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Thinking Like A Horse Still

How To Keep A Young Horse Focused

Submitted by member: Maria

How do you keep the attention of a young horse who has an attention deficit? When I ride my horse he is constantly looking at his surroundings instead of paying attention to my aids. This makes it difficult to keep an even pace and keep his focus on the task asked of him. I do circles, serpentines, transitions—everything I can think of to try to keep his attention and focus—and it is exhausting just to get around the ring on him. He’s an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood Gelding and still green. Any suggestions on how to keep a young horse “in the game” with you?

Answer by Julie Winkel

I think it is very important to allow any horse, but especially a young or green horse, to begin each session with walking on a long rein for 10-15 minutes before starting to ask for concentration.

Horses are flight animals and need to be comfortable with their surroundings in order to begin to relax and focus. A long rein is not a loose rein, but rather a soft connection of your horse’s mouth, encouraging them to seek your hand. Let your horse look out of the ring and at all of the surroundings.  Make sure you work equally to the left as to the right, as horses see out of each eye individually and things look different when you change direction. Also work for 5-10 minutes at a trot on a long rein. This always encourages both physical and mental relaxation to occur. Working on a long rein at walk and trot for even 10 minutes is equal to longing a horse for 30 minutes and is much less stressful physically.

Once you start asking your horse to be on the bit and focus on your aids and exercises, you should have specific patterns and goals in mind. Make sure to reward by having a properly timed release of your aids as well as a verbal ‘good boy’ when  a transition or exercise is well done. It is very important to give your horse breaks between exercises to let them relax mentally and physically! Most important—do not DRILL and do not lose your patience! Try to use horse psychology to get your horse to work with you as your partner!

Hope this helps 😊

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Julie Winkel

Julie Winkel has been a licensed Hunter, Equitation, Hunter Breeding and Jumper judge since 1984. She has officiated at prestigious events such as Devon, Harrisburg, Washington International, Capital Challenge, The Hampton Classic and Upperville Horse Shows. She has designed the courses and judged the ASPCA Maclay Finals, The USEF Medal Finals and The New England Equitation Finals.

For more information, visit her website:

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