It’s been windy here, and my Dutch Warmblood True is presently in a small paddock while the spring grass gets a good healthy start. What this means in three-year-old horse language is that he cannot gallop giant circles in his pasture for hours at a time and is building up energy that I have trouble burning off. In that state, when the wind rustles through dry leafless trees or sends tumbleweeds flipping through the arena, we are in danger of imminent explosion.
True responds fairly well to general calming techniques, but he also needs what I call the Free Burn.
I turn him loose in a large safe arena and let him run at his own pace. Which is usually fast! He runs, bucks, scoots, spins, slides, rears, hops, kicks, sunfishes, crowhops, and otherwise displays his athleticism as much as he likes. I just stand there and watch.
You might think longeing or round penning would serve the same purpose, but there he must behave. The Free Burn is more effective because for a young green horse, “work” means manners and obedience. True is sometimes too full of himself for manners. He needs both the physical and mental release.
Once he burns off steam for a while, I can then ask him to work and he is much better able to concentrate. Free Burns are good for all horses being kept in a space smaller than a pasture, even those who don’t run and buck too much. Just being loose in a large space gives them new items to explore, new scents and sounds to experience.
In an arena, free time lets young horses sniff the jumps or barrels or whatever safe horse equipment your arena might contain. It allows them to develop a sense of personal familiarity with the location that is unrelated to anything we humans do.
Brain-Based Horsemanship is a weekly column that chronicles Janet Jones, PhD, and her journey with True, a Dutch Warmblood she trained from age three using neuroscience best practices. Read more about brain-based training in Jones’ award winning book Horse Brain, Human Brain.
This story originally appeared on janet-jones.com. It is reprinted here with permission.