A Meeting of the Minds

Here are 10 mindset tips for riding young horses from the Along for the Ride symposium from Andrea Fappani, Shawn Flarida, and Nick Dowers.

At the end of February, NRHA Six Million Dollar Rider Andrea Fappani produced the first-ever Along for the Ride symposium. Held in Las Vegas, Fappani invited some of his close friends (and competitors) to collaborate and share all facets of their programs—from starting colts to riding young horses to showing seasoned veterans. His main collaborators were NRHA Six Million Dollar Rider Shawn Flarida and NRCHA Million Dollar Rider Nick Dowers.

Two of the three days focused on starting and riding young horses. Here are 10 tips to maintain your horse’s positive mindset during a crucial part of his life.

Andrea Fappani performs a sliding stop on a palomino reining horse.
NRHA Six Million Dollar Rider Andrea Fappani produced the first-ever Along for the Ride symposium

Minimize confusion.

Decide what your signals and cues are going to be. I see a lot of people use different cues and signals on the ground than in the saddle. We need to be careful about that so we don’t cause confusion in the training process. Keep it consistent to keep it easy for the horse to understand whether it’s Day 1 or Day 1,000. –AF

Start easy.

When I get on my horses, I start with trotting to ensure that they’re healthy to do their job that day. It’s also an easy way to help them relax and get into a working mindset. –SF

Be realistic.

It’s so important to take a horse from where he’s at. You really don’t know what you have until you get to working with him. –ND

Be reward-ready.

The reward is when I quit asking. I keep asking until I get improvement, but the minute I do, I move onto the next thing. –AF

[More from Andrea Fappani: Circle Precision]

Consistency is key.

When you put those rides on [in the beginning], make that horse improve 1% every day. Get to a peak for that moment [in his training] before you quit. Work him to the point that he can’t improve anymore that day. Quit before he quits. Don’t ask too much or go too far. –SF

Invest in his future.

Don’t cut corners when choosing someone to start your colt. Saving a couple hundred bucks isn’t worth sacrificing the horse’s future. –AF

Let him relax.

When I start my colts, I use a round pen inside my arena. When I’m done working a colt, I like to turn him out in the arena with some hay and his buddies. It helps them learn to let down in the arena; they can decompress. –ND

Give him a chance.

When a colt gets stuck, that’s when he learns to make good decisions. It’s OK to hang out and let him find the answer. I don’t get caught up in him searching. I guarantee if I set up the same scenario again, he’ll be real confident [that he knows the answer]. –ND

Improve with age.

I introduce everything to my 3-year-olds that they’ll do as older horses, they just gain polish with age. –SF

Keep his confidence.

Confidence is a huge deal. We’re so worried about the quality of a maneuver that we can take that confidence away. And then the maneuver gets even worse. Push and make it better, but know when to back off and not lose his confidence. –AF

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