Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Take time, don't waste time

Spring is here, and very fortunately for myself and my crew we were spared the majority of winter.

Instead, it arrived all at once in two, one week spouts and then promptly melted off to a consistent 50 degrees.

It didn't prevent me from going to Florida for a few days in February for business, but at the same time, it allowed me to continue on with training.
My winter barn was full of young, green horses. Some client owned, some of them are my partnered horses, all of them are warmbloods from the Dutch or German books. 

The oldest of the bunch were currently five rising six and the youngest were three. My time was and
is still split between two properties at the moment. Winter was also a time that we really focused in on basics, and addressing some other things.

While there were several people aiming for an early start to the season, my season doesn't really kick off until May, at the Spy Coast Young Horse Show, so it's nice to take a breather from the constant push.

For me, winter is the "off time", despite still maintaining a six day a week schedule when the weather allows. The kids are still in school, just relaxed.

The relaxed time also means I get to catch up on my desk, and let's face it when I'm bored or trying to avoid reading the latest email, I read OpEd from the horse world. 

Young horses have recently become very popular to write about within social media.

It's been great to hear about other people's experiences and opinions on their own programs and theory. It's been interesting to hear perspective, from multiple sources, of a number of subjects, including the state of America's/Europe's breeding programs, Euro versus American breeding, import versus local, the use of Thoroughbred blood in the modern sport horse, thoroughbreds in sport, developing stages of the young horse, how horses "should" be developed, everything under the sun- if it was there I read it in the hours before I conked out for the evening.

While a few blogs grabbed me this season, two entries really stood out. The blog, written by a local Adult Amateur who rehabs, shows and sells thoroughbreds for herself and others, they write effectively, and entertainingly. They have a good platform, and for OpEd pieces they're easy, quick reads.

Therein lies the problem, when you have a platform and it's popular, I think due diligence on what you write is very needed. 

I don't know whether it's a lack of individual understanding, or a lack of general public knowledge, but where we are with young horses, isn't the same even from five years ago. Where we are as riders and a pool of specialist who do ride, and develop the young guys has evolved. 

Over ten years ago, we did not have a single championship for Young Horses, in any discipline, then the powers that be in USEF decided to pilot a program for dressage.

It bridged the gap from three year olds to four through six, then it expanded to include the Developing FEI classes. It gave young horses and young horse riders a niche market. It actually helped drive value in the young horses, and now with a bunch of young guys, I find myself starting to participate in that program with great horses that are wonderfully marketable.

If you're curious, Eventing, Hunters and Show Jumping followed suit to various degrees of success, and now Combined Driving.

We have major national championships, field the teams to world championships, have a great, growing pool of people (younger and older) who specialize, and unparalleled access to resources (both equine and education). We have professionals looking for their next top horses as yearlings and two year olds now. We have people who are just as well known for producing babies as others are for FEI horses. Heck, we even have qualifiers within an hours drive in the majority of locations.

It's progress and it keeps progressing.

Which leads to this, because of the quality of horse, the specialist nature of babies, and the generally good quality of rider, horses can be produced a bit more efficiently. It doesn't mean we don't take time, it means that we don't waste it.

Like human kids, every horse has mile markers in it's age.

For dressage the hard and fast rule is: three year olds should be going training level, four year olds should be doing first level, five year olds should be developing for second, and by six you should have a change. The window to easily put fitness on a horse, to have it open to new things is short.

It's the same reason why we start human children reading as early as possible versus waiting until they're 10 years old.

I'm not saying that every horse needs to be an FEI horse by seven, and I'm not saying that this is a hard and fast thing- some horses need more time, some horses, like one of my own, are a year behind because of other things (Flair was a broodmare), but if we're doing our solid basics from day one- 30 days should be looking like this:

(that's 15 rides)
to this:

(that's actually 20 rides)

and this:

and maybe after 90 days this:

So, yes, while the horse dictates a lot of the job, we cannot waste the time and windows given to us. Training is hard, and I know all of mine would much rather be eating grass than having a job, it's always a fine line. But honestly, no one ever died from being worked six days a week in a fashion that was tailored to them.

Not every horse is bound for Rolex, or World Cup, but as young horse riders, we can give them a huge, solid foundation to be great for whoever inherits them next.

So if they want to spend the next ten years bopping around at Training level or Novice or going all the way, they have the luxury of doing so because we developed them, from the start to be relaxed, submissive, straight, forward and going into a good contact.

We cannot allow people behind keyboards to pass judgment us on moments in time (because babies have a lot of moments- good and bad), or to take it personally because it's window of time that will pass.

But because of the way the world is, we also can't shutter ourselves in. What we can do is educate them and use the platforms that we are given as trainers and let the results speak for themselves.