Dr. Möller sees the FEI young horse tests as valuable assets, giving trainers and riders a benchmark for what five- and six-year-old horses should be able to perform. However, he cautions trainers against having rigid expectations that don’t take into account the individual horse. “Feeling” the horse is paramount to finding the balance between asking for what it is ready to give without pushing it too hard.
Dr. Möller made his first visit to Canada in August 2013 when he gave a young horse symposium hosted by the Alberta Dressage Association.
Dr. Möller: Keeping it Fresh
Trainers must be very careful not to overwork young horses. Breeders are producing much better horses than they were 20 years ago – more uphill, more willing, and more able to bring the neck up. But these talented young horses can also be more prone to soundness problems. Regardless of how talented or willing a young horse is, its muscles and tendons are not yet strong enough to sustain work for an hour.
All horses should be ridden only when they are fresh, and this is especially true for young horses. Riders should ensure that the work is always fun for the horse. And while you should always ride with a plan, you must be flexible, based on the individual horse on any given day.
A schooling session for a young horse should include a considerable amount of walk, particularly in the warm-up. However, a horse that has come out of the stable full of energy may need to trot and canter at first to take the tension out of its body. If you press the horse to walk when he is too fresh, the first thing you will do is destroy the walk. Another important aspect of the daily work for a young horse is to keep a similar routine. You want him to learn that when you pick up the reins, something is going to happen.
Transitions – Forward, Straight, and Light
Riding away from the side of the ring on straight lines is a good way to get the horse on the aids evenly on both sides. Transitions serve multiple purposes at all stages of training and are important in the daily work with young horses. Remember always that you cannot go ‘backwards out of backwards’; make sure you have a good forward trot or canter before you half-halt or ride a downward transition.
In order to produce lightness and to correct the horse that wants to lean on the bit, ride transitions that come from behind in response to the leg, and don’t miss the opportune moment to be light with the reins. All corrections should be made as much as possible with the legs, and not too much with the reins.
Transitions on straight lines away from the rail have great benefit in teaching the horse to be sensitive to the aids and to begin to develop the ability to sit. When you ride a downward transition, think of collection after the transition for a few steps to bring the horse more over the hind legs and to maintain control of the tempo.
Also useful are ‘almost’ transitions from trot to walk. Ask the horse to come back to the walk. Just before he walks, ask him to trot out again, with a tap of the whip on the top of the croup in addition to the leg. The quick response demanded by your aids will make the horse become quicker to answer and to carry more weight on the hind legs. Through the use of transitions, horses will learn to accept the proper connection with the reins while staying in front of the leg.