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Backing is never straight forward......

posted 22 Jul 2012, 13:34 by Selina Serbin
Starting a horse under saddle correctly is the most important part of their education; mistakes made here often stay with the horse for life, so it is imperative to get it right.

Queens Ponies do a huge amount of work with young horses and ponies - foals, yearlings, the 'terrible twos', through to bringing your baby on to be backed. There are many different methods that people follow when backing young horses, from the very effective to the not so effective!  As with everything I do when working with the horse... my methods are always adaptable to different individual personalities and needs.

Having a horse backed by me can be done one of two ways. I am more than happy for you to keep your horse at home during the process, or the youngster can come to me for the duration.  Either way, I actively encourage owner participation every step of the way, so you can continue to develop an understanding and partnership with your horse.

As always, starting off meeting a client and doing an assessment to gauge what training stage the horse has reached, if any, is crucial. I need to understand whether we have any health implications to consider, find out if teeth have been checked, including whether wolf teeth may be an issue, know if there are any behavioural concerns, and more. Undertaking a comprehensive assessment leads me to make the decision as to where I start the youngster off in his education with me.

Take Tyler, for example: 4 years old, very accident-prone, and many old, and recent, injuries for me to consider within his training, in order for me to strengthen and stabilise theses areas to cope with the process. Many of the basics had been put in place by Annabelle over his young years. Voice commands were fully understood, he'd been accustomed to a bridle, roller, saddle, and lunging had been introduced. To top it all off...Annabelle had done a fantastic job of this, and no correction or back tracking to clear any confusion was needed. It was now a case of bringing him over, and starting his career. Tyler came to me due to Annabelle’s work commitments, although I encouraged her to visit as much as she wanted to enable Tyler to settle in quickly, which he did.

Short sessions are key. Teaching the horse about body language also comes into play, as you can take them onto straight lines, larger circles, and so on, just by changing your position. Young horses are wobbly; having a circle to work on at this stage helps them start to find their natural balance.

It was at this stage in Tyler’s training that unfortunately it became clear that he was still not sound from previous injuries, and I asked to continue the process alongside Annabelle’s vet. The RVC vet and myself worked closely together, with a couple of visits from our Osteopath, and together we progressed Tyler through building up his strength and balance... and more importantly started this new, important phase in his life with him loving his work!

Then the exciting bit... it was time to get on!  Responses to this vary hugely from horse to horse.  It is very important that this stage is done with care, and by very experienced people. I, as a rider, must be athletic, sit lightly on the horse, be able to read a horse’s reactions very well, and have great stickability!  I always make sure I have someone to help with legging up, who is fairly strong, and is able to move quietly around the horse without startling them.  This, arguably, is the most important person - for mine and the horse’s safety too, and they need to be someone we both trust.  I always do this work in the arena, although I've even backed in a field, whereas some people still back horses in stables.  Quite frankly, the thought of a possible panicking horse and three people in such an enclosed space terrifies me! 

Of course, once you have managed to sit on, that is the start of a whole new stage in the horse’s life!

Tyler unfortunately became more lame which we had to progress to further veterinary investigation. I take pride in making sure I am always there for my clients - and support included going with Annabelle and Tyler to the vet college hospital whilst Tyler was undergoing a neurological exam and x-rays. Liaising with vet, osteopath, and owner helped devise a rehabilitation program, alongside his backing program, to help get Tyler back on track in a strong healthy way. He continues to make progress.

So - some backing plans can be made with the best intentions to provide you with the horse you would like, to do the job you require... but occasionally along the way we have little hiccups, which are out of our control. This is never the 'be all and end all' - I'll always find a solution for you to get everyone back on track. It may be challenging but that’s youngsters for you!

Tyler's Mum::

"Selina has been a fantastic support for both Tyler and myself. It is never easy trusting another person to take care of your ‘child’, however I knew that I was not able to take Tyler through the next stage of his education myself. Right from the initial assessment stage, I knew that Selina was the perfect person to back Tyler… and he was clearly besotted as well! It wasn’t easy, and we certainly had our ups and downs. As most horsey people have experienced at some stage, at times it felt like we would take one step forward and then two steps back. However, Selina was so dedicated, supportive and knowledgeable through it all, and Tyler loved his time with her! Thanks to Selina, Tyler has had a fantastic start to the ridden stage of his life, and he continues to enjoy his work now."