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LEARN WHEN YOUNG
As I have said in the past there are 3 elements to me of becoming a good horseman:
1. Understand the nature of the horse. Observe without prejudice or preconception (easier said than done. We often see just what we want to)
2. Understand biomechanics. This is the physics of movement and is governed by inalienable laws. I was told recently that at vet college the students were being taught that the leg acts as a pendulum. Now, we all know that a pendulum has a large weight on the end of it. Compared to a horse's body it's legs weigh nothing and certainly don't act as a pendulum. In fact it is the opposite. They are very light so can easily be thrown forward without much wasted effort then the action of the leg hitting the ground and the load of the body landing on the legs activates the tendons which store up all that energy and instead of it just being lost in the ground it launches the horse forward again. The front tendons of a horse have the ability to withstand 5 tonnes of pressure. That is phenomenal.
3. Listen to the old masters. We throw away 1000's of years of history at our peril.
Now, I'd like to add a 4th principle. Use common sense and use comparison with other animals, especially humans, which we can know about. Be careful with this one since, as with observation, we can all easily fall into the trap of seeing what we want to. For this you need to combine all 3 of the above and then add a dose of logic and common sense.
But I get sidetracked! In fact what I wanted to talk about was the importance of teaching a horse when it is young. Now by young I don't mean 4. For a horse that is adult by 6 years old, a 4 yo is equivalent to a teenager. By young I mean a foal, yearling, 2 year-old. Just like with humans the most important and long-lasting learning happens in the very earliest years. For humans they say that what you learn by the age of 2 or 3 stays with almost irrevocably for life. In the press there is a lot about how careless drivers are, and they can be, but equally we have a responsibility to train our horses to live in our world and this starts young, not with dragging them out of a field at 4 years' old and expecting them to behave as we want. If you train a foal that load noises and tractors and vehicles and so on and so forth are not to be feared they will quickly learn particularly if the mother shows no fear and it will remember it for life. Appropriate behaviour is the single most important thing you can teach a horse. It stays with it for life and has endless good benefits.