Training a young horse is an incredibly rewarding process, but it is also one that requires plenty of patience, support and, at times, some out of the box thinking.

In the SEIB Arena at Your Horse Live, dynamic duo Oliver Townend and Geoff Billington entertained the crowd with their banter and jokes, as well as sharing some interesting insight into what goes into training a young horse.

Oliver and Geoff’s top tips for training a youngster

1. Think like a horse

After warming up and before starting to jump, Geoff explained that it’s first beneficial to take your horse over some ground poles, and put yourself in their shoes.

“I’m going to walk down the poles down the middle. We’ve got to try and think about what the horse is thinking,” advised Geoff. “Imagine seeing a big line of poles in front of them, they’re going to think they’re in a maze.”

The first attempt is hairy, but Geoff calmly brings him around again and the second go is much more settled.

2. Give them room to make mistakes

There are a few fences in the arena, and after a few clear jumps Oliver pilots his horse to one heading towards the corner. Diacondik taps the top pole and knocks it down with a front leg.

“He just made a baby mistake there. I’m going to ride it exactly the same, set him up with a good canter,” said Oliver as he came back around.

This time, the stallion jumps clear.

“This is all you can hope for with the babies; when they make a mistake like he made before, he learns from it, he comes back the next time and makes more of an effort,” praised Oliver. “As long as you keep getting the right reaction when you’re training them through the levels, that’s when you know you’ve got a very good horse.”

As Geoff pointed out, it was likely a difficult fence for Diacondrik to make out, as the fence was the same colour as the background.

“Again, you’ve got to think what the horse is thinking. White fence, jumping into the white background; he’s got all those people to look at,” said Geoff, nodding towards the audience on the other side of the barrier. “He’s thinking, ‘What am I doing, I’m jumping into those people’.”

3. Know that they’ll probably have a spook

As Geoff’s mount Elton approaches an upright, he loses concentration at the last minute, knocking the top rail.

“He spooked at the last minute, I had to give him a squeeze with my little stumps; he just tapped the front pole,” said Geoff as he steered Elton around to come again. “Hopefully this time he’ll have learned from that, and I’m hoping he’s going to put his front hooves in his ears.”

Upon their second attempt, Elton taps the back pole down. Geoff calmly brings him around again, riding him in the same rhythm. This time, he jumps clear.

“That’s the jump I was looking for. He dropped his head and made a nice shape,” commented Geoff.

4. Plan for any mishaps

Courses often have combinations of fences, which can be trickier for young horses to navigate as they are finding their balance and confidence over jumps.

The team erected a one-stride double, and Geoff talked the crowd through the process of helping a young horse to tackle it successfully.

“The young horses are going to jump it, spook, we’re going to lose a bit of ground. We want to make things easier for them – we don’t want to have to give them a big kick in the middle to get them through because if we give them a big kick they’ll shoot forwards, then they’ll be running away and we’ll have to overcorrect with the hands,” explained Geoff. “We want to keep it smooth all the way.”

Meet the experts: Eventer Oliver Townend is a former FEI world number one ranked rider. He has won Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky – the latter two on multiple occasions – as well as medalling at European Championships and the Tokyo Olympic Games. 

Showjumper Geoff Billington has ridden in over 50 Nations Cups for Great Britain, as well as representing his country in the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics in 1996 and 2000. He won team bronze in the 1997 European Championships and individual and team bronze at the 1998 World Championships. 

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