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Hello all!

I have a two-part question. I've been searching books and websites for this information and it's been surprisingly scarce if not impossible to find. I hope you can help me out!

Background:
My horse is two years old. I've had her for nearly a year now. She can be so sweet and soft, then other times can be nervous and dominant. She's incredibly smart, too. She doesn't like to just hold still - she's constantly moving unless it's grooming or eating time.

Questions:

1. When training a young horse (groundwork only), how often should I work with her? Daily? 3-4x/week? And if you answer, I'd like to understand your reasoning. Some trainers say daily is important and others say that's too much for a young horse. What say you?

2. This question has been near impossible to find an answer to: What is normal/typical behavior for a young horse? I know it varies and depends on a lot of factors like temperament and breed, but there must be some commonalities. Are younger horses more nervous than older horses? More eager and energetic? Sillier/more playful? Slower or faster to learn? Less likely to pay attention? What can you tell me about your experience with training young horses and their behavior -- because I don't know if my horse's behavior is to be expected of a two year old or not.

Thank you so much!
 

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1. I say daily BUT that doesn't mean it needs to be hard work. It could be something as simple as pulling her out of the field, tying her up, and grooming her/picking out her feet. Too much hard work will most likely have them wanting to avoid the action but just by going to get her, grooming her, and having her stand tied for a while will help with teaching her that 1) Every time you get her you won't be drilling her and 2) Patience while standing. You can do some easy leading exercises as well, manners should definitely be a daily effort but "hard work" doesn't need to be drilled every time.

2) This one is subjective to that particular horse. Most young horses that I have worked with have been a bit more energetic but others were slow and pokey, more like a horse in their 20's haha. Some were very quick to catch on and others needed a lot more time. My personal horse loved to please when I was training him so he did everything quickly as he ran through his "list" of what I could possibly want. Younger horses, I've noticed, tend to be a bit more mouthy probably because they're still losing and gaining teeth so it's much like a teething toddler; Nip that in the bud quickly. Their attention span is a bit shorter and it's best to quit before they lose interest. As for the nervousness, that depends on the horse I worked with a 2 yr old who a bomb could go off next to and a 25 yr old that though the plastic bag blowing in the next county was going to eat him, very subjective. You're going to have days where it seems like they are your star pupil and others where it seems like they're not retaining a single thing you've taught them, it's almost like a roller coast of events; Then one day it all comes together and it is magical!

As I mentioned before a lot of this is subjective but your girl sounds like she's a typical two year old. If she's the horse in your avatar she's adorable!
 

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then other times can be nervous and dominant.
If you're thinking of that 'in one breath' then I think you're mistaking 'dominance' for reactivity & lack of thought about you. Most horses aren't 'dominant' types, and my bet is, if she is often nervous and often 'sweet & soft', she is not one of those. But all horses will do what works, quit doing what doesn't work, get nervous & reactive... So be ultra clear, consistant, effective, and keep it simple, and her apparent 'dominant & nervous' behaviour will greatly lessen as she gets to know and trust you.

She doesn't like to just hold still - she's constantly moving unless it's grooming or eating time.
Could be due to nervousness &/or nutrition or such, that she can't relax. Does she live with other horses? Are there particular situations when she's more or less relaxed? Aside from that, perhaps she just needs to be taught not to be a fidget bum. Reward/reinforce her for every instance of standing calmly & you will start getting more of it!

Horses, like kids, are not born knowing 'manners' or how to behave around people or that they 'should' pay attention to someone. They must be taught this. So horses who have not had these lessons will naturally be 'rude' and 'disrespectful'.

1. When training a young horse (groundwork only), how often should I work with her? Daily? 3-4x/week? And if you answer, I'd like to understand your reasoning. Some trainers say daily is important and others say that's too much for a young horse. What say you?
The more you do, the quicker things will become solid, the more you can work on. The less you do, the longer it will take. Simple as that. So it doesn't really matter, in the long run, whether you do 3 sessions a day or one a fortnight. Just that it may be a very long run to make her a solid riding horse if only training fortnightly!

BUT what/how you teach is important as to what may be 'too much'. I believe the most important 'lesson', that comes into everything you do is to teach the horse that playing with people, doing as they ask is Fun and Good and that you can trust humans. So 'drilling' them on stuff, getting domineering & bossy, doing things that are too hard... etc, etc... should be avoided.

Length of time of sessions is also part of that - not to mention attention span & ability to learn is better too - if 'sessions' are short & sweet. So for eg. 3 x 5 minute sessions may well achieve a lot more than 1 x hour long. Make sessions short, easy & fun! That's not to say you do 5 minutes of something & then put her away - you might say, go for a walk with her & stop to do a few mins of something here & there. You might work on a number of different things over the course of an hour, including some 'sessions' of learning something new.

2. This question has been near impossible to find an answer to: What is normal/typical behavior for a young horse? I know it varies and depends on a lot of factors like temperament and breed, but there must be some commonalities. Are younger horses more nervous than older horses? More eager and energetic? Sillier/more playful? Slower or faster to learn? Less likely to pay attention? What can you tell me about your experience with training young horses and their behavior -- because I don't know if my horse's behavior is to be expected of a two year old or not.
The only real answer to such an... ambiguous question is, 'it depends'. Or perhaps, 'a horse is a horse is a horse.' How long's a piece of string?? I suggest you learn about horse psychology & behaviour, never mind young horses specifically.

Horses are generally nervous of things they're not used to/haven't learned they can trust. So a horse who has NOT learned to trust you, &/or has not had many experiences with different situations, or has had experiences that are too much for them, will be more nervous than one who trusts their handler & has lots of good experiences under their belt. Of course, an untrained horse is less likely to 'pay attention'. A horse who has had no experience or bad experiences with people will be less 'eager' to play & to learn. A horse who has been 'corrected'/punished for making mistakes will be less eager & slower to learn new things, be less playful....
 

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I am working with a filly now. I got her at 13 months old and she is 3 yo now.
1- I started working with her as soon as I got her. No lunging but walking and trotting on a lead line mostly in a straight line. I worked with her every other day weather permitting. I started with halter training, leading and trailer loading. I would once a week make the session a walk thru the pastures and woods and I could tell she loved that part. I kept the training sessions short 10-15 minutes.
2.- They are still babies so all kinds of silliness will go on, just make sure you are always alpha. We had a lot of nibbling that was irritating but, it went away in time. At 2 I had already done all the sacking out and she was carrying the saddle pad so I introduced a light kids saddle first then started with my roping saddle. She was working in the round pen lightly. Her vet check revealed her joints were not closed yet so I didn't get to ride her the first time till about 2 years 4 months. She is doing wonderful now at 3 years 3 months and 70 rides. You have a great experience ahead and a lot of bonding to do, just don't push it and take it easy with her.
 

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I took it VERY easy with mine. Got him at 13 months. Honestly I didn't do much with him for a few months after I got him, I just let him adjust to being here. Then ponied him a lot.... I didn't really formally go out and get him to work with him. I would go out make sure he would come to me, let me put a halter on and be led away from the others.

When he turned 2 I would lunge him some, not very long. Then get him to yield to pressure from both sides, give his head, teach him to side pass. This was done maybe every few weeks? Started ponying him with a saddle on and going on longer rides.

He turned three in June so now I'm going to start getting on him, won't do any long rides yet but make sure he can walk, trot and canter and come back down smoothly and not be hot. I did have him stand at the mounting block when he was younger and would put weight in the stirrups.

It's funny it seems when he turned 3 a light turned on. He's not mouthy anymore, before he would mouth EVERYTHING!! I was thinking yikes this guy is going to be terrible but he's different with that now hardly lips me at all and never like he did before. Seems more mature even than just a few months ago.

That's just what I did.... he seems good so far anyway! lol

And to add, my other 2 I started in this same fashion, I traveled a lot so would have to train them when I could. One I got at 2 yo and the other at 8 mos. The 2 year old when he was 3 9/11 happened and I was stuck somewhere and worried about not keeping up with his training and I asked the BO where I was boarding if they could put time on him. I come home to find his head tied around to his saddle.... I just went in and undid him and said thanks but I'm home now and will take over again.
 

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You've got some great advice here already. Just gotta say; you're in for some great experiences. Getting to work with and "raise" a young horse is very cool and very rewarding. I would say to try and focus more on the relationship you're building with your horse than on the training itself. Of course that will come through training, much of the time, but if you can keep that in mind as your objective rather than perfect training it will pay off later on. All the work my filly has had done since I got her was done by myself, and I'm a complete amateur so in theory it could have gone very wrong at any point. But I put a lot of simple groundwork on her over the years (sometimes working with her daily, sometimes twice daily, other times only weekly, or even giving her a couple weeks off of work - your horse will tell you how much work is right for her) when she was still too young to be ridden and really I just walked her a lot, wherever I could. So nothing fancy, but by the time I felt she was ready to start carrying a rider we had such a good relationship built with so much trust that I could slip right on her bareback and encounter no problems. Still haven't had a single buck or rear from her. The difference I think is that when she is unsure, worried, scared of a new thing we're doing, she knows she can count on me and so she accepts things and tries always, relying on me to take care of the things she isn't sure about.
Even without a lot of real training I can get on her bareback in the pasture without so much as haltering her and just walk her around. She's also been safe for lead-line kid rides since before I started riding her myself.

then other times can be nervous and dominant
About this; I agree with what Loosie said on it. This behaviour I generally think of as having two possible reasons. One to keep in mind is; babies sometimes have this habit from pushing into their mother (or other adult herdmates) when they're worried, for support; I think it's pretty common to see foals doing this. But as the young ones get older the adults stop being as tolerant and the babies have to break the habit. So that can help to understand "why" but of course you don't want your baby to get the impression that with you they are permitted to do it, so you can correct them like their mum would, and just remind them "hey I'm over here; dont' walk over me".
I saw someone explaining the "pushiness" that nervous horses demonstrate the following way and from my experience it can be accurate. Horses will sometimes start pushing into their handlers when they're nervous if the handler gives the impression of not being aware/present enough. Horses do this partly because in their fear they are less aware of you and your space but that's only part of the reason. If they sense that you're not quite "there" they can sometimes feel they need to warn you and kinda take over the situation. As you are a member of the herd who isn't paying attention, all the responsibility is on them to keep the herd safe so they get ultra-alert and then they jostle you as if to say "wake up - somethings the matter and we might have to run!". Again, I would respond with something that just reminds them "hey I'm still over here, still watching, and this isn't bad enough that you may walk over me". And then you're back to being the leader and because you calmly have control of the situation they can then relax and respond to you (in theory). I don't think many horses act "dominant"; especially not young ones. And it's generally distinguishable from this worried behaviour. It's called disrespectful often, and that's an easy way to explain it in human terms, but the horse generally only thinks in terms of safety. And if you're not the leader just then, then it's their responsibility to take over; almost "for your own good" in their minds. When my horse gets pushy in this nervous way I get her attention and give her some general groundwork to do, to get her mind back on me and the work; but I do it calmly to de-escalate the situation instead of giving her reason to get even more worried.

These are some of the things/approaches that have helped me a lot with my horses; I hope it helps you too. Best of luck and have fun with your girl!

Oh and:
She doesn't like to just hold still - she's constantly moving unless it's grooming or eating time.
Yup. :smile: My Heidi was always the same when we are out and doing stuff; and now that she's five she still hasn't mellowed much! But enjoy it, though they are a handful at times, these eager, curious horses can be so fun to get to work with! I'd always rather a horse was this way and a little trickier to stay in "control" of, rather than a horse that is calmer and stiller but who's mind is dulled and shutdown. Often all it takes with these horses is a mere suggestion from you and they pick it up and work it out. Heidi always astonishes me with how fast she learns new tricks.
Out of curiousity though, is she calmer when she's in her pasture/paddock/wherever she lives? Is her place big enough for her to run a lot and burn energy? I ask because, while my filly can be crazy lots of the time she still has times when she calms down completely. She generally goes from up and playing hard, nearly straight to lying down "dead to the world". Out of all my horses she lies down to sleep the most. She's a bit like a puppy; she plays hard then sleeps hard. Wakes back up, eats a lot, plays a lot and sleeps again.
 

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Wow, these responses have been SO helpful!! Thank you all so much!

To answer a couple of questions -- yes, my horse is the one in my profile photo. She is a mustang I adopted through a local rescue organization. I was volunteering there and was the person who first gentled her and haltered her. Once I had gained that initial trust, I was hooked. Having a wild horse decide to trust you is magical. I should add that she is my first horse, though I did work with horses as a teen. I am now 50 years old and am that girl who always loved horses, so she is a dream come true.

Yes, she has room to run. She is in a large paddock and has three buddies, though she LOVES to take walks and visit the other horses around the stable. Even though her paddock is large, I still let her run off energy in the arena before I work with her. Seems like she needs to do that before she is ready to pay attention. Her stall faces the arena on one side, so I halter her and open the door and she takes a few laps on her own, then I catch her and we do training stuff.

I am heartened to learn that I am actually doing a lot of things right. Whew! The comment about training being like a roller coaster is so true. She has more "good" training days than "bad" ones, but there have been days when she's been a real pill to work with. Then there are days when I think this is some kind of genius horse, because she will be so responsive.

I definitely have been putting time into relationship building. I feel like that aspect is really good, in fact. We have fun together, she gets a little spoiled some days, with epic back rubs and wither scratch sessions. I also change up her training - I mix up locations, do things in a different order, and don't always do the same exercises. So, overall while I am not a pro trainer by ANY stretch, I feel a bit more confident after having read your very insightful responses. I thank you all again, very much. I am going to save this thread and refer back to it! Great info here.
 

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Wow, these responses have been SO helpful!! Thank you all so much!

To answer a couple of questions -- yes, my horse is the one in my profile photo. She is a mustang I adopted through a local rescue organization. I was volunteering there and was the person who first gentled her and haltered her. Once I had gained that initial trust, I was hooked. Having a wild horse decide to trust you is magical. I should add that she is my first horse, though I did work with horses as a teen. I am now 50 years old and am that girl who always loved horses, so she is a dream come true.

Yes, she has room to run. She is in a large paddock and has three buddies, though she LOVES to take walks and visit the other horses around the stable. Even though her paddock is large, I still let her run off energy in the arena before I work with her. Seems like she needs to do that before she is ready to pay attention. Her stall faces the arena on one side, so I halter her and open the door and she takes a few laps on her own, then I catch her and we do training stuff.

I am heartened to learn that I am actually doing a lot of things right. Whew! The comment about training being like a roller coaster is so true. She has more "good" training days than "bad" ones, but there have been days when she's been a real pill to work with. Then there are days when I think this is some kind of genius horse, because she will be so responsive.

I definitely have been putting time into relationship building. I feel like that aspect is really good, in fact. We have fun together, she gets a little spoiled some days, with epic back rubs and wither scratch sessions. I also change up her training - I mix up locations, do things in a different order, and don't always do the same exercises. So, overall while I am not a pro trainer by ANY stretch, I feel a bit more confident after having read your very insightful responses. I thank you all again, very much. I am going to save this thread and refer back to it! Great info here.
That all sounds absolutely brilliant to me! And with a Mustang; very cool. She's gorgeous. I can relate to the "bad" days as well, when they just will not listen or focus on things. But they always seem to bounce right back to interested and learning after a day or so off; I feel that sometimes they just need a break. And luckily Heidi is very good at telling me when she's done wanting to work/unable to take in more information - she doesn't start misbehaving but rather gets a little sluggish and if I let her she buries her head in my chest like a tired kid who needs a hug and just stands there to tell me she's too tired to keep learning. Weird horse but I love her. :cool: <3
 

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I am surprised you did not find a lot of information describing the typical behaviors of a 'baby' horse, so that you could know if your filly's behavior was typical. I would have thought trainers on YT and elsewhere would be dealing with that topic, at least tangentually.


One thing I have seen ( I have never trained a baby before, so can only offer what I have seen) . . . is one case where the owners desensitized the filly to everything so well, so thoroughly, that the could no longer get the horse to move away from a stick or whip, or swinging rope. The baby would just stand there, or move away begrudgingly, which meant they had to apply more pressure, which made baby resentful, and elicited bad behavior on her part. I think this came from round penning her too young.



this filly is very self -confident, to the point of being a bit 'dull' to stimulus. That can come off as 'dominant' at times.


Anyway, my rambling point is to not dull her out by too much application of desensitizing techniques, and round penning . Get a good response and quit.
 

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where the owners desensitized the filly to everything so well, so thoroughly, that the could no longer get the horse to move away from a stick or whip, or swinging rope.
Yeah ime it's not uncommon for people to overdo 'desensitisation' to the point where they have to get heavy-handed to get anything done. And that's not necessarily on purpose either, but horses get eesensitised to bits & legs & seat too. It's not hard to make a horse dull, if you're not careful.

The other thing that often happens is when people go too far for a horse & then mistake 'quiet' for calm, relaxed, accepting.... When in reality the horse might be holding their breath, ready to burst! I've unfortunately learned that lesson with mistakes...
 
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