Young horse classes – a major change of the young horse show carrier

Since a couple of years back the horse shows have been offering young horse classes or young horse cups. In the beginning it was for the 1 and 2 year old horses but eventually for 2 and 3 year old horses. The classes offered are trail in hand, longe line and showmanship.

Personally I think the young horse classes enables a great start of the young horse show carrier without putting to much pressure on the horse. The young horse cups are offered in Sweden, Denmark and some other European countries. I have interviewed Natasha Møller, professional horse trainer from Denmark who sponsor and organize the popular young horse cup at the European Championships for Quarter horses every year.

  1. For how long has the young horse cup been offered at the European shows?

I don’t know exactly when it started. But the first time we organized it at the AQHA European Championship with the Kumlegaard European Young Horse Cup was in 2019 and it was a big success! We also had it at our own show, Kumlegaard Spring Celebration, for the first time in 2019. Before that I had seen it in Sweden where I personally got the inspiration from.

2. How has it developed over the years?

It started out being for 1-2 year old’s. We pretty quickly got it changed to 2-3 years old’s, which I find is awesome. Yearlings should be allowed to just be babies. We just got started with it, and then sadly came the corona years with almost no shows. But we got started again, and the classes are again big and popular! In Denmark, the young horse cup are very often the biggest classes at the shows. I feel people really want to go out and have fun with their young horses.

3. Do you think it has affected the industry in any way?

I think it has had a very positive effect! First of all, most people now don’t show their horses under saddle, until the age of 4. They can show the horses in hand their entire 3 year old year, and take their time to get the horse ready to show under saddle. Less pressure, and less stress.

It is also a great way to get the horses used to all that comes with showing. They get used to travelling to new places and being in the show atmosphere. All with their human standing on the ground next to them, making them feel safe. That makes a huge difference in how the horse will handle to get showed under saddle.

Last, it has made it much more fun to buy a foal or young horse. Before you had to wait several years, before you could do anything with your new horse. Now, you can start the fun part already when the horse turns 2 years old!

Natasha  Møller, photo credit:Louise Buch photography

4. Has it changed the training of the young show horses?

Definitely. As mentioned earlier, most people don’t show their horses under saddle until the age of 4 now. That means people wait a little longer to start riding their young horse, and they are not so much in a hurry with a lot of hard training to get the horse ready to show. In general people has “slowed down” the training of the horses, which I think is great.

5. Do you think that there is a risk that the young horses are pushed too much for the young horse cup or classes?

Just like everything else, there is always a risk of overdoing it. Ofcourse a young horses should not be longed for 1 hour, or similar really hard training. Less is more! If you have a great trainer that can help you, it is only a good thing to work your young horse. They will get balanced and built up muscles, and in general just grow a stronger body and mentality, that will prepare them for a life as a riding/show horse.

6. When do you start preparing the horses for this cup or classes? Do you have any advice to the exhibitors participating for the first time?

I never start training my young horses, until their 2 year old year. As weanlings and yearlings they are mainly in the pasture, having fun with their friends. They only get to know basics things like walking on a leash, standing tied, having the farrier and so on . Then when they turn 2, we start training a little more. First some basic groundwork, slowly moving to maneuvers and longing. In the beginning no more than 10 minutes, and later in the process often just 20 min, maximum 30. Just like kids, young horses can focus and learn new things for a very long time. So I’d rather have short, but effective sessions. With longing especially, I only do very short sessions, since it can put a lot of pressure on the joints. And I would never longe a yearling! For new exhibitors who never showed these classes before, definitely get some help! Especially the longe line can be super stressful, if you are not 100% sure how it works. But with a good trainer that can help and support you, it is super fun classes. And just always remember we are working with really young horses here. They might react very different than they do at home and do something you are not prepared for. If that happens, just relax and take it as a lesson. Figure out what they reacted on, and then make sure you work on that until next time.

Text: Linn Olersbacken Hellberg

Photo credit: Louise Buch photography

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