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June 17th, 2019

How to Introduce Young Horses to X-Country Fences

Bits & Bytes Farm x-Country Schooling at Oxer Farm

We loaded up six Bits & Bytes Farm Thoroughbreds and headed off to Oxer Farm for a day of x-country schooling. None of the horses had ever been on a x-country course and neither had many of the riders. Our instructor, Sarah Berhalter, set us up for success with a pep talk about what to expect.

Our goal was to have a fun safe day for both horse and riders. Horses often get excited when separated from their buddies or when jumping. Sarah made it clear that we were never to leave a horse or rider behind where they might get nervous and overreact. We treated the day like a trail ride and we warmed up as a group in the arena. Once the horses' and riders' nerves were settled, we headed out to the x-country course.

Six off-the-track-Thoroughbreds from Bits & Bytes Farm go x-country schooling.
Six off-the-track-Thoroughbreds from Bits & Bytes Farm go x-country schooling.

Now a less experienced trainer might have you start trotting right away to the small fences, ours did not. We walked as a group around all the fences to give everyone a chance to see what was there. Next, we walked in a line over the jumps as a group so that no horse had to leave his buddies and go at a scary fence alone. You might think this is too overly protective but you will see this technique builds confidence for the horse and rider. You will see in the video that all the horses were jumping fences confidently, alone, by the end of the day. One of my favorite sayings is, "You can never go too slow with the training but you can go too fast and scare both horse and rider."

"You can never go too slow with the training but you can go too fast and scare both horse and rider."

Elizabeth Wood

As the horses became bored, yes, Thoroughbreds learn very fast, we allowed them to do the fences without their buddies at a walk and then a trot and for some of them, a canter. Many confident experienced riders will just run their new OTTB at a fence to see what he will do. There is a good chance that he will jump it but not really understand the concept and the holes in a horse's early training may show up later in upper-level competitions. It is much better to allow the horses to learn at their own rate and build their confidence systematically as Sarah did with us and our Thoroughbreds.

Most of the Thoroughbreds had never been on a real x-country course.
Most of the Thoroughbreds had never been on a real x-country course.

We had a great time and we all look forward to our next -x-country schooling. Oxer Farm is in Clermont, GA and is owned by Sandra and Jean Carnet. It is a beautiful and well-cared-for facility. I can highly recommend it as a place to train and a great place to get started showing. They run a series of combined training events.

We could not have documented the day so well without our grooms and photographers Christene Roberston and MaryAnn Miller. They are both riders at Bits & Bytes Farm but offered to come to support the team instead of riding.

The day finished with our traditional picnic and debriefing about what we learned. This debriefing is really fun as you see the day from the other riders point-of-view which often leads to even more learning for you.

Bits & Bytes Farm promotes Thoroughbreds as sport horses and our riders are often re-riders who are getting back to riding after taking a break for 'life' (family, jobs, finance). We assist those riders to get back to the sport they love, on our Thoroughbreds. We also help them to find their own Thoroughbred if the time is right for them to have one. If you think you would like to get back to the sport you love, give us a call. We have full and partial leases on horses at our farm. Give us a call at 770-704-6595 between 9am and 9pm East Coast US time.

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