William Micklem says IT’S WORTH THE WAIT

There is no doubt that early intervention is the efficient way to tackle learning difficulties and weaknesses. To nip a problem in the bud leads to both accelerated progress and happier students. This applies to both mental and physical challenges and to both humans and horses. Any behaviour or way of going that is undesirable is much more difficult and time consuming to change if it has become habitual.


This particularly applies to a horse using their back, or what is often described as ‘coming through’ in the back. A small proportion of horses find this easy but even these horses can quickly tighten in their backs and become less athletic when ridden badly. A lackof connection through the back inevitably reduces the potential and useful working life of a horse. There are even many horses whose physical discomfort through the back eventually makes them unwilling to work and as a result they are labelled ‘difficult’!

This is why I don’t ride any of my young horses until they are first coming though in the back on the lunge and going in such a way as to be easily able to carry the weight of the rider and keep going in the same ‘connected’ way. What people have to realise is that it is NOT difficult to back (mount & ride away) the vast majority of horses. What IS difficult is to gain the skills to ensure a good quality way of going from the start. This is why I take issue with those who take great pride in getting on their young horses within minutes or a few hours work yet have little expertise in getting their horses through in the back and beween the aids. I would go as far as saying that many young horses are prevented from being efficient and happy athletes by being ridden too early and that this is a major challenge for the horse industry.


My two home bred event horses, Mandiba and High Kingdom, that have done so well internationally with Karen O’Connor and Zara Phillips, are good examples of my use of lungeing to get a young horse through in the back. Mandiba found it very easy. Here he is as a three year old after three days on the lunge, after which he was ready to be ridden away with a progressive riding programme:





No gadgets are used apart from side reins and the bit is connected with the clips to my Micklem bridle so there can be no strong pressure on the tongue or bars of the mouth. Then here he is this year at Rolex coming second in the dressage:




However High Kingdom was a different story. It took three months of lungeing to get him to the same stage, as he was disconnected and went with a restricted step. However once going in this manner he was able to make rapid progress under saddle:





I have no doubt that if we had lost patience High Kingdom would have had an average trot habitually and we would have lost out on the stunning sight of him last weekend being placed fourth in the dressage in the World Cup class at Tattersalls International last weekend:





It was worth the wait....worth the wait of that three months on the lunge. Onwards! William




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Comment by William Micklem on June 5, 2010 at 8:51am
Love the term 'snakey bucker' Geoffrey...the richness of our language..William
Comment by Geoffrey Pannell on June 5, 2010 at 6:28am
Great advice , as usual. Little grey part arab-TB mare that we have here at the moment has benefited greatly from lungeing over the last 4 months ( it does take quite a while sometimes!!!) Her whole attitude has changed from an uncooperative snakey bucker to a nice horse! Cheers Geoffrey
Comment by William Micklem on June 5, 2010 at 3:45am
SANDY - Yes you have to be very careful here and follow the advise of your veterinary surgeon...there are many degrees of weakness in this area....I had a horse with this problem and we led him off another horse and up gentle hills for a month to get him stronger before then treating him as normal.
SILLYFILLY - The line does not attach to the bit...it is my Micklem Multibridle and attaches to a ring on the front of the nose...it is a fantastic Lunge Cavesson....I strongly advise NOT attaching line to the bit with a young horse...William
Comment by SillyFilly on June 4, 2010 at 11:40pm
Perfect post! Great timing for me as well because I have a yearling filly that I plan on starting myself when she turns three. Do you have any close up pictures of how the line attaches to the bit? My plan was to use a plain snaffle bridle and either attach the line a lunging cavesson or thread the line through one side of the bit, over the pole, and attach to the opposite side of the bit.... Would that be too much pressure?
Comment by Sandy on June 4, 2010 at 8:34pm
Very encouraging to read your endorsement of patience with young horses. Question though- how do you start a young horse if he/she has trouble with locking stifles? Mine did and I was advised to avoid circles/lunging.

I enjoy your posts- as said, always inspiring!
Comment by William Micklem on June 4, 2010 at 4:46pm
...THANK YOU..that is genuinely appreciated...now tell me hoe to sort out the formatting problems....aaahh!
Comment by Barnmice Admin on June 4, 2010 at 4:36pm
William, you are an inspiration, as always!!
Comment by Jackie Cochran on June 4, 2010 at 12:55pm
Wonderful post as usual.
I find that I have to work on this (the back and hind legs swinging forward) on EVERY horse I've ridden who has come to me already broke and "trained", so people getting broke horses could benefit from following your advice too. Going slow at first can pay off BIG TIME later.

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