I usually get on a colt during the first visit, assuming he has basic ground manners in place. The youngster should respect his handlers space. He should show a willingness to respond to basic commands and cues. Walk, trot, back, step over and whoa. He should be responsive in hand or on a lunge line. He should be comfortable with a person standing on a mounting block on both sides. If he has not mastered these skills, I'll address them before we advance.
Using advance and retreat, not force or fear, I'll introduce your youngster to pad, saddle, driving lines and then myself. This is usually accomplished in two hours. Using my time tested methods, your youngster will be a cooperative partner. In 2015 having started well over 350 young horses under saddle, I have yet to have a first ride buck.
Most of these young horses were started at their own farms on my first visit. I've started them at 2 1/2 years, many as 4-6 year old's and some as old as 10 years. ( A breeding Arab Stallion).
The horse pictured below was quite a few years ago, but take a look at a recent first ride.
Click here to see a recent 1st ride on a different horse named Lucy
Click here to see Lucy's 4th ride under saddle
Although I do take horses in for 30 days to start them, you really don't need to send your horse to "the trainers" How many trainers do you know that come to you? You watch the entire session, you participate in the ground work part, you see and know everything that happens to your horse. You know what you are paying for. You know an apprentice, or barn help is not touching your horse.
Maggie's 2nd time under saddle, scroll down to read her progression step by step!
Between the rider and the Ground is the grace of God.
I give God all the credit for my success with horses.
I am truly blessed.
The first lessons will set the foundation for all of your youngsters future training. The most important thing you can do for yourself and your horse is to make these formative rides a pleasurable experience.
I've never understood why some owners of potential dressage horses, jumpers, western pleasure, barrel racers, look for those type of trainers to start their youngster. You need an experienced person that starts young horses, once you have a great foundation, THEN get your favorite trainer from your desired discipline to begin formal training.
You want a horse that has has a great first experience, goes forward nicely; one that will be happy in whatever discipline you have planned for him.
Click on the testimonial section to see some pictures of horses going bitless for their first ride.
I choose to start horses bitless for safety and control and a good first experience under saddle for the horse and myself. Yes, I said "SAFETY AND CONTROL"
I believe we have all been brought up believing a bit = control. This is simply not true, unless your horse is schooled to the highest level of dressage and you have incredible hands, (In a fairy tale I picture true harmony). The truth however, is what I normally see. A horse that is over flexed his slobbering, flaring nostrils indicative of a horse straining to breath, with his swishing tail showing further evidence of his displeasure that is beyond agitation. I have to say there is nothing more spectacular than a well executed piaffe. Unfortunately it's hard to look at the beauty without seeing the pain.
If you choose to ride your horse in a bit, that is your decision, but your youngsters first introduction to his first ride should not be any more confusing than it has to be. As he understands and accepts his first handful of rides and his new job, adding the bit later would be safer for horse and rider. Even though I choose to ride bitless I would hate to think of any of my horses being started in a bit by someone with unforgiving harsh hands, should they ever end up somewhere else, (I know I am not promised tomorrow). So I used to teach them to go in a snaffle bit. Since writing this a few years back, I have decided I won't ever put a bit in my newest horse's mouth because I know with all the good training they have and the sheer volume of people that are riding bitless, they will have no problem being rehomed to a person that will keep them bitless.
A young horse doesn't understand giving to the bit as a natural reaction, so when frightened by his first rider, then grabbed by the riders hands, a horse is likely to explode from the pain. His first reaction is to flee from pain and bolt, he may also freeze then when pressed to go forward, explode with bucking, till he escapes the source of that pain. There is no need for creating this bad taste in their mouth for their new lot in life. Not just the bit, but the fear and pain of the whole experience. Once the horse understands basic cues then you can gradually teach him to accept the bit with the least pain possible. If that's what you need to do.
I rode with bits for years, and really didn't think twice about the pain I caused because I didn't have the knowledge to teach my mount what I wanted without resorting to grabbing on their mouth. I am still amazed at what horse's will do for us, how many will tolerate a bit in soft hands with no complaints. I also still cringe when I see horses with severe bits, tie downs, nose bands, in unforgiving hands all because they haven't accepted the bit. Change doesn't come easy, I'm not judging just trying to make things better for the horses we love.
Maggie's first ride
The following is a description of the steps I typically follow to prepare for a non-eventful first ride on a youngster. This Friesian filly was a coming 3yr old. The outcome of this ride was typical of all of my first rides.
If You Want To See Bucking, Better Attend The PBR!
As of this writing, about Maggie's experience in "2007" I had started over 180 young horses and I had yet to have one buck!
Maggie was no different. I had worked with Maggie on one occasion two years prior to riding her for the first time on April 20th 2007
Upon my arrival I observed Judy Deboer catch her horse then tack her up. I asked Judy to lead Maggie away, turn to the right and lead her back to me. I also asked Judy to lunge Maggie at a walk, followed by a trot. Observing the pair as they interacted allowed me to access their relationship in a matter of minutes as well as pinpoint an exact place to start.
To lunge or Not to lunge
I only lunge a horse for five minutes in each direction if I feel it’s necessary. It may take me much longer to teach my client to lunge properly; we are simply working on walking quietly and stopping obediently. We won’t move onto a trot until we have perfected our communication at a walk. The point of teaching my clients to lunge is to refine their communication with their horse. I don’t lunge my own horses prior to riding but ask all of my clients to demonstrate their ability to lead or lunge. There were only a few areas that needed addressing. Maggie wanted to turn in toward Judy when asked to halt. She refused to remain on the lunge circle per Judy’s request. She would break into a trot when asked to walk, and continue walking when asked to halt. These were common problems that most of my clients experience.
After breaking down a few tasks, I addressed and corrected each problem. I taught Maggie to halt while staying on the circle, to remain at a walk until given a cue to trot, and to halt immediately from a walk. We repeated this in the opposite direction. A successful first ride depends on my ability to teach the horse to read, understand, and respond immediately to my body language, with and without verbal commands.
How Long Can This Keep Going On?
On average my clients rarely require more than 3 visits. As a traveling trainer I am never too familiar with the horse I will be riding or working with. I don’t have 30 - 60 days in which to do my job.
Since Judy had done a great job in raising a well-socialized respectful filly that was already comfortable wearing a saddle I was pretty confident I would be able to ride Maggie that day. If a client’s horse is not quite ready to be ridden upon my initial visit, I’ll assign homework for the owner, it’s usually very quiet work involving giving to pressure, or getting comfortable with a human standing by its side from a mounting block. When they call for the second appointment the horse is really ready for its first ride.
Moving Right Along!
After lunging, we moved on to walking in hand, followed by trotting, to cement our go forward cue as well as our verbal whoa. Maggie was lovely. I coached Judy while she worked with Maggie on everything we had covered up to this point.
We gave Maggie a 10-minute break to take a drink, and have a few minutes to soak in what we had just covered. During this entire process she was calm and willing.
A Small Dose of Round Penning?
I had asked Judy to leave the ring to demonstrate my version of getting the horse to join up with me at liberty. I don’t just turn the horse loose as I don’t want them to run around in frantic circles. As with lunging I never want to physically tire my horse. I prefer to exercise the horses mind. Some horses have had a bad experience with “round penning” I don’t want the horse to think he has to take off like a rocket. I prefer a relaxed walk or trot, with a few simple changes of direction.
To get the filly to understand I want her to turn and face me when I kiss to her, I attach a 12-foot lead rope to her halter. I rub her all over then walk toward her hindquarters. I clucked to her while drawing my body backwards as I pull her head towards me. I do this several times on both sides, the third time I shouldn’t have to pull the horse toward me. She knows to look when I kiss or cluck. I unclip the lead rope from Maggie’s halter and walk toward her head as I gesture for her to turn to the right. I walk away exuding the confidence of a herd leader. She follows me as I make tight circles to the right and left. I offer out my hand toward her nose as a gesture of friendship. As she reaches toward it I walk away, next time I let her catch up to me and I give her a nice neck rub. She follows me like a big puppy. I gently send her off. After she completed two laps, I draw back to take the pressure off, and kiss to her to get her attention. She turned to face; I walked up to her, pet her and left. I gently send her off again, and change her direction a few more times. After a lap or two, I called her back to me. I attached a short lead rope for our next task.
A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste.
I prefer to work with horses at liberty in an area 10 times the size of the 60- foot round pen. For sensitive horses the confinement of the round pen can be too much pressure, even if the handler is low energy. Very subdued cues are needed for success. A novice handler can have negative results on a good horse. Add a horse with an aggressive personality or a sensitive horse and you have a recipe for disaster.
A larger area offers the horse more choices. The horse is allowed to use his brain, instead of responding like a wild animal that only gives in because he is trapped. So many horses are made to run recklessly, hitting their legs as they crash into the round pen panels. They are driven way too aggressively till they are left with a feeling of defeat with no other option but to submit, or they make a frantic attempt to jump out of the round. This is no way to start a relationship based on trust.
In a large area I am able to establish my leaderships while earning the horses trust and respect. He’ll actually put his heart into giving me his best once he’s under saddle.
If he can’t trust me to keep him safe, I can’t trust him to keep me safe!
Are We There Yet?
Now I attached a shorter lead rope to Maggie’s halter. I asked her to give to pressure by flexing her head laterally toward the stirrup. I was very impressed to find this button already installed. This skill not only demonstrates a willingness to give to pressure it produces flexibility and suppleness. It enables horse and rider to perform a one-rein stop if a traditional one should fail.
I went on to ground drive Maggie for her first time. Before I introduced the driving lines. I rubbed and lifted all four legs with a long soft cotton rope. She had no objections. I should mention this was one of those rare occasions that I had luxury of driving in a round pen.
Ground driving is very beneficial to horse and handler prior to the first ride. I’m not referring to long lining a horse from the center of a lunge circle as you are not able to simulate the same feel in the turns, halts, and rein back that the horse will feel under saddle. After driving I feel I have established a pretty clear way to communicate my desires to my horse, and I can clearly feel how he responds to my request. Under saddle this gives both parties confidence in each other.
We ground drove for about 10 minutes and I was able to move right along with the rest of my pre-flight checks that actually serve to discourage my horse from having me “fly” later.
The Grand Finale!
Almost two hours later I am just about ready to ride. From a mounting block I make sure to bump into my horse repeatedly. I’ll rub on them from withers to hind quarters, then “accidentally” bump them. I’ll rub some more using my boot to scratch their rump. I want Maggie to see my leg swinging over as a good thing, and if I should really accidentally bump her she’ll think it was part of my plan
Can someone pass the slim fast?
I’m not sneaky about all this stuff, rather sloppy and nonchalant.
I try to make the horse feel really good about a human touching them in places they’re not used to. Maggie may have been rubbed all over from the ground. From a new perspective it can seem totally foreign and downright frightening coming from someone that is now towering above her! Standing on the mounting block, Ill grab mane and jump down several times.
Now I jump on the block three times to prepare her for the fourth jump as I spring on her back, then slide right off. I walk away and she follows me back to the block. I do that once more then repeat everything on the off side.
I put weight in the stirrup with my hand several times in between rubbing or bumping the horse. Now from the mounting block I’ll put weight in the stirrup with my boot. I believe the weight applied to the cinch is more frightening than the actual weight of the rider on the horses back. This is a very critical moment for horse and rider.
If all feels right, and it did with Maggie, I climb aboard. I kept my right foot out of the stirrup as I only intended to stay on long enough to rub her neck and dismount. I lead her away and repeat several times, jumping down from her off side as well. I then mount up put both feet are in my stirrups. I relax like I’m sitting on a couch, at ease but not complacent.
Giving Maggie a rub, to relax her.
I shorten my reins, taking all the slack out and ask Maggie to take one step back.
Taking the slack out, I was just about to sit back here.
She’s very responsive. I feel comfortable walking off. I joyfully say, “Maggie walk on,” I cluck then tickle her fanny with my fingertips. She complies. After three steps, I say “Maggie, and whoa” I say this very softly and slowly, this gives her a heads up with plenty of time to respond. I am delighted to have nice forward walk, and good brakes.
I feel great and Maggie feels very relaxed. I rarely use any leg with a first or second ride as this can make the horses cinch area tense. This feeling can ignite the launch sequence. Once in motion these series of events are not easily curtailed. More often than not, they end with the rider aborting sooner than planned. Happily I have avoided triggering this response in all of my first rides as well as the handful of following rides I put on before the client takes over.
Are We Finished Yet?
I ride for a few minutes, dismount then ride a little more. 5 - 20 minutes is an average first ride. I like to keep it short and sweet. This leaves you both wanting more. You and your horse will have no hard feelings or bad experiences when it’s time for the second ride.
First time trotting.
Play It Again!
The next and final session was a week later. We were able to breeze through all the steps from the week before. Maggie was so relaxed; I actually applied some inside leg and was amazed at how willingly she yielded to pressure.
This entire second session lasted about an hour. I rode for about 20 minutes. I dismounted and Maggie went under saddle for five more minutes with her owner Judy as her passenger for their very first time!