Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How quickly is ok to move a horse through training?

I've been thinking about this article from Eventing Nation on and off for a week now.

Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills: From Track To Three-Star in Two Years

Relevant bits from the article:

He raced in California, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey before retiring in November of 2014 [at age 5].
So Bills went with Chris to Florida in January 2015, and four months later he was entered in his first event at Training level. “I wanted to enter the Novice, but I entered late,” Chris says. “I contacted the organizers and they said all they had was a spot for Beginner Novice or for Training, so I figured we’d just give the Training a shot. He was a little unsure of things, but he has such a big heart, he just tried all weekend long.”
By August 2015, they had moved up to Prelim after completing three Training events; the next year, they came out at Intermediate and did three CIC** evenets over summer and fall 2016, and came in 15th at the Fair Hill CCI** in fall 2016.

The horse came back out at Intermediate in early February 2017, and did his first Advanced at Pine Top in late February. Last week, they came out at the Carolina CIC***.

When asked how he was able to move up the levels so quickly, Chris is quick to give all the credit to Bills and his incredible Thoroughbred heart. “Bills just never stops trying. The cross country has never been an issue for him,” Chris says. “He has struggled with connection issues on the flat, but he’s always been incredibly bold over jumps.”
So let's do the math: first event ever at Training in January 15 after 2 months off the track. 25 months later, he ran his first Advanced; 26 months later, a three star. Their spring plans include another CIC*** and then the CCI*** at Bromont in June.

I will be the first one to say: I am not an upper level rider. I have never taken a horse beyond Beginner Novice; I have never retrained an OTTB. Arguably, I have done such a shitty job of training my own green horse that we're still dealing with basic things after a decade.

But: 26 months from racing to three star? That can't possibly be ok, right? Even if we assume the horse had a ridiculously high base of fitness from the track, even if we assume he is some kind of prodigy at cross country, does he still really and truly understand his job as a three star horse after barely two years? Even more, does he understand it well enough to handle all the challenges and complexities of some of these huge courses?

I'm genuinely curious. Is this a reasonable, if fast, timeline, or do you think there are dangerous training holes?


  1. Reading the article I had the same concerns. The horse seems to be honest and bold but if it was me I'd be worried about what his response will be when things aren't perfect. Does he have the experience to save his rider and himself if things start to go wrong?

  2. i saw that article and scratched my head a little too. i mean, the reality is that many pros out there start all their horses at novice unless they've got some reason not to. 3' is honestly not a big deal for a naturally talented horse with a competent rider. my 4* eventing trainer was fond of nonchalantly saying that even the biggest fences are still not actually that big on cross country (tho i'm not equally convinced haha). so with a rider like that who's able to fill in the gaps and carry the horse through dicier moments (just watch Elisa Wallace get Indiana Chrome through his training level stadium and xc rounds, or Hwin through prelim) will have a different timeline than a rider like me, who will need the reverse situation of having the *horse* carry *me* through the dicier moments.

    personally i don't really like the look of an overfaced horse, and personally i prefer a more conservative program focused on a self-sufficient and educated horse... mostly bc this is just what i need as a rider. but i'm also not gonna say that there are true hard and fast rules for what constitutes "too fast" in training.

  3. While every horse is an individual and I am clearly just an ambitious adult amateur who will never show at these levels, I don't like the rushing involved in training. I can appreciate the competition projects for TB and Mustangs in order to promote the breed, for example, but I don't like the hurry. I think the horse needs to develop along without an agenda. But of course, what do I know LOL!? ;-)

  4. I mean as fast or slow as the horse gets it is what I personally always think. There are huge differences between a professional and an amateur's program. A professional can get out everyday to ride, some professionals ride their horses more than once a day, like a school in the morning, followed by long mileage low speed work on trails to build stamina. Like Emma said a Pro may start showing them at a higher level than an amateur or junior would, and give good to perfect rides to everything every single time. They may also have access to therapies to keep the horse well tuned, BoT everyday, icing, shockwave, heat lamps etc etc etc Do they make mistakes sure, could they go slower sure, and a lot do but I think you'd really need to know the ins and outs of the program to throw actual major shade and judgement.

  5. I went and read the article and watched the video, because I really wanted the horse to be able to "speak" for itself (as much as it can on the internet) when I made my decision. And looking at the pictures -- granted, carefully curated to only look their best -- and watching the video, nothing about the horse says to me that he is uncomfortable with his work or the level he is at.

    This horse is a prodigy. He's a phenomenal athlete and it took him only 26 months under the right handling to get to penultimate level of our sport. He is the 1% -- or really, the 0.01%.

    Does that mean it's the right training schedule for every horse? Obviously not. Plenty of kids aren't beating Deep Blue at Chess or Watson at Jeopardy, no matter how hard their mothers try. And I think that's unfortunately what people tend to take away from stories like this -- one horse did it, so my horse SHOULD be able to do it. The other thing that will fail here is if Bills is then sold to some aspiring AA who doesn't have the skill, tact, and knowledge of Chris Talley and THAT is where the holes will really show up. (Because there are definitely holes -- they just might not matter with such a good rider and relationship, as Emma stated above.)

    I don't know enough about equine physiology or biomechanics to say whether or not it's physically safe for a horse to do this, but it seems like most responsible riders are interested in listening to their horses' bodies to make sure that they can handle the work.

  6. It definitely throws me off but I think it is doable with the .01% like Nicole said. I'd be interested to hear about the training program the other horses in his string have. I'd doubt they were that quick.


Thanks for commenting! It's great to hear from you.