Since I wrote about working with my three year old Percheron ("Colt Kindergarten") , I received the following question from a friend who had come across a colt starting article that confused her:
Ok, maybe it's me but at 3 years old they say that [the horse] should be worked only about a 30 min. stretch... When they are 4-4½: you can work them up to 45 min. But [you should] not work anything -- even older horses -- more than an hour.
Now I realize they are not talking trail riding here, but they are talking about training young unbroke horses... I am sorry, if my horse takes 2 hours to get the concept of giving and not throwing a fit and fighting me (even to get to the first stage of giving, whether it be back or lateral or vertical) then I will do that so we do not think that they are the boss and we end on a bad note....am I wrong?
I responded that I believe the amount of time spent in a training session depends upon what you're doing.
I agree with the article she read that the average 3 year old doesn't have an attention span much longer than 30 minutes for CONCENTRATED training. I also think that if a 3 year old takes 2 hours to "get a concept," then perhaps the trainer had an agenda in mind before starting the training session (never a good thing). Two hours of hammering a point home until a horse quits fighting and "gets it" is, in my opinion, two wasted hours that haven't done much to strengthen the horse's long-term trust in the trainer.
On the other hand, if what I'm trying to teach ("This is how we 'trot.'") is just a matter of letting the horse get some miles on him in order to get the concept, then it's ok to go longer.
No, I'm not suggesting trotting a green horse for over half an hour at a stretch. But I think it's a great idea to trot for 10 minutes or so, and then just walk and relax before trotting for another 10 minutes. Not only does it teach the young ones cadence, rhythm, and consistency at the trot, but it also quickly teaches them to enjoy the walk and to walk calmly (as opposed to jig-jogging).
When I first put a saddle on a horse, he wears the thing all day long. Much longer than 30 minutes. But I'm not "training" him during that time. He's just getting used to wearing the saddle. He's learning that it's a part of him and can be ignored.
Likewise, when I'm getting a young horse used to behaving in new environments, we might go for a lengthy walk down an unfamiliar road. I might even do some spot training throughout the walk. But if the walk lasts an hour and a half, the main training that took place was the horse learning to deal with new stuff in a calm, civilized manner.
Still, the rule of thumb is valid, I believe: concentrated training in small increments. Ideally, always end a training session with both you and the horse more relaxed and happier than when you started. You can't do that if you've been fighting each other for two hours. Remember -- training is not about winning. The two concepts are completely at odds with each other.