Training Young Horses In Eventing

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Training young horses to compete in eventing is the core of what I do at our Phoenix Farm, and last week I took the three members of our current roster of young horses to their first competition ever. It was the January schooling combined test and cross-country school at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, Calif., a competition that's been the starting point of our eventing season for the last five years.

This Twin Rivers schooling event suits our program at Phoenix Farm beautifully, because the timing allows us to introduce young horses to the sport or to introduce them to the next level. it's also a really good event for our students to get in some great competitive practice in a relaxed atmosphere.

?The two 4-year-olds I took to Twin Rivers were Ianto (Phoenix Torchwood), a Thoroughbred-cross gelding whom we bred, and Boogie (Bravo?s First Class), an Oldenburg stallion owned by our farm manager, Roxanne Rainwater. We started both of them under saddle, and I've been pointing them toward this debut since last fall. I have to admit, though, that about a month ago I felt like a middle-school drama teacher trying to get her students ready for the school play. It just seemed like an impossible challenge as I gave them lessons in flatwork, jumping and going across the country. But, like that drama teacher, I reminded myself that I'd done this many times before and that the key was to do it the same way I'd eat an elephant?one bite at a time.

I'm very pleased to say that both Ianto and Boogie went eagerly and confidently, and that they learned a great deal. In fact, we feel with Boogie that we basically brought home a different horse.

Boogie, who is a naturally powerful and enthusiastic jumper, thought the cross-country school, which we did on Saturday, was the most fun thing he?d ever done. He eagerly jumped the fences, went right in the water (and I'd never ridden him into or through any kind of water?not even a stream?before), hopped right over the ditch, and just attacked the up banks. And then he turned around and carefully hopped down the banks. I could feel him think, ?Hmm, I don't think I want to fly off this!?

And then, on Sunday, Boogie warmed up for both dressage and show jumping like a gentleman, never spooked in the dressage ring, and eagerly and happily jumped two show jumping courses. We were thrilled, and I'm now pointing him toward his first USEA-recognized event, at Ram Tap next month.

Ianto is much less physically mature than Boogie, and since He's 7 or 8 inches taller than Boogie, He's still developing the strength and coordination to get his giant-sized body to do all the things I'm teaching him to do. Ianto is kind of like a high school sophomore who suddenly grew to 6?4? and has become the starting center on the basketball team.

Still, Ianto just kept, as I like to say, ?going to the jumps.? He kept saying, ?OK, wHere's the next one'? He too jumped everything the first time I asked him on the cross-country course, was relaxed and obedient in the dressage (if a bit confused by the little ring), and then willingly jumped the two show jumping courses. Ianto is going to be a willing and fun partner for a junior or adult amateur rider.

My belief that Boogie and Ianto had each grown up quite a bit was substantiated when I jumped them for the first time after the event, exactly a week later, on a windy, rainy morning. I'd set up a gymnastic line of four fences, with guide rails between the jumps, a much more complicated and demanding exercise than they?d seen before, and they each worked very hard to figure out the exercise as we added more jumps. Neither horse refused or ran out at any time, and it was humorous to see how pleased with themselves but mentally tired they were afterward. They?d really used their brains and learned more about moving their legs and feet.

Last year Twin Rivers was the competitive debut for another of our homebreds, Phoenix Amani, who's now 5. After that start, she completed two beginner novice and two novice events, and since I'm planning to move Amani up to training level this spring, Twin Rivers was her introduction to that new level. She schooled very eagerly over the cross-country course, but I think she loved that part a bit too much! At Twin Rivers, the dressage and show jumping rings overlook the cross-country course, and so on Sunday her only ?fault? was that she kept looking out at the cross-country jumps. I could feel her thinking, ?I'd sure rather do that again, instead of going around the ring!?

I don't mind having that problem to deal with!