Howden Equine: 5 top tips for developing a young horse



01 August 2022

The average age of the UK’s horse population is 13[1], however, anyone working with a young horse will quickly find it is vastly different to working with an experienced horse. Like children, they have shorter attention spans and need training to be broken down into simple steps.[2] Building rapport with your young horse is important, as is training them regularly to ensure long-term health and performance.[3]

Sophia Marston is a 17 year old rider who has owned and trained her advanced dressage horse Solitaire from a yearling. Here, she reveals her expert advice for working with younger horses. 

1. Keep a record of your progress

“You can take videos of you and your horse at the beginning of each season to understand how far you have come and what you have achieved,” says Sophia.

“Patience is key. The length of time it will take to break in your horse will depend on a variety of factors, from its age, temperament and character to the type of preparation that has been put in since it was born.[4] Documenting the process will help you to maintain that crucial motivation as your horse develops.”



2. Plan a year in advance

“A yearly planner is vital. Write down what you want to achieve by the end of the year and have set dates in your diary that will keep you focussed. Before a big outing, ensure you have planned lessons in advance to fit in with your expected competition dates to give you and your horse a confidence boost,” says Sophia.

Define and research your goals for the year, ensuring that each is broken down into smaller steps. For instance, before introducing a rider, the horse should ideally:

  • Lead well, turning and stopping to voice commands
  • Still and tie up without pulling back
  • Be happy to be groomed and handled
  • Have learned to move away from the stable on voice command
  • Demonstrate respect for the handler’s space.[5]

3. Remember, it is a journey

Your young horse will be going through different stages in its growth as well as learning many new things. A yearling, for example, will be curious and eager to mouth anything they find. During this time, it’s important to facilitate play as well as teaching obedience.[6]

Sophia’s advice is to treat this time as a journey for the handler, as well as for the horse. “Write down five things you want to improve on and focus your lessons, as well as your preparation for shows, around your personal objectives for your horse. There will be successes as well as setbacks, so stay committed to the bigger picture!”

4. Spend quality time with your horse

Last year, Italian researchers found that horses enter a positive emotional state akin to feeling relaxed when they are around familiar humans.[7] The researchers noted that the bond between humans and horses is complex, however, horses do appear to build positive relationships with humans and touch seems to play a role.

“After a long day at school or work it’s a great idea to spend time with your horse, giving them some attention and even a hug,” says Sophia.

“It isn’t all about winning, you should value the bond you have with your horse. Try to make sure you and your horse have fun and enjoy your relationship, even if you have important goals to meet.”

5. Finish sessions on a high note

Using positive training principles will make the experience greatly more rewarding for both human and equine participants. While ensuring a young horse is taught respect for the handler’s space, it is still paramount to correct rather than punish any horse in training. 

“Remember that you are coaching your horse and he or she hasn’t turned up to be deliberately disobedient!” adds Sophia. “To them, it might feel like being a small child on their first day at school, so it’s your job to make the experience enjoyable. When training has been challenging, remember not to show any frustration and always end on a good note.”

We’re here to help

Purchasing, breaking in and training a young horse can be daunting. Careful preparation, setting achievable goals and building rapport and routine will help to ensure that whatever your reason for purchasing your horse, you can both enjoy success together.

We provide specialist insurance solutions for a wide range of businesses, including equestrian associations, racecourses, racehorse trainers, stud farms, riding schools, livery yards, freelance instructors, and horse owners. Our experts understand the challenges you face and are here to support you at every stage in your horse’s life.


[1] (British Equestrian Association statistics)