The USEA turned the microphone over to Chris Burton once again for the third day of the Young Horse and Instructors’ Certification Program Symposium. The final – and soggiest – day focused on the Young Event Horse (4- and 5-year-olds) and Burton’s theories for starting them, training them and bringing them up the levels.
“I am a little bit worried you are going to be hearing the same stuff coming out of my mouth,” said Burton at the beginning of his presentation. “I am sorry if I am boring you to death, but then I thought that is what I do every day so you can hear it all again. That is the strongest point I can talk to you about training young horses. Consistency, continuity and making sure that you are very regulated in your training.”
Keeping it all simple seems to be Burton’s philosophy – not just for training young horses, but for his program: very little supplements, massage, bone crackers or witch doctors. “There is so much to talk about training young horses, but in my mind it is very simple. The horse needs to go forward, it needs to stop and it needs to turn right and left,” said Burton.
Burton said that doesn’t have a “blanket” plan for training young horses and he lets each horse pick their own plan based on temperament, soundness, strength and overall attitude and ability. “I am not too structured,” he explained. “I wasn’t very good at reading and writing which is why I am a good rider. I have a day plan which I write down for each horse every morning, and in my head I have a weekly plan – I just don’t write it down because it changes so much it drives my staff mad.” If a young horse doesn’t have a good jump school then Burton will jump him again the next day and the next day if he needs it.
Insisting on quick reactions is one of Burton’s secrets to being such a fast cross-country rider, but his methodology wasn’t inspired by another eventer rather his brother who rides cutting horses. When Burton was home for Christmas one year he got on one of his brother’s horses. “I remember picking up the reins and they just went so softly. How did he get there? He didn’t do it by being kind, but he can be kind for the rest of their career. My fundamentals may be quite strict but you can be soft in the long run. I don’t touch the reins if I can – then I can be faster.”
Chris Burton shows a picture of his brother riding a cutting horse. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
“When I was a kid the teacher we loved the most was very strict, but he commanded our attention. We respected him. Training horses is a bit the same,” explained Burton.
All of the horses in Burton’s yard are started on the lunge. While he doesn’t have his staff lunge or rope over fences or long line since he doesn’t want them making a mistake, Burton trains both his staff and horses to become lunging gurus. “I would start [a young horse] on the lunge, I would cluck and if they don’t respond then I tap them on the bum. Very quickly you could see my young horses would respond to the lightest cluck. Then those aids help me get out of trouble later in life.”
Burton keeps 3 to 5-year-olds in the same “basket” and treats each one individually. One year he had a mare ready for Le Lion D'Angers CH*, but when the same owners wanted him to take a goofy young gelding a few years later, Burton said the horse wasn’t ready.
After his inspiring talk at the Ocala Jockey Club, Burton and the group headed over to Longwood for hands-on demonstrations of training 4- and 5-year-olds on the flat, show jumping and cross-country. For the last session of the day Burton was joined by Leslie Law and the two rode young horses for the first time and put them through their paces for the audience. A truly unique experience into the training insight of Olympians.
The USEA would like to thank all of the generous YEH Sponsors, who make the Series and the Symposium possible: Retired Racehorse Project, Fleeceworks, Standlee Hay, Merck Animal Health, SmartPak and Professional’s Choice.