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We Ask Trainers: What is the Fastest & Longest Time it Has Ever Taken You to Train a Horse?

What is the fastest amount of time you have ever gotten one ready to show? What is the longest you have waited before showing one? How important is it to wait until one is prepared before you show it? Or do you like to try to let horses learn while showing?

These are questions GoHorseShow asked top trainers in our industry, and we got some insightful answers. Some of the puzzle pieces involve luck, timing, and talent. If all these pieces come to fruition at the right moment, then your horse may be ready in a short time. If unfortunate things happen, like your horse getting hurt, it may take more effort and time for your horse to be ready to show. Let’s hear the scoop from some of the industry’s leading professionals.

Bret Parrish – The fastest we’ve ever had one train was RL Best Of Sudden; he learned so quickly and started each day right where he left off the day before. “Bo” was powerful and mentally mature. I felt like we could have shown him in April of his two-year-old year.

In contrast, KM Hot Number, a daughter of RL Best Of Sudden, was a June baby, so we took the training process very slow and gave her time to mature.  We began showing “Sultry” as a 5-year-old, and it was worth the wait because she was a two-time Congress Champion that year.

Steve Heckaman – The quickest I have ever gotten one ready was James Caan. His owner brought him to me, barely started, the first of August, and wanted me to show him in the Congress’ 2-year-old Futurity. I made him a project, riding 2 or 3 times a day for short intervals. He was a nice-minded horse, which was naturally a good mover, which made my job much more attainable.

For the first time on Labor Day in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, I showed him at their state Futurity and finished Reserve. I continued to work on improving the holes in my quick job of training the rest of September.

Unfortunately, when I got to Congress, I found out the owner had not made the last payment, and I could not show him. Due to the intensely competitive nature of showing, it is way better to wait until prospects are more broke, reliable, and exhibit a high degree of ‘finish’ at home and practice on the road.

I have never been an advocate of letting them ‘learn’ while competing because that means accepting a lower degree of control and respect. If bad behavior were to happen, we do not need to establish a pattern that could influence performance throughout the horse’s career.

Katy Jo Zuidema – I never put a timeline on 2 yr olds. There’s nothing I wouldn’t say I like more than pressure or pushing one before they’re ready. My goal is to produce a sound and sane and successful product.

Nowadays, there is so much money in the maiden and novice 3 yr old stuff that often it makes more sense to save them for that anyway, even if they are ready as 2 yr olds.

My fastest to get one shown was Onlygoodtilmidnight. I got a late start on her, and she was “firey,” so she made it challenging. I was continually riding her. Then, it’s June at the Tom Powers, and she won a bunch of prizes.

The longest one I waited on was Ima Blazin Hot Leaguer. He was sketchy and awesome, but I couldn’t push him. He wouldn’t learn from it. It never made him better. So I just kept riding him.

At the time, the Reichert had a maiden class in August. Some people complained about how late it was, but there was no chance at four years old; he could have made it a day sooner.

So we barely made it, and he was terrified the entire time I showed him. We ended up reserve. That was in 2009 when that show was king. It felt like a significant victory to me.

Stacy Huls – First off, I think it’s super important that they are entirely ready, to avoid horses learning to be bad in the pen. I think for most horses, it’s a learned behavior.

On the other, probably the fastest was the 2-year-old from 2019. I started her in December, and she was ready around March/April. She just naturally did most of it on her own, and it was easy.

The longest, well I’ve had some that never got ready. I even sent them out to a few various programs, and it didn’t happen. They had all the world’s talent but didn’t have the interest or brain to do it. A few found other jobs, and two never materialized and were in good hands.

Farley McLendon – The fastest? From start to finish, six months. The six months included hauling to shows for the atmosphere. I had another I didn’t start and had a month to put my hands down, unsure how long it had been ridden before. I didn’t think I could do it if that tells you anything. The longest has been a year. I like the horses to focus and wait on me, so the showing should be easy when they are ready.

Jerry Erickson – My comments will refer to my experience with over fence horses. No, I do not like them to learn while being shown.

The quickest I have gotten one show ring competitive was less than two months. This was a hunter under saddle horse that was so very broke, very manageable with a tremendous lead change. Have taken as much as six months and then keep them in green for the rest of the year. The most recent example is Just Like June.  I spent the first year getting her comfortable, and by November, she was Reserve World Champion in Junior Hunter Hack. The following year, I showed her extensively, and she was the 2017 World Champion in Progressive Working Hunter.

Austin Gooding – The quickest I recall having one ready to show is probably six months, and then there are horses I’ve waited until they are four-year-olds to show.

I want to point out that the majority of the time, unless there was an injury, they are still started as young 2-year-olds. It just takes that much longer for them to get the hang of things.

Most of the time, the owners see all these 3-year-old maiden classes available, and they want that 2-year-old they send late to try to be ready for one of those events. What they don’t realize is those maiden 3-year-olds are typically broke and ready to show by late into their 2-year-old year, not just being sent to the trainer late.

One thing we never like to do is show a horse before it’s 100% ready. Learning in the show pen is not the correct way to go. That is the quickest way to start teaching your young horse bad habits in the show pen, which can be a tough thing to fix.

I want to add, and this is just me personally and an opinion, I do not like my young horses’ longe lined as yearlings. Most vets will tell you longing is not great on any age horse’s legs, let alone a young horse still developing. I like my yearlings to be taught to longe late summer, but other than that, I like them to live outside and not be messed with for the most part, other than leading and tying, of course. 

We have been fortunate to start many nice, young horses over the years and ones that last. I can’t help but think our philosophy regarding yearlings has helped that, along with once we start riding, listen to what that horse tells you.

About the Author -Trainer Darla Lee was born in Apple Valley, California. She got her start in horses in the local 4-H club. She is a graduate of the University of Findlay. She and her husband Brian are horse trainers and have operated Lee Quarter Horses for 18 years. She currently resides in Plain City, Ohio, with Brian and her son Dalton.