From Young Horse to Team Horse with David O’Connor

Will Faudree, Pawlow and David O'Connor. Photo by Jenni Autry. Will Faudree, Pawlow and David O'Connor. Photo by Jenni Autry.

David O’Connor, who is in Ocala for High Performance Training Sessions, stopped by the USEA’s Young Horse Symposium this morning to discuss the upward pathway for young horses in eventing.

He started by talking about breeding and feels that the U.S. is not out of reach of being on the level of the rest of the world.

“Someone is breeding these horses, right? Because we’re all going off and buying them around the world. Why not us?” David said.

With today’s veterinary technology, between frozen semen availability and embryo transfers, breeders have great advantages. But with those advantages comes responsibility in regards to horsemanship.

With the mares, is is important that she isn’t under tremendous stress when you’re taking embryos from her. In Mrs. Jacqueline Mars breeding program, mares preparing for embryo transfer first get 30 quiet days of easy work.

The other responsibility for breeders as horsemen is the study of the stallion. David stresses research into the personality that a stallion tends to produce and said that jumpers pay particular attention to this.

David used the famous Irish stallion Cruising as an example. While he and his offspring have been very successful, they tend to be difficult as young horses.

“When somebody presses that young horse in the wrong way at the wrong time, I can guarantee you would never see it again,” David said. “With patience, understanding, and horsemanship, that horse comes into its own as a 7- or 8-year-old.”

Mr. Medicott, who has been to the World Equestrian Games with both Frank Ostholt (GER) and Karen O’Connor (USA), is by Cruising. “He was a very difficult young horse and he still has one of the biggest personalities of any horse I’ve ever known. He knows exactly who he is… and is pleased.”

That being said, a big personality like Mr. Medicott’s can work for you in four-star competition, “if you can get them there.”

Gaits and Galloping

“From a trainer’s point of view, you can improve the trot by 40%, you can improve the canter by under 10%,” David said. “Their quality and rhythm, pure rhythm, of the paces is really important.

“Look at the top horses in the world, the rhythm is pure. 4-beat walks, 3-beat canters. Not the other way around.”

Of course, the utmost importance for an event horse is the ability to run, and David is a big believer in the Thoroughbred side of the equation. Ten years ago when the sport was changing, that feeling flipped for much of the world, but the Thoroughbred is back as a high priority, he said.

“I’m telling you now, at the four-star level the fitness is the same, the requirements for horses is the same. The difference is the horses recover faster.”

A Training Scale for Young Horses

When David became the U.S. coach, he said he put the training scale on the board, and many of the country’s top riders didn’t recognize it. “I went nuts! This is what you’re getting judged on.”

The training scale is not new information, David said, and it must be addressed, especially with young horses.

For young horses, acceptance of the aids (contact) is more important than putting them in a frame. “It’s either something you have to recover from, or something you can build on.”

Breeding a great horse is the starting point, but getting them into the hands of people who can produce them is critical to their career success.

“As good horses as you think you have, get them into the hands where they can be produced,” David said.

Create relationships with riders that you feel can produce the horses well, and that’s not necessarily the most famous rider. You want riders that are “along the way of pure training.”

“Be as careful about picking riders as you are about picking stallions,” David said. “Don’t underestimate the quality of their knowledge and patience. Can they create a horse that understands, likes it and has the ability to compete?”

FEH/YEH Links: [Symposium Schedule] [USEA Young Horses Series]