Advice for my green 5-year old
I adopted a rescued 5 year old draft cross (dam was a Paint and sire a Belgian) in June. Since then we've progressed through ground work and the basics of riding- stop, walk, trot, turning, bending, rein back, half halts, head down- all in the arena and on the trail. He's very responsive, and cues are incredibly easy to teach him. My worry as we progress is that he has not yet really learned to bring his back up, and while riding at the trot I've read that can damage a young horse's back if he is not holding himself correctly. Should this remain a priority, to teach collection before any long rides, or does that not really matter? I've had horses for a long time, and ridden, but never gone from the ground up before.
Also I am wondering if I could move him into a bitless bridle, and what people thing of them. Right now he is in a 5 1/2'' 3-peice snaffle D-ring (its not a French Link but it's close). I started him with a side-pull bridle but only for short period because of the rough rawhide nose piece.
I appreciate any advice :)
To your first question, yes, it is easier for them to carry a rider if they're 'collected' and yes, you can damage a young horse's back by riding. Any riding or hard work, as their spine doesn't finish 'closing' until around 6-7yo. However, if you're a reasonable rider - not a sack of potatoes, not really heavy, and if you're not doing any hard riding, a big 5yo shouldn't have any real issues IMO.
Re bitless, IMO horses are best started bitless, so they learn to reliably yield to soft rein pressure before adding a bit. I personally use rope halters, so don't see any need for anything else. I do have a nice plaited soft leather bosal for when I want to 'dress up' though. I think to some degree it depends on your style of riding as to type. Eg. English style may be better in a 'the bitless bridle' type, whereas western riders tend to prefer a bosal/rope halter, etc.
The 'frame' your wanting is not so much collection, but just having his back round and carrying you, as opposed to hollowing away from your seat.
This can be acheived by riding him in a fairly long frame, encouraging bend around your inside leg through introduction of leg yield on a circle in trot and canter, and multplie trot-canter-trot transitions.
If you're looking to ride him on trails and just enjoy him, don't worry about 'collection' as such, just getting his back stronger by encouraging it to swing and carry ;)
The collection and raised back is more important if you plan to do the trot sitting. it takes more work from the hrose to move in this manner, so cannot be expected to happen all at once. Asking for it little by little, in a more playful and expeimental manner might be about where you'd expect him to be at this point.
If you trot him out and you post lightly on his back, he will be fine moving in any frame that is natural to him.
the draft cross I ride can sometimes get really strung out, though, when he wants to trot fast, and I can feel his footfalls get really hard. Then I do slow him down and ask him to soften a bit to the bit, engage a bit more and lift his back some, instead of just running out from under me.
Loosie, I had no idea the horse spine was still developing at that age... I like how you give us a rationale with your answer :)
Bitless bridles don't do better in one style or another type of riding e.g. English Vs Western. It is more about the horse and rider and what suits than the actual style of riding. There are pros and cons for both types so I suggest you try your horse out and see what he and you are comfortable with. Don't worry too much about collection if your horse is still young. I ride a 5 year old Clydesdale and he is still a bit hit and miss with 'collection' for riding as his build is to pull. However, once you get him into a good pace for walk and trot, you will find that as he improves, so will his collection and it will eventually come naturally. Remember, draft horses still have to grow into their frames and until they are 6 or 7 they will not have the 'polish' that faster maturing horses have. You'll love him though once it all falls into place. Just be patient and whatever you do, don't be tempted to do too much with him too soon.
OP, if you want to learn more about stages of development, google Dr Deb Bennett.
To add to the bitless side of this I have been advised by my late mentor, James, who started Filly (a 4 year old tb) to not use a bit until I have around 100 hours of riding on her. That's an hour a day for over three months, or the amount I get to ride with work in the way, about a year !
His basic idea is "don't ride in a bit until you don't need a bridle of any sort". And that bridleless riding should include lots of basic patterns including leg yields, shoulder in, weave and fig 8, precise 10 and 20m circles, etc etc. (He was a hard task master !)
The progression he suggested was "Freestyle" which is at the end of the reins, both with and without a bridle. Then ride with a contact both in a hackemore and a simple snaffle bit. Then ask for flexion again in a hackemore and a bit. At the end of this the horse has finished its' foundation and can specialise.
If you are worried about bridleless then just leaving the reins draped on the neck and not using them was ok.
Filly is 4 now and so I expect to get through this training by around 6 years old, but which time she should be physically mature enough to think about a purpose for her. Maybe western riding, or a saddle horse.
I found the easiest way to find collection is to get them using their hind end as opposed to their front end, which with the weight of the saddle and rider makes them want to be front heavy since 80% of that weight rides on their shoulders and especially with horses that have big shoulders and a wide chest it can be hard. Start with lots of one rein stops and one rein flexes, and disengage the front and hind end.- a horse has to be able to flex laterally before vertically, and whenever you do flex them lay that outside rein up on their poll and rock them onto their hindquarter, same with whenever you stop, rock them on their hind end and back them up. also the more you flex the easier it will be for your horse to collect his head, lift his shoulders and stop on his back. also whenever you go to pivot or do rollbacks, make sure they're pushed on their hind end. I've always done this in a smooth eggbut or o-ring snaffle with a mecate rein, because mecate reins are usually slow to apply pressure and quick to release pressure- which helps a horse learn faster i've found. Hope this was helpful, have fun, good luck, and be safe!
I appreciate everyone's advice! We are doing very well if anyone was wondering :) Cloud is displaying talent for dressage, and he is rounding out very nicely :D
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