The making of a Grand Prix Jumping Horse – Part 2: the early years
A few weeks ago we published the first in our series of articles on ‘The making of a Grand Prix Jumping Horse’, in which we explored, with the help of Helen Chugg from Diamond B Farms, the very beginning of the life of a jumping horse, looking at the breeding process and the purchase of foals.
So you are the lucky owner of a beautifully bred horse and have huge aspirations for your competitive future together – now what? To answer this question we caught up with Jess Stones, who, along with her husband Rhys, run J&R Equestrian at The Oaks, a beautiful area south of Sydney.
Jess Stones and Chatina JRE. Photo credit: James Abernethy
Around 3 years of age is a good time to ‘break in’ a horse, a process that takes on average 6-8 weeks. This is a critical part of the horses life and it is essential that it is done in a gentle and empathetic manner to, in Jess’s words, ‘give the horse every chance to succeed’.
It is well known that genetics play an essential role in the outcome of breeding and we were very interested to learn that inherited characteristics are also a key component for consideration during the breaking in process. Well-bred horses tend to take it all in their stride, like they have done it all before. Also there are characteristics of certain bloodlines that can also become apparent at this stage, so knowing the bloodlines you are dealing with is an essential tool.
The cost of the breaking in process varies but generally falls between $2,500 and $4,500. It is clear though, like in many aspects of life, that you ‘get what you pay for’ and really this is such an essential part of your horses’s life and in the big picture only a small percentage of lifetime cost that it is not a process you would want to skimp on. J&R Equestrian charge $3,850 (including GST) for breaking in young horses and this service is used by many owners – including a number of successful professional riders.
Horses bred by J&R Equestrian receive a lot of handling as youngsters, but it is not unusual for them to receive completely unhandled horses for breaking in and that is not an issue. It is important to note that this is quite a stressful time for horses so once again, it is essential that they are treated with care and compassion.
There are a number of key steps in the breaking in process which we have outlined below. At the end of this process, you should have a finished product and a young horse that is ready to go home for a spell before the next stage of its career begins.
- Loose lunge lead work in the round yard, getting the horse to go forward both ways and introducing voice commands.
- ‘Bagging’ – getting the horse used to a bag or flag being waved around it’s head, body and legs.
- Introducing the bit – just sitting in the horses mouth with no pressure.
- Lightly mouth the horse using a girth and roller or similar.
- Introduction of the long rein – going through the various paces including regular bringing back to walk, again reinforcing voice commands.
- Introducing weight on the horses back – starting with the saddle only then introducing the riders weight.
- Mounting and dismounting the horse from both sides and asking the horse to move forward.
- Leaving the round yard for gentle and calm walks around the property.
- Begin arena work with walk, trot and canter in both directions and working on straight lines before circles.
- Continuing education for about the next three weeks.
- Introduction to ground poles.
- Introduction of a course incorporating wings and ground poles, getting the horse used to going through wings.
- Introduction of horse to other riders to see how they respond.
At this point, as the owner, you will be invited to ride your horse under the supervision of the trainer to ensure that all is well. It is then time to take your horse home for a well-deserved rest (at least 3 months), before bringing them back into work and continuing their education.
In the next of this Series we will be chatting with Alison Rowland from Oaks Sport Horses about the beginning of the horses jumping career including participation in Young Horse Classes.