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  • Writer's pictureDerry Vilcans-Moody

Training the young horse series ...

Hey gang … so sorry it’s been a while, I’d like to give you lots of reasons I’ve been MIA from my blog, there are some genuine reasons, it’s been slight manic (personally and professionally) and some excuses, but I’m back and aim to try and be more regular. 



Young horse series ! 

I’m going to aim to share my experiences with my young horse, Mabel, who came to me as a rising 4 yo in April 2023 .. She was much anticipated as I’d been searching for my new partner in crime for the best part of 18 months, since Alfie’s retirement. 


Over my time with horses (that’s around  25 years) I’ve spent lots of time learning want to do, and probably as much if not more time learning what not to do or never to do again. But what I am passionate about is doing the best you can, and learning as much as you can to make the things we do with our horses as horse centric as possible. 


As saying goes ‘Do the best you can with the knowledge you have, and when you know better, do better’ 


The is a barrage of information available on every possible method you could think of to train your horse, choose wisely, I see so many horses either completely de-railed by training, ranging from those a who are in high flight mode, to those that are shut down as a result of ‘desensitising’ or flooding.  Essentially exposing the horse to something until they shut down and withdraw. 

There really is no excuse to not be progressive with your approach in horse care and training, and educating yourself, in fact with the current mounting pressure on Social Licence relating to equines and riding,  I’d say is essential, both ethically and morally. 


For me a horse has to be a happy willing participant in the training process, it’s a partnership, equipping them with answers to questions    and showing them they always have options. 


Back to the young horse training … 

It’s my firm belief that we owe it to our horses, to ensure that have the life skills to be safe and successful- I am a ‘lifer’ my horses come to me and they stay with me for their entire life.. However, what happens if someone else needs to care for your horse  l ? Or if they did need to find another home for any reason? Ensuring they have a basic skill set will maximise their success and ultimately their safety and sanity long term. 


These core skills in my opinion include:

  • leading appropriately and safely in a halter/ headcollar 

  • being able to be rugged & groomed and are comfortable with this process 

  • feel safe and comfortable to receive treatment from their caregiver 

  • can pick up all 4 feet with ease and confidence 

  • are agreeable to engaging with equine professionals (vets, farriers, physios, grooms, etc.) 


This is not an exhaustive list by any measure but it’s a good starting point. 


For a horse to continue in the world as a ridden horse, additional skills could be: 

  • comfortable with being tacked up 

  • comfortable being mounted

  • that they can as a minimum start stop and steer, while being ridden at walk, trot and canter

  • at ease with correct and appropriate use of common equipment, a stick, long lines etc.


While I appreciate this all seems very rudimentary and human focused, this, in my opinion, is a skill set that will long term secure a young horse to be safe and equipped in the domestic world of being a horse. Progressive and incremental training  is key. 


When Mabel (my young ID) arrived she had  been  ‘backed’ lightly 4 weeks before and ‘handled’ which on the surface felt great… 


I knew she would be not ridden for at least 8 months after she came home as she had lots of growing to do, was weak and immature, but what became transparently clear was her core training needed some refining . 

Some things we had to overcome: 

  • leading - she would lead absolutely fine until something caught her attention then 700kgs, 17.1  of baby horse would just walk off with you hanging on to the end of a lead rope looking like a toddler, or she’d walk straight into you- I had more bruised shins and feet in the first 2 weeks of Mabel coming home than think I’d had for many years, as well as several rope burns (through my gloves). Her proprioception was not the greatest. Her awareness of her own body wasn’t great and her awareness of her human partner in crime was even more limited. 

  • no stop- she just didn’t know how to stop when being handled or lead

  • symmetry- favouring loading her right shoulder and loading in to that at any point and taking off in that direction 

  • picking up feet - the fronts were ‘ok’ hinds were glued to the floor - it took time to be able to pick them out

  • grooming- Mabel was extremely suspicious any time a brush touched her body .. 

All of this needed to be addressed before we could progress, so we embarked on the journey - and what an amazing 11 months it’s been …. 


Next blog we look at how I introduced ground work to quickly overcome the leading ‘issues’ and how we had a 4 week countdown to get Mabel’s hind feet to lift of the ground for her first farrier visit.


Until then ‘Njoy your horses… 


Pictures below of the giant baby when she first arrived...

Horse in Field
Mabel in the field on the first day she arrived


Irish Draught Horse in Stable
Mabel the day she arrived .. looking a little worried.

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