Starting a 3 year old filly from scratch.

Colorado 3 year old TWH Filly , Orthoflex saddle, round pen and trails. Experienced rider

Question: I have a three year old filly and I am going to start her from scratch.  I know the basic ground work techniques to get her up to saddling.  I have no clue as to what type of bit to start her in and the techniques to get her going in gait.  I have been told by the people that I got her from to just get on her and hold her head up.  Put her up into the bit and keep my legs on her.  Never let her trot or canter until she is set in her gait.  This sounds strange to me.  I would appreciate some advise so I can get her started right.

From Panelists Christine 

I agree that it does sound a little bit primitive to just get on a young
horse, pull the head up and put the legs on and expect it to gait. How will
the horse have a clue what you are asking and that the pull on the rein
sometimes mean to stop and sometimes mean to go into gait?

I think a young horse needs to really understand going forward, stopping and
turning before you are worried about headset and the gaits. I really like
starting young horses in a sidepull, which is very simple for them to
understand. I will then add a snaffle after a few rides to give them an
understanding on the bit while I still have the security of the sidepull.

To encourage your horse to gait well I would take it out on the trail as
soon as possible with another experienced, safe horse.  You will notice that
different terrain, a slight uphill or downhill will greatly change how the
horse moves and as she starts off in the right gait encourage her and reward
her. Building some muscle and having fun going somewhere on trailrides will
help her gait better.

Good luck with your new horse.

From Panelists Nancy

If you really want to develop this filly into a horse that you can enjoy, you  will want to start her in a proper manner as you would any other horse, by  supplying her and teaching her - and not just by getting on and riding her.  I  use a plain snaffle to start my horses and teach them to accept and give to the bit.  You will want to teach her what your legs are telling her (in combination with your hands) - to move forward with both legs, to move away from pressure, to increase impulsion or just move faster, or perhaps to canter on one lead or the other, or perhaps to just move the hindquarters. 

It would be best if you don't allow her to trot or pace, if she is inclined to do either.  She doesn't have to be punished for it, just stop her from doing it.  Develop a nice swinging walk and then keep asking for more.  When she starts to gait, let her know she is doing what you wish.  Don't try to set speed records, but continue working on improving what you have.  You will probably find that she holds a better gait if you have some contact with her mouth to steady and direct her (or correct her).  Close your legs on her and push with your seat to encourage her to move on.  She's a TW and she will walk on for you and gait - but she's also a horse and needs to be educated like any other horse to be a safe and enjoyable ride and to be your companion on the trails.


From Panelists Laura

Sounds like you will be doing your ground driving and "filly starting 101" so 
I will hop right into bit transitions once you have her green broke.

By green broke, I assume you will have her quietly carrying a snaffle bit, 
turning nicely to both sides, stopping, backing and moving away from leg 
pressure.  I will also assume she is barefoot or unshod.  Where you go from 
there depends on what her gait of choice is with you on her back.

If she paces, you can put a keg shoe on her front feet and leave the hinds 
bare to help break up the pace.

If she trots, you can leave the fronts bare and put a keg shoe on her hind 
feet to help her swing her back end more.

You will want to start teaching her to collect - round her body and flex at 
the poll.  With youngsters, you don't want to overcollect them or teach them 
to carry their noses perpendicular to the ground.  Most young horses do 
better if their noses are out a little.  

You don't want to "hold her up with your hands."  You will both do better if 
you teach her where to carry her head and let her carry herself.   You can do 
this by tying her head back for a few minutes (and I DO MEAN just a few 
minutes) every day just before you put her up for the day.  If she always 
knows where the bit will be, she can relax and think more about other things. 

When you are riding her, every time you feel a smooth gait, even if it is 
just a few strides, enthusiastically tell her how good she is.  When she gets 
rough, use a gruff, disappointed voice to tell her it's unacceptable.  Do 
most of your work in a dog walk (where you slide front to back in the 
saddle).  It builds the muscles you need for your flat/running walk and helps 
keep your horse relaxed.  Gradually speed up your filly and do most of your 
faster work where she is smoothest.  If she loses her head nod, slow down a 
little.  Make gait work fun for her and she will learn quicker.


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