The Young and Future Event Horse article series is being provided through a partnership between Mythic Landing Enterprises, LLC., and the USEA.
Balance, balance, balance. This is a key concept that Eric Dierks instills in his young horses from the very beginning through very simple exercises that allow his horses to gain confidence in not only themselves and but also their rider.
An exercise that you can work on every day is having them stand next to the mounting block. Lead your horse up to the mounting block and once they’re standing there without an abrasive attitude, put a loop in your rein so that they’re standing in a completely independent balance. Keep that loop in your rein as you place your foot in the stirrup. As you go to swing your leg over, your horse may start to walk away, avoiding the idea of re-altering their balance as you get on. Dierks encourages riders that instead of pulling back or holding the contact and to make them halt, apply a rein aid but immediately release to a loop in your reins so that they have to have accountability for their own balance without the rider taking that opportunity away. Continue to practice this until your horse stands still as you mount. This may take a handful of times initially, but keep practicing before every ride.
Dierks explains, “As riders, we’re so quick to want to help our horses when we feel them lose their balance. Giving them the opportunity to figure it out on their own starts to create a true relationship between horse and rider. You’re beginning to tell the horse that you trust them to figure it out and that starts to create confidence within themselves.”
When you’re training young horses, and especially off-the-track Thoroughbreds, taking them on regular hacks should be worked in your training schedule as it has a true emphasis on finding balance. Dierks explains that the hardest thing for most riders is to take their young horses on a walking hack while on the buckle. It’s so easy for us to pick up the reins or try to help our horse if we feel them stumble or pick up the trot instead of allowing them to find their balance, before re-establishing the walk.
Dierks continues, “When you keep your reins long on hacks you’re allowing your horse to cope through that challenge. They’ll start to use more muscle groups and ultimately use their head and neck to stretch. Walking in a relaxing rhythm out on the trail shows trust between you and your horse. This a big milestone in my training program.”
Building a relationship with your horse early will mean having a horse that's willing to go the extra mile when it really counts. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
The biggest idea to remember is that building a relationship with your horse requires giving each other room to grow. “I respect my horse’s misunderstanding of an exercise and, in that moment I’ll simplify it a bit to allow them to figure it out and as a result, gain more confidence,” Dierks describes. Allowing your horse to find their own balance is so important. When we give our horses room to find their balance is when the partnership is starting to happen. You have to sell the concept to your horse and have them start to embrace the challenge.
Dierks explained that watching the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event this year you could really see the horses and riders that have a true partnership. Those riders did their homework and had horses willing to go that extra mile for them. “Those horses embraced the challenge and kept going. Every time I ride my horses I’m always thinking that I’m allowing them to want to do it for me. When your horse is tired on that last stretch of a four-star event, you want to be sitting on a horse that wants to get you home and jump to the other side of the jumps. And that happens when you’ve created a true partnership.”
About Eric Dierks
Eric Dierks is graduate “A” pony clubber that bases himself out of Renovatio Farm in Tryon, North Carolina. Eric has earned many accolades throughout his career including being long-listed for both the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Spain and the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. A strong advocate of education, Eric believes, “The equestrian world is an art of peace, rhythm and communication, no matter what discipline, and that success is measured through horse and rider understanding.” His program allows him to take a patient and sympathetic approach to the training of young horses to be successful in the sport of eventing.
To learn more about Eric and his program, please visit his website: http://ericdierks.com/Home.aspx