7 Principles Of Starting Young Horses
Horse & Hound|February 11, 2021
A sound foundation is essential for young horses, regardless of which discipline they follow. Alice Collins finds out how the Billy babies start out
Alice Collins

Having backed over 1,000 of them over the past quarter-century, Will Plunkett is well versed in starting young horses. He gives 50 Billy Stud three-year-olds their basic training every year.

“I’ve broken horses for everything; eventing, showjumping, dressage, Arabs, for racing – even a Shire horse,” says Will.

His diverse CV is testament to Pippa and William Funnell’s firm belief that an all-round education is crucial, regardless of the horse’s intended use.

Pippa says: “William and I are insistent that the basics are done correctly, no matter which route you’re going down. In our case, we’re breeding them and it’s important to handle them correctly from the beginning. They stay in herds until they’re three.”

“Horses learn so much from the herd environment,” says William. “It’s like kids at primary school learning as much from their classmates as from the teacher. And it’s the same basic education for all the horses regardless of what they’re going on to do.

“We basically do what Monty Roberts does – take the horse out of a group and make them want to join you,” adds William.

Leicestershire-based couple Ginnie and Will Turnbull have been producing a variety of horses for 30 years, with Will doing the breaking-in before handing over to Ginnie.

“Our least favourites are horses that have been over-handled,” she says. “Horses who have been part of a herd have learnt about pecking order and patience. They might be a bit feral, but they’re open to learning.”

William Funnell agrees. “An untouched horse is a blank canvas,” he says. “Of course some are more difficult than others, but I haven’t ever had a horse born nasty. Those are created by people.”

So what is the formula for building the correct basics – over and over again – with a range of horses?

1 RELAXATION

“INITIALLY, my main emphasis is relaxation,” says Will Turnbull. “That’s the most important thing to me because it means they can go on and be ridden in all three paces on as light a contact as possible.”

When Will introduces side-reins, they’re fitted loosely.

“It’s just so they feel the weight of the rein on the contact and to teach a little inside flexion,” he explains. “I am very against trying to tie the horse into an outline.”

Ginnie and Pippa are both adamant that speed is never the answer when teaching young horses. Success comes via the horse calmly understanding what is being asked.

“A lot of people go wrong by using speed,” explains Pippa. “We’d rather spend longer establishing the basics, and proceed more slowly but with improved understanding. That applies to meeting fillers or the first log; anything new. You have to kill the speed and keep them on line with your leg.”

Ginnie concurs: “If the horse tries to rush, we take all the pace away and let them think about it. If they’re ever in a pickle or not coping well, it’s so important to give them time to think. It’s about trying to minimise their flight instinct and teach them that they have time to do things confidently.”

2 CONSISTENCY

WILLIAM FUNNELL points to consistency being key from the outset.

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