Riding the young horse and rider fitness

Hi everyone!

Curious about your thoughts and experiences about riding young horses and how it relates to rider fitness.

I just purchased a very nicely bred 4 year old that has quite a bit of power and suspension…but coupled with the fact that he is still a bit wiggly and not totally consistent…I am faced with the fact that I definitely need to up my fitness game.

Now, I wouldn’t say that I am unfit. I ride about 5 days a week (multiple horses on weekends) and compete FEI and have a somewhat good seat (not Charlotte D!). I am up for the challenge and have already started…however, I guess I didn’t realize how much more a young horse would challenge me physically. Anyone else have a similar experience?

I am lucky in that he seems to have a wonderful temperament. However, I also feel a responsibility to help keep him this way and not create any bad habits due to tension/constrictive riding. Looks like quite a bit of core work in my future!

I think that the other issue with riding young horses can be rider fear. The horse can be unpredictable, we tense up, then don’t give him our best ride. It’s also harder to ride a horse that isn’t yet balanced. Take it slow.


I would agree with Scribbler here. I think the mental component is more exhausting than the physical, especially if you’re riding that frequently.

Not quite the same, but as my trainer recently put it, “no one told her she’s 17” about my full lease mare. She needs to be given a task or she will create one for herself, and she is sensitive to environment and sounds so while she doesn’t explode she can get squirrely and make me liable to tense. I find I can hop on another horse and work physically harder and not come off half as tired as I do riding my own. It’s not a bad thing - I enjoy the heck out of her and she’s helping me for when I do have something young.

But I do think the mental aspect of predicting the mind and body of the young horse is more taxing, especially when you feel some level of pressure to bring them along and develop them properly.


Staying in the middle of a young horse is the hardest part as well as not pushing at them when they inevitably loose their balance or do something baby. It does take strength but mostly balance and willing to do anything to stay balanced over them, much more then trying to control the horse.

If you can get up over your leg in a jump saddle you will be more successful to be independently balanced over a young horse.

Best of luck!


I agree with what everyone has said thus far. I’m considered pretty fit for my age due to my job (very physical) and the fact that I keep 3 horses fit through riding. Of those 3, I currently have a 7 year old who is third level (have competed FEI with my others) and a just turned 4 year old (both of which I backed and started). I find riding the 4 year old far more mentally taxing than physically. However having said that I find that my mental focus is more on keeping the wet noodle balanced and learning as well as respecting the aids than a requirement of physical strength or stamina with the exception of the demands of a strong core. This also means my timing must be dead on at all times. I keep my horses at home so I also am responsible for all the barn work/upkeep - this I find more physically demanding as I get older but it also helps keep me fit along with working out off the horses.


I’m also starting a 17H WB with big gaits currently. She is not super naughty, but has her uncooperative spells that I have to ride through, and I found I needed aerobic capacity more than core strength for this stage, so instead of my steady pace runs, I started adding some shorter, faster running interspersed with walking. I also try to ride a little two-point on my older horse to improve my balance and leg strength if I need to ride more up out of the saddle on the young one.

1 Like

Yes, yes and yes. I have recently changed horses. My last horse was a mare of middle age (now 15) who was such a solid citizen. The new guy is going to have his 8th birthday in July. He is relatively green, so much quicker physically, more sensitive and yet still sensible. I am older and have had to step up my own fitness routine. I also have made great friends with my grab strap. I have to be ‘the adult in the room’ instead of an occasional passenger. At the same time I have to explain everything to him in ‘small words, short sentences’. Plus I can’t bully him as he is sensitive and we don’t want him to get reactive. He might have had a bad experience with a whip, I can’t carry one. And we have found he is much better with another horse in the arena. On the other hand we have gotten him out to a few shows and he handles new stuff like a saint. Because he needs to build more muscle we aren’t asking for big movement but he has more then my last horse at that. Almost the only thing we do at home are 20 meter circles and transitions. I think that has helped me as much as him. I didn’t want to believe everyone who told me it would take a year to have a good partnership with a new horse. We’re at six months and still working.

Enjoy the journey, compare today to last month instead of yesterday or another horse. There are lots of online fitness videos, add them sparingly and give yourself time to adjust.


I find green horses more challenging mentally more than physically. I actually had a similar conversation with a local training that starts a lot of horses. She was filling in for another trainer while they were injured and riding their higher level event horses. She said that even though she rides multiple babies a day, She was not feeling in shape on the more schooled horses! Part of this I think is the shorter sessions with the younger horse.

I started taking jumping lessons for this reason. I’m not a huge fan of jumping but I think I can be really beneficial for our balance and strength. It’s helped tremendously.
I also try to do a lot of seat work without stirrups in my dressage lessons if I’m on a steady horse.

1 Like

I find riding the unbalanced horse far harder. Part of it is my body type - for me, moving enough to move with an unbalanced horse is hard, so doing that AND keeping muscle tone to maintain my stability is hard. Canter work especially. As they start sitting more and developing collection, the amplitude growth is easier for me to ride and absorb/move with. Plus a horse who is lifted in the withers and sitting behind gives you somewhere more to sit.
My youngster has this big girl trot which we get part of the time but not all the time. It is much more powerful with more amplitude than her baby trot, but SO much easier to ride!

1 Like

I hate riding 4 year olds. It’s the worst combination of short attention span, baby distractibility, lack of balance/coordination, and growth phases. Every day feels like starting over sometimes.

I do 140 miles a week on the bike, plus strength training with a personal trainer 3 days a week - and I still hate it.

1 Like

I love riding babies but I agree that you have to be patient and go with the flow. I love a schooled, balanced horse too though!

It’s quality of movement, not just age. I’ve had some lovely horses, but my current one in particular just moves so completely through his whole body. He’s also sensitive to any tension or restriction he feels. It takes a different level of suppleness coexisting with stability to ride him well.

1 Like

I’m going to be about as popular as a piranha in a hot tub for saying this… I wish the idea of an ever stronger core as the end all & be all would die the slow, painful death it deserves. As I remarked on another thread recently, people talk about it as a goal all the time on these forums. I’ve yet to see anyone who professes to have a weak core who actually has a weak core in the photos they post. What I do see is a lot of riders with a poor ratio of joint congruence-to-mobility ratio, poor muscle chain patterning, & lack of “ooey-gooey” juiceiness to their muscle fibers. (That’s collagen to folks that like to be scientific instead of a hippie trippie crunchy granola yoga/reiki person like me. :wink:

Work on propreoception. Work on extending your lines of energy up/down, left/right, in/out. Work on finding how to let your legs “breathe” like giant slinky dinks along the horse’s sides, in concert with his motion. Work on balance; finding & recruiting the tiny stabilizer muscles.

If you do nothing else, get a Swiss exercise ball, a Bosu, and a balance board and use the heck out of them. My friend Billy – a 6’3", 230 lbsjiu jitsu black belt who is world ranked & one of the strongest human beings I’ve seen in real life – can stand up on a Swiss exercise ball. That is how “ooey-gooey” his muscles are. He regularly kicks the a$$ of bigger but less mobile men in competition. I’ve come to think this is the key to good riding as well. Watch how Carl Hester’s spine undulates in perfect lock step with the horse’s from piaffe to passage. Watch how Robert Whitaker sends his kinetic energy in all directions to stay balanced over a 6’9" puissance bareback. Crosstrain.


^THIS. I’m struggling with this so much right now. I took a bad spill in January off of my then 5 yo. Less than a week later I had surgery (pre-planned, not a result of the fall). I was out of the saddle for a month post-op. I got back on after surgery and we promptly began a 5 month spiral of ulcer issues, growth spurts, saddle fit issues that have meant he’s been ridden maybe a half dozen times between mid-January and mid-May.

Finally got the green light to start bringing him back into work about 3 weeks ago. I’m rusty from so much time out of the saddle myself. He’s now 6 and fresh from all the time off, has the spring sillies. I’ve never been the bravest rider but I feel extra timid now because I’m so out of practice. I don’t trust myself and I don’t trust him. Bad combo.

I’ve been back in the gym since my surgery, and I’m planning to take some lessons on one of my trainer’s schoolmasters to get my feel back a bit. It’s as much mental as it is physical at this point, which is tough.


“iz that all u got?” My green ones think they’re going to pull a fast one on me and i’ve been down that rode on way too many horses to get upset by it. Fear is one thing i will more-or-less indulge, or at least feel compassion about. But i won’t engage in arguments with a horse. And i am not so much into straightening a noodley one. That comes in time… I appreciate flexibility! Strive for it…and if they come to being ridden WITH that attribute, i’m grateful. It’s the ones that have a flat side that require so much more work. Just went through that with the most rigid flat-sided horse i’ve ever been on. His turns, even around corners on the short sides, were like a ship out on the water. What i want, the only thing i want, is for the horse to make an effort to listen to me and try. Incrementally rewarding all those trys builds a good working horse. Does not matter what you do with them, if they continually attempt to do as bidded what more can a person ask?

As far as me, and my body…i do yoga. And i also singlehandedly manage a large acreage farm with about 200 head (of various species). I’m strong and i’m flexible. And now that i’m old, i am much more serene and less… willful.


riding a young horse is like surfing.



My frustration is my health issues that is keeping me from riding anything - and I have a 4 year old Trakehner I bred that is started, but I can’t keep her going. Young horses have been my niche forever, so this has been a real problem since I have had some interest in her. As far as riding the young ones - keep it short and simple and build on it. Gain the confidence and be sure you keep his attention and try to relax is help him relax. They are wiggly because they lack alot of strength and balance that will increase through work - but just don’t over do it! You can stretch out the riding time as you go and their attention span expands. I love to ride them and progress - their learning is a reward!


For people who have dealt with a lack of confidence when riding a young horse, what do you do to help with that? I’ve mainly ridden older/ schoolmaster types, so my 5yr old feels very different from what I’m used to.

1 Like

I have ridden lots of youngsters and all can go like a drunken sailor at times, but the ones with “untapped” power are the most physically demanding, ime. It’s a challenge to be the island of calm amidst the chaos of them finding their balance. I love strength training and do spinning for cardio. I use inner thighs and core to “stay above the fray” and try to use my body weight to set their tempo. But the beauty of babies - the short attention span and lack of fitness - I do short bursts of focused work, than loose rein walk. They get a physical and mental break, and I get the physical break, too.

As far as being calm - I quite honestly had more issues with “ruined” horses than baby babies. The babies telegraph what they will do. Like a bad boxer. The ruined horse, older and with bad training, they know how to fight and you don’t always feel it coming. So I’m less stressed on babies than “bad” eggs. And I don’t have timelines. The number one goal is relaxation on the babies so I may sing or talk the whole ride, but my sole focus is a happy experience. Most babies can do that and you just have to know when to quit. They cannot do calculus for 45 minutes. They can do Sesame Street tasks for short bursts. I think some “DQs” struggle with less control/type A stuff which will fry the baby brain and body. I honestly struggle now to make my very type B personality to focus on longer bursts of focused work as my horses grow up!