Admit it, we’ve all been enamored at one point or another about how great it would be to get a young horse and end up at a CCI4* or [insert level here]. Often build-your-own appears to be the only option because young horses are often cheaper than made horses. But as someone that has actually bred and is attempting to ride a young horse, I can tell you the three truths that I have found.
You cannot do it alone.
No horse is trained in a vacuum, and training starts from day one. My 4-year-old, Stewie, was bred and born at TNT Equine by experts that know everything about making healthy babies. At home, the barn staff (not me) would take him out to the field, feed him his meals and clean his stall. He was broken in by one of the most amazing horsemen I know, Roddy Strang. Without Roddy, this 4-year-old wouldn’t have made it to three sanctioned events in 2016.
Nearly every moment I have ridden him under saddle I have had the watchful eye of a professional, either my mom or another professional — they have trained hundreds young horses. To claim that I alone have made this horse because I’m the one who collects the ribbons would be almost comical. If you want to develop your own young horse, make sure you have an educated support system around you.
Also, if you think it will be cheaper than buying a more experienced horse (and you are not someone that has trained hundreds of young horses already) be prepared to spend the difference on training.
You need to be able to detach emotionally.
We all get emotionally attached to our horses. Anyone that’s trained a horse from scratch knows that it creates a special bond. To date, one of my most amazing experiences with horses was the first time I left the startbox with Stewie at GMHA in September.
He dropped me in the warm-up (which I laughed about even as it happened) and after sailing down the massive hill after fence 3 with no half halt — we’re still working on that — I wasn’t totally sure how I would make it through the finish. But by the end of the course he was so confident and agreeable that I could have been riding my experienced Preliminary mare, Roxy.
All that being said, when you get a young horse, from embryo or off the track, you can only make some informed guesses about where that horse will go. There’s a chance that at some point Stewie may not be the right horse for me to reach my personal goals. It isn’t always about talent; sometimes the most talented horse is not necessarily the right horse.
Even early in a partnership I could have found that Stewie was beyond my current scope of ability to handle. In order to make your own young horse you have to be willing to be unemotional, honest and willing to move on when necessary.
It’s not for everyone.
Riding Stewie every day is incredibly different than getting on Roxy. With Roxy, for better or for worse, I know exactly what to expect. I know what our strengths are, and I know what our challenges are. Stewie, on the other hand, is a total unknown.
Some days I can’t even get him to one end of the arena and canter departs are off the aids. Other days I am doing leg-yield and shoulder-in. The unknown is exciting, but can be mentally and physically draining. If you want to come home from a long day of work and know what horse you have today, training a young horse is probably not for you. And that’s totally OK.
The long and the short of it is that saving money or falling in love with a talented young horse is simply not enough. You have to understand that training a green horse is not simply riding — it is an exercise in planning, patience and physical stamina, and on a daily basis will challenge your knowledge of horses and your confidence in your riding.