A friend and I recently bartered some of my help training her young horses (a 3 and 4 year old) in exchange for fence lumber and posts for my new riding arena. We're working out the details, but the negotiations -- and my own 3 year old Percheron who is anxiously awaiting the day when I finish up this book project and can spend concentrated time playing with him -- have set me to thinking about approaches to training.
For instance, when training a horse to maintain a steady, consistent gait, I'm in Clinton Anderson's "long rides, wet saddle blankets, and concentrated training" camp. Too often, people try to train a green horse to do a ratable, consistent, three-beat canter without giving the horse ample time to find his stride.
The first time I ride a horse, we trot. A lot. I like to trot until the horse is no longer thinking about having to carry me around and is more concerned with when I'll let him walk. I don't advocate running the horse into the ground. But I am a big fan of giving him time to find his stride and learn to balance with a rider. I'm also a fan of nipping any spooking inclination in the bud.
When training the canter -- which should be done as early in the breaking process as possible, I believe -- I like to give the horse plenty of opportunity to get it right. The first time we canter, we'll go for at least 5 or 10 minutes. If the horse is fresh and frisky, we'll go 5 or 10 minutes more.
When the young horse is first ridden, everything is new to him. He's not used to having anyone on his back at all. So everything that involves a human astride is foreign. It doesn't matter if the human is sitting, standing, or tap dancing. It doesn't matter if the horse is walking, trotting, or cantering. Exposing him to all the gaits that will be expected of him early in his training just sets the stage for him to accept human guidance regardless of what speed he's travelling.
Long early rides. In my eyes, they pave the way for an animal with a solid work ethic and superior balance. In other words -- a joy to ride.