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Developing Your Prospect's Potential

by Donna Irvin

Developing the potential of any horse is a huge responsibility. The rider’s success in providing a good foundation will directly relate to the quality and success of any horse. Good horses earn good lives. It’s the rider’s responsibility to develop skills to successfully communicate with, and train, their horse.

My training goals for my young horse Vaquero began with equipment selection and rotation, including:

  • The Running Martingale as an aid to keep Vaquero in the bridle and round in his back during the times he attempted to get uncollected. The German Martingale would have been my first choice, however, Vaquero typically hid behind his bit and over-flexed in the poll, both fairly common problems.
  • The Sweet Six Iron Wrap O–Ring Mouth to introduce small increments of leverage and curb pressure.
  • The Draw Gag 3/8” Loose Lifesaver/Wrapped and the 3/8” Loose Lifesaver Snaffle, both to work through stiffness issues and to help with elevation during lateral exercises.
  • The Split Training Rein, combined with the Sweet Six Iron Wrap O-Ring Mouth to work on Vaquero’s suppleness. First, I used the right tied rein around the cantle so that Vaquero carried a slight bend through his poll, neck and ribcage. Then, I rotated the direction of the rein daily; one day to the right, the next day to the left. I was careful not to leave him tied too long, only until he gave in to the pressure; five to seven minutes was usually sufficient.
  • Wet saddle blankets.
Vaquero hiding behind the bit.

Vaquero hiding behind the bit.

Vaquero hiding behind the bit.

Vaquero moving up into the bit.

My initial training plan included:

  • Outside riding, two or three days per week to increase exposure and level of brokenness, confidence and fitness.
  • Two or three round pen sessions per week to work on ground manners and posture. I kept the round pen workout to 10-15 minutes a session. Then, I repeated the lesson while riding outside the round pen.
  • Slow barrel pattern work a maximum of twice a week, with special attention paid to rhythm, suppleness, connection, impulsion, straightness and collection.
  • Riding under saddle at least six days a week, combined with tied standing time to work on his patience.
  • Exposure to different arenas two or three days a week to review foundation exercises in new and unfamiliar environments.
  • Introducing incremental amounts of pressure by working through corkscrew exercises at the lope with gradual addition of stride length and speed.
Vaquero hiding behind the bit.

It was fun riding Vaquero in the
desert exposing him to differnt
footings and sites!

Vaquero hiding behind the bit.

Hauling a young horse with a
seasoned horse lessens the stress of
the road. Ropenator became a good
teacher to Vaquero.


Traveling with a well-trained and experienced horse helps a young horse develop confidence and good habits. In my case, my seasoned horse Ropenator became a good teacher to Vaquero. It’s a challenge to work with two or more horses at a time. Although from a competitive basis, your priority may be your seasoned horse, you can’t forget planning the training for, and then training, your younger horse!