Starting up the young horse (again)

Hello all, I’m hoping to get some advice for re-starting my young horse in the next few weeks or so. A bit of a back story (summarized): filly went off as a 3-year old last summer, was diagnosed and treated as a borderline cervical bone cyst (in development) on C6/7. Was given the entire fall/winter off as a precaution and to allow it to heal as much as possible. Received a re-check in December and all was well (cyst was healing) and got a dose of Osphos (recommended by my sport horse vet, I know she is young).

Fast forward to today, we have been doing light ground work (no lunging) and sport horse vet is due to come up mid April. He wants her re-started so we can observe her under light work. My plan is to do this gradually over the next week or so, but my mare (now coming 4) is hot.

She really enjoys work and tends to over-do it on the lunge or while free-lunging. Since she has been out of work for the past 8 months or so, I really want to do my best to encourage her to take it easy as much as possible so we don’t risk dealing with another injury. She has been on turnout with her herd during this time so there is no pent-up energy from lack of that. I know that AceVet is an option before getting her out on the lunge but I may not have a vet available at the time to administer.

What are your suggestions? Hand walk before the lunge? Pray to god she stays sane? I know my options are pretty limited and horses will be horses, but I’m just looking for the best approach. Thank you in advance. :slightly_smiling_face:

EDIT: I thought it might be worth mentioning that my horse is green broke w/t/c. This is not a complete re-start.

If she is hot do not free lunge or run her around at the end of a rope. Proper lunging only. Walk without sidereins
Trotvin side reins. Only a few minutes won’t hurt her. Do not canter until she is going calmly.

You can give Ace orally too, so if your vet will leave some you can administer yourself. It just takes longer to kick in than IV.

Is the plan to get back on her to start her under saddle before the vet comes, or just in work by lunging? If you can get on, can you have someone lunge you just at the walk? That way, you’ll have two methods of control (you on top, person lunging). With so much time off you’ll want to just walk for a while anyway, so you can start with about 15 minutes a day and increase every few days. All the walking may help calm her mind too, as she comes to understand that each session is short and slow.

1 Like

A hot horse needs direction. They need to be worked with right at the start of a session in a way that asks them to bring their thoughts back to their feet and into their body which will encourage them to relax. Horses will be horses, but you can help your horse be a calmer, saner, quieter version of themselves.

I’m working with a young gelding right now who is a pistol at the start of each session. I do not allow him to do anything more than a nice, swinging walk until he demonstrates that he’s quieted his mind and is paying attention to me. At the beginning of each ride there is a LOT of backing up, move this leg, move that leg, bring your nose here, untrack your inside hind, step out with this foreleg, all until I feel the horse beginning to feel less like a big bag of hot air and instead starting to come through in their body. This is not busywork, it’s very specific, mindful asks that bring the horse’s focus to you and to what you’re asking and away from their desire to go go go. When the gelding gets busy and fussy again, I ask him to bring his attention back to his feet and what I’m asking. After 10-15 minutes, he’s in a working frame of mind and we can go do something else.

This takes time to build in a horse. I would not put this horse on a lunge or in a pen to move her at liberty because it will do nothing to work towards drawing her attention and focus to you, only allow her to continue to burn off energy the way she wants to.


Yes, the plan is to start her back under saddle before sport horse vet arrives. This is a good idea, thank you. I am going to check if anyone would be available that day to work on the ground.

@Abbie.S this sounds like a good idea also, although I’m unsure how I would keep her going at a brisk walk without taking off like a rocket. I do plan on initiating some ground work prior to our first ride back to get her attention and focusing, but I can’t help but be skeptic that she won’t want to squeal her tires even then.

You ask her to walk and as long as she walks she’s allowed to stay out on the circle. She breaks to a trot, she gets a sharp correction and “reeled” in until she’s back at walk. If she’s coming all the way in and still trying to set loose, you ask her to move her feet as YOU want. Turn on forehands, backing up, “leg yields”, until she’s paying attention. Then you quietly allow her to walk out towards the circle again - she thinks about trotting, correction. If blows through that correction, reel in and more ‘move feet’. You dictate the gait and you dictate where her feet go. She’s not allowed to decide.

I’d start all of this without sidereins until she’s established with “on the lunge, you listen to me”. Once you have control at walk / trot, then put side reins on. Don’t canter until you have complete control in walk / trot.


Just been through something similar- bought a baby who came in very hot, possibly ulcers (treating now), could not put any leg on and just about impossible to canter. Very fussy in the mouth. On the lunge would bolt to the point of almost falling over.

Took a step back and taught her a gentle one rein stop. Within days she can bend to a halt. Never let her rev things up on the lunge or under saddle - stop if there’s the slightest inclination. Now she can walk and trot on the buckle, and even take a few canter steps too. Downward transitions off the seat. Trot is almost pokey, where before it was ridiculously fast and tense.

Process took 2 weeks so far and I am sure this will stand us in good stead for years. Am now able to take a contact and she’s starting to accept the bit. With a hot horse you have to teach them relaxation tools you can use at home or away, and tools to ask for their attention. And you have to allow them time to look at stuff in the beginning of the work - walk around the property and sniff things. Be fair - babies just take time. And notice your own inputs - relax your body and keep a few treats about you if that helps :wink:

Good luck!


Is she on 24/7 turnout or would that be possible for a few days before you begin working with her again?

I would keep doing the ground work and not “lunge” or get on until she feels like she won’t take off immediately. If she’s not able to do a brisk hand walk with frequent start, stop, and turning promptly without exploding, I’d just keep working on it. I would also possibly work on trotting in hand if you can manage safely until she’s calm for that as well.

You can also work on a shorter line than a full lunge line so you can stay close and provide more enforcement of your requests. I’d do lots of changes of direction and speed on a shorter line, possibly using a fence or rail to help, until she’s lost that “tuck and scoot” look.

Last, would a calm buddy in the arena help for the first few under saddle rides? Someone she can follow behind? Or even pony with and without you in the saddle? Often a confident but not mean pony horse can help set some boundaries.

She is on daily T/O from 8am to 5pm so unfortunately it isn’t 24/7. I’m afraid that 24/7 turnout might not make all the difference as our paddocks are icy and muddy (just coming out of winter, from northern Ontario). Just exposes her to more shenanigans and injuries IMO. :grimacing:

I will definitely work on the ground this week until I am confident she can remain calm on the lunge or under saddle. My plan was to get on next Friday, so I have a good chunk of time to allow her to re-acquaint herself with the ring and using her brain. Hand walks until we are quiet. I do ultimately have to see her w/t/c on the lunge to determine soundness but trying to do this as calmly and as easy as possible!

That’s fantastic news, I’m happy to hear you made progress with your baby. :grin:

My mare is totally different under saddle, level headed, receptive and ready to work. It’s the keeping her calm while on the ground and before I get on, I’m worried about. A part of me wants to skip the lunge line and simply get on, but it has been far too long for me to be comfortable. I would really like her to get her “angst” out, but I don’t want a pony explosion in the ring!

I use a cloverleaf pattern on the longeline to get my horse’s brain in gear. Starting in walk, then adding brief trots before going to trot the whole pattern. I typed out how to do the cloverleaf on the longe in another thread. I’m sure I can find it if you’re interested and can’t find it.

Found it:

The cloverleaf pattern is basically a square with a circle in each corner, but instead of going along the wall to get to the next circle the horse is going through the middle of the square. I adapted it from a book of arena exercises where you ride large and every time you reach the middle of a side you turn and ride to the middle of the opposite side, turning the same way you did when you left the track (so all lefts or all rights). When longeing the human is walking a square, stopping in each corner as the horse does the circle.

Start at the walk. You stand on the quarter line and longe your horse in a 10m circle to the left in the corner between K and A. As the horse comes off the wall and onto the centre line you push the horse out so they leave the circle and stay on the centre line walking towards X and you walk parallel along the quarter line for 10m. You stop and the horse follows the contact on the line to walk a circle around you (technically it’s 3/4 of a circle). As the horse comes off the wall and reaches the quarter line you push them out and you both walk parallel to the short side across to the other quarter line, where you stop and the horse goes on the circle. As the horse comes to the centre line (now heading towards A) you walk 10m along the quarter line as you push the horse out to walk the centre line. You stop, the horse circles and you both walk across to the other quarter line back to the 10m circle in the corner between A and K.

Once you see how the pattern works you can change the circle size easily, and you can go further along the long axis of the arena between circles if you want (a good way of easing closer to the scary spot).

I find this pattern very quickly shows me if my younger horse’s brain is plugged in that day and is great for getting him focused when it’s not by adding transitions.