. Of course some horses, no matter what the training, will never make a kids horse. With that in mind though you can make them better. I have one that I can put anyone on in the ring at home. Walk/jog classes at shows for an advanced beginner. Intermediate for all other classes including pleasure, HMS, SMS, jumping, and timed events. On the trails you better be ready for anything as he really enjoys getting out.
Situation, work ethic and consistent training.
The horses I have met that do not “test their riders” are dead-broke, dull, older schoolies that have been so over-schooled that they basically become robots for the hour or so they get ridden every day. They check out, because that’s what they’ve been taught is their job. That kind of learned helplessness, depending on who you talk to, is anywhere from a necessary evil to a mortal sin.
Regardless, you won’t really know until you get to know the horse’s personality and get it into consistent work. But the fact that this horse can only be ridden by an adult after being lunged gives me some pause as to the suitability for kids, who are notorious for being excited to ride one day and then having no interest the next. If the horse is one of those that needs consistent work to be at their best they may not be suitable for small children, period. From one trainer to another, when someone sends me a horse like this with these expectations/hopes for the animal, I’m usually pretty frank about the fact that I will get the horse to where they would like it to be if at all possible but that is no guarantee the horse will STAY that way unless the person the horse is going back to is competent enough to maintain what I’ve done.
I realize that doesn’t answer your direct question regarding training tactics to help “make” this type of horse, and that’s largely because I’ve had much more success as a trainer teaching the humans to rise the level the horse needs instead of asking the horse to fill in for the people. Horses, by nature, are animals that are constantly adjusting to their environment, so their NATURE is to test to figure out where the boundaries are. Some personalities will do this more than others, so a more sure way to success in this situation is to source an animal that is pretty quiet and self-assured already.
IMO, horses don’t “test riders” just because they like to be difficult. They just take the path of least resistance and some horses know very well which path to take with which rider so with horses like this, nothing is really going to change unless the riders change with it.
Secondly, you can put all the training you want into a horse but there are plenty of times where good training still won’t = kid proofing no matter how good the quality of the training is. It really has to do with the personality and temperament which don’t change a bunch with training. You can train a horse to do “xyz” but you can’t really train a horse to be bombproof. Some will just never have the personality for it.
If I were you, I’d evaluate the horse and the explain to the owners where you honestly think the horse can realistically get to. You can’t make any horse a kids horse. Sometimes we are lucky but being a kids horse may very well be an unrealistic goal depending on the horse so an open and honest conversation about your goals what I would do before taking their money.
I think that you need to be clear with the owner immediately that you will do an evaluation and then discuss what you think needs to happen in the future for this horse. If you take it to “train to make it safe for kids” there can be really bad feelings if the horse cannot be made safe. And, IMO that is a strong likelihood. An older horse that still can be difficult for its main rider is not a great kids’ horse candidate.
The trainer at a barn I used tried to make a lovely Arab mare “super ammie broke”. They did a nice job exposing her to lots of stuff, flopping around on her etc, in addition to regular training. The owner was delighted when she got the horse back. But just a few weeks back home without help and with a nervous inconsistent owner and the mare started spinning and dumping her rider again.
So I would be honest with the owner up front and evaluate what might be a better fit for this horse if necessary.
This falls into you can’t put a round peg in a square hole and expect a good, tight fit.
Some horses are born broke and gentle and non-reactive and amateur and kid friendly.
Some horses are born with busy minds and an edge to them and need refined skills to keep them on an even keel when we work with them.
That difference seems to exist in a continuum, rare to find horses in one or the other extreme, but sure some are more gentle by nature, others more reactive.
We can train only so much, the nature of each horse will still be part of them.
We don’t know where the OP’s horse fits, but it does seem to be a question that it may just not be in the gentle enough side of the line.
Any time it comes to kids, or really anyone, is best to buy a horse already as you need it, with kids, one with a record of staying gentle.
Considering being the trainer asked to evaluate the horse and training it as much as possible for the wanted task, we have to remember to weigh that what is kid safe for one person may not be for another.
Waiting to work with the horse before committing may be best.
More questions: How experienced are the kids? I am making an assumption that since the parents don’t seem to be that knowledgeable, the kids aren’t either.
I know kids that are 7 years old and can ride the hair off anything.
And I know kids that are 14 and are terrified to go faster than a walk.
(not that there is anything wrong with either)
I think the first step is making the parents understand that this horse MIGHT NOT BE WHAT THEY NEED.
There really isn’t any training ideas, you just have to ride, ride, ride, and get that horse experienced. For example, I bought my horse Red when he was 6. Almost sold him he bolted so bad. Bucked too. He’s 15 this year and while I wouldn’t yet let my kids ride him out on the trail (they are ages 3 and 4 1/2), they can absolutely ride him around in an arena or at home. He’s well trained, been-there-done-that, and fine. He too will “test” a rider but his form of testing is choosing to stop and do nothing, LOL. Even though they are kicking him to go.
And other horses make good kid horses from day one. That’s my Shotgun. He doesn’t spook and is Mr. Laid Back. Might be kinda lazy sometimes but he’s a good horse that I can throw anyone on.
That is true, some horses really are born broke.
We had one stallion that had those kinds of foals.
About half of his foals every year were born broke.
One of those I started as a three year old, just get on and ride off.
He had about a month under saddle when our dentist came by to visit and his teenage daughter, that had been riding here and there a bit but was very much a beginner, fell in love with that gangly, dark grey very sweet colt.
They were members of the local riding club because he roped with their team, but daughter had not really shown much interest in horses before.
We didn’t want to sell them the colt for her, she needed an old, been there horse if she wanted a horse, but he kept insisting.
Well, we sold him the colt and three more months of riding him, by then school would be out and she could ride the colt most every day, in the club’s arena with other kids and someone hopefully keeping an eye on them.
We worked with that colt those three months so he would be as bombproof you can make an inexperienced horse with a naturally laid back disposition and he was a star.
Once the girl had him, we kept hearing how well all was going.
The most salient story was, the father was on his roping horse on one end of the large outdoor arena, kids were in the other end talking, her daughter let a friend that had never been on a horse get on the colt and she led her a bit around, then were talking by the fence, friend still up there.
At that time, other kids were getting ready to barrel race and one picked up a barrel and threw it over the fence into the arena, right behind the colt.
The father saw what was happening and before he could react, the barrel had hit with a bang and rolled off.
The colt with that new girl on him just stood there without even flinching, like it was normal to hear big bangs and a barrel just roll by behind him.
The father was still shaking when telling it and so, so happy with that colt, he could not thanks us enough. We kept telling him he had a once in a lifetime, sensible colt.
Once the girl was older and had other interest, the father took over and colt became his next ranch and roping horse until they retired him in his old age.
There are some horses that are that quiet, but retraining a more reactive horse for a kid horse and that horse staying that quiet to be considered bombproof?
Not so easy, but OP won’t know until time passes.
I always think it’s weird when people anthropomorphize their horses like that. Horses do not sit around plotting how to “test” their riders. Like a previous poster said, horses just want the path of least resistance. That’s why pressure and release works.
So that aside, I don’t think we have enough info. What exactly is the horse doing that is un-kid-safe? Is he spooky, is he quick/anxious, is he herd bound, does he buck/rear, etc?
All you can do is start this horse in consistent work and see what you have to work with.
I haven’t read any other comments or posts because in my personal experience ( and opinion after many decades of ownership / training my own ) a horse is pretty much born with a “family safe- child safe” disposition.
Put some work and riding time on the horse, get the horse in a working frame of mind and then have some experienced riders other than yourself get on and see how the horse does with them. If it doesn’t try to take advantage then try someone not so experienced and judge them both.
If the horse passes that test start the family out on supervised lessons and teach them how to ride the horse using the cues you do. A lot of problems arise after a horse is in training because they learn to read the trainer and can anticipate by the subtle moves and body language of the trainer before the cues are even administered.
A new unskilled rider gets on and neither ( horse or rider) has any idea what is going on. Even the perfect horse will test occasionally. They are just not too adamant about it and give up pretty easily. I have one now
I would want to know what the owners “time frame” is… because like, this could be many months of training (you won’t know for probably a month at least what it will take), and like someone else said, then start introducing the kids who will be riding it to lessons you coach…