When it comes to competition, some people purchase prospects with the goal of competing in certain age events with them. For example, the National Reining Horse Association has an event for 3-year-old horses that’s considered to be one of the top reining competitions in the country. So it’s very common for people to look at yearling and 2-year-old prospects with the goal of competing at that event.
However, it’s also important to let your horse develop at his own pace. While he might be showing potential early in his life, it’s never a good idea to try to push him past what he’s physically and mentally capable of doing so you can compete at an event.
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Understand Your Horse
Just like people, each horse learns differently. You need to study how your horse reacts to certain things in order to be successful with training him. Does he need more repetition on certain maneuvers? Or does he pick up on stuff quickly and try to take advantage of you? You need to be able to tailor your training program to your horse.
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea of competing at certain events throughout the year, you can’t force a horse to be ready by a certain time. This goes for horses of all ages and disciplines. If you’re introducing an older horse to a new event it might take time before you can go and show. If you’re planning a trail-riding trip in the backcountry, but don’t feel like your horse is ready for something that intense, skip that trail ride and give your horse the chance to learn what he’s expected to do before he has to go do it. In the end, it’ll make the experience better for you and your horse.
Challenge Him; Don’t Scare Him
There’s a difference between challenging your horse to learn something new and scaring him. Challenging him allows him to continue progressing in his training career and learn how to get better with every ride. Trying to force your horse into doing something is only going to backfire and will probably teach him to hate his job.
While it’s OK to expect more from your horse in certain circumstances, don’t put him in a position where he can get injured or have so much mental fatigue that he no longer wants to do his job anymore. If he’s constantly mentally fatigued, he’s not going to be a willing participant in what you’re trying to accomplish and will probably start to pick fights with you over very small things. If your horse gets to that point, it could take months—even years—for him to recover.
It’s never fun to have to skip the events you’ve been preparing for, but always remember there will be other shows in the future. A horse that isn’t physically or mentally ready for a 3-year-old event might make a great aged horse and just need some more time under saddle.
Being a good horseman means doing right by the horse. Sometimes this means being patient and not getting frustrated when things aren’t going according to the original plan. As a trainer, I like to see horses reach certain benchmarks throughout the year, but if I feel like my horse needs more time to develop, I let him, so he can have a bright future and long career down the road.
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I’ve seen horses who looked great in January not be ready for a large event that took place in November, while other horses who were behind in their 3-year-old year end up winning the NRHA Futurity. If you focus on getting a little bit better after every ride instead of being caught up in competing at a certain event, things will eventually start to fall into place.