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Dear Dana: What should my futurity horse focus be in September?

By DANA HOKANA - Horsetrader columnist - September 1st, 2011 - Q&A Dear Dana

DEAR DANA: What should I be focusing on with my futurity horse this time of the year?
Ann Read, Pomona CA

DEAR ANNE: Great question! At this time of year, I like to be hauling my young horses to shows and exposing them to all the different sights and sounds. Keep in mind that every horse is at a different level of training, based on (1) when he was started, (2) his own mental and physical maturity, and (3) the consistency with which he has been ridden. I do have some horses that are really slow learners – they take twice the time as others. I have others that I don’t want to push because of their physical immaturity or weakness.

Of course, you NEVER want to push a horse too hard in a way that will damage his future. When you analyze your horse and the appropriate level he should be at, keep in mind that many factors play a part in that assessment. I believe all young horses need a lot of hauling to new places and getting exposed to new things. You will find that even if your horse does not seem afraid or does not really spook, he will not perform at a new place like he does at home until he is settled in. I also spend a lot of time on details like transitions and speed control. I heard a great horseman say once that it takes a thousand lope off transitions to teach a horse to lope off excellently. That may be a lot, but whether it takes 250 or 1,000, it takes practice — good practice. You can practice something excellently or poorly. Pay attention to details; his body language will tell you if he’s content with his learning or not. Instead of saying “practice makes perfect”, say “PERFECT practice makes perfect.”

Remember, your young horse is like a student in school. Some students handle pressure better than others. Read your horse and be his teacher, not his enemy! I also will work my young horses in a hackamore or bosal if I intend to show him in one. I don’t just ride him in a snaffle, I do most of my training in one, too, and when he is at a good place, I put the bosal on him.

I also carefully evaluate soundness. Young horses may develop soft tissue strains due to the work and training while growing. Keep an eye on your horse to make sure he can handle the pressure. If you see a deterioration in movement or an unsoundness, have your vet check him.

I hope this was helpful. Good luck to you and your young horse!


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