Versace is a 3yo Warmblood x Percheron. He is a typical tall, young horse. Although you can see he is going to have a big frame and be quite chunky, his musculature is still quite underdeveloped (very normal for age!).
Young Horse Movement
As with all young horses he is quite reliant on his front end for moving around the paddock, and his training to date – learning to lead and work in hand – has been very reliant on the forehand muscles. This is important to note because you must be mindful that the back end muscles are weak and underdeveloped when starting this work with an un-started horse. He isn’t going to magically transform in one session into a back end, top-line using machine.
In these early sessions it would be incredibly unfair of me to expect a young horse to do lap after lap of the round yard on their back end, they simply don’t have the muscle conditioning to do this. You wouldn’t ask somebody who has never run in their life to go out and do a marathon. You start at a walk, and at much shorter distances, until muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness are developed.
Planting The Seed
A few laps at a walk, and half a lap at a trot on their back end, is generally all that a horse will be able to achieve in the first session, at a maximum. These early sessions are about planting the idea for the horse that he has a back end that he can utilise, and helping him with his proprioception to achieve just a few steps.
I particularly focus on transitions and giving the horse the idea that they can perform a halt-walk and walk-trot transition with a relaxed neck. I focus on this because if a horse can do a good transition using some back end muscles, then the gait will become easier for the horse to do correctly, as the gait is simply the continuation of the transition.
It is also important to work on the transitions downwards through the gaits. In particular I focus on the position of the horse at halt. If you set the horse up with their weight balanced on their back end, you help the horse to build those back end muscles in a static way. In the same way that static exercises in a gym can help a person develop muscle strength.
Setting Up For Success
The other benefit of having a horse balance on their back end is that they are more likely to initiate the movement and walk off using back end muscles. You are setting the horse up for success. Although the horse may be learning a lot through trial and error, the easier we can make the right thing for them, the more inclined they will be to do it. With repeated practice this soon becomes the way the horse ‘knows’ how to move, and they will have built the right musclature to support this way of moving.