Training Tips: Before the First Ride

Penny is a young girl in a horse training program somewhere ?out west.? She pulls her assigned horse out of its stall for the first time and immediately becomes aware that this colt has not been handled much and is quite fractious.

Over the next few days Penny begins to work with the colt on the ground. She attempts to gain his trust and give him some basic skills that will make the team?s next few months more enjoyable.

As the days progress, her classmates (one arrogant girl in particular) begin to goad Penny into getting on her sensitive mount, even though she knows he is not ready for that kind of pressure.

Finally, Penny gives in to “Arrogant Annie” and allows her to put the first ride on the skittish colt. After about three seconds with Annie aboard, the colt decides that he is NOT happy about his situation and promptly ejects the smug girl over the high round pen fence and straight into the ER waiting room.

I am guessing that many of us have witnessed some version of this story and presume that you too have been frustrated by the result. Conversely, perhaps you are the owner of a similar horse and after a comparable experience, have had to invest large amounts of time and effort in regaining the animal?s trust and ability to learn. No matter your exact experience, the outcome can be vexing.

Teaching a green horse some fundamental skills prior to the first ride can lead to a positive experience and encourage the animal?s willingness to learn. Without a doubt, anything you can do to avoid the aforementioned situation is worthwhile.

As the old adage goes, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.? Likewise, there are about as many different training techniques as there are horses to train. Typically, no one method is better than another and often it is useful to combine techniques from several different training regimes.

That being said, there are a few fundamentals you can teach a horse, no matter what your training style, that will help make those first few rides go as smoothly as possible. These essentials include 1) how to stand tied up, 2) how to move away from pressure, 3) how to give to a bit or side-pull, and 4) overall basic ground manners (i.e. your space vs. their space).

Teaching these lessons before you get in the saddle compels you to spend some time with your horse on the ground. This will allow your steed to develop a level of trust in you while you to get to know some things about him. Knowing such things as how big his flight zone is, how willing he is to learn, and how he responds to pressure will give you a good indication of how he will act once you are in the saddle. With a little luck, skill, and patience, you can work out most of the kinks while you are still on the ground and save some stress, cuss words, and perhaps a trip to the ER.

I will be the first to admit that I am not what most would consider a professional horse trainer. However, I do have a fair amount of experience starting young horses. I spend a lot of time on the basics, ensuring that the horse understands my expectations and I know his behavior patterns before I ever climb in the saddle.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be sharing some insight into the tools and techniques I?ve found effective in safely starting young horses. I will also explain some of my reasoning behind these basic skills. Hopefully you can benefit from all of my past experiences; both good and bad.

Read more articles at Kentucky Horse Council.

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!