Since June I have been writing about the process I use to get a young horses started for under saddle work. This process is to help a horse learn how to accept and deal with stressful situations. Now I am at the second ride and all that work will start paying off. If everything has gone as planned I am not really worried about him being afraid to let me get on and off him. When he is no longer worried about me as a rider we are ready to move on to the next stage of training. The horse is officially started and now he is a “green horse”. For those of you that have ridden green horses before you will agree with me that they are not like riding a “broke” or “schooled” horse. There are different stages of “green” as well and this horse is as green as it gets. He does not steer, or stop; he has no lateral movement, and almost no forward movement. He does not know what a leg cue is or an aid from my seat or even a rein aid. There is still a degree of caution and discretion that is essential to continue progressing is a safe confidant manor.
To proceed from this point I am careful to continue to prepare my horse as best I can before I try to teach any particular exercise or movement. I want to build on the fundamentals that the horse already has. I want to make sure I do not confuse him any more that necessary and help him out when he is not able to overcome his confusion.
I try to remember that when he responds to something I do he is responding the way he “thinks” I want him to. If he is not correct I will help him in any way I can until he is more correct. Effort is everything at this point, and he will be going through a period where he will mix up the lessons he already knows. This is when his practical theory will become on the job training. He has a basic understanding of steering and stopping and moving forward etc from the ground but he will have less time to think before he acts and therefore he will be wrong a lot of the time. It will take a little time for him to adapt what he already knows into the new situation of being ridden. It is important that I do not ask too much and then over correct him. This will hurt his confidence and cause him to become frustrated and this is what I really want to avoid. This frustration will put him too close to the edge of unpredictability where he could get stressed enough to need to remove himself from the situation. This could mean that I have just been involuntarily removed from the saddle.
What I try to do is keep things as simple as I can. I try to separate my aids as much as possible. I am either using legs or hands but not legs and hands at the same time. If I am using my hands I am using one hand or the other but not both hands at the same time. Separation of aids allows him to concentrate on one thing at a time. As his confidence grows then I can combine my aids or use supporting aids with much less confusion on his part.
The first thing I need is forward movement. I will gently bump him with both legs until he moves his feet. I am not kicking him just a rhythmical bump with my calves. Any movement and I will stop bumping and give him a pet. If he has grown roots and will not move his feet I will shorten one rein and fix it and my hand on my leg causing him to bend his neck. I want my hand fixed in one place so I do not bump his mouth. I will hold him in this position, not pulling on him until he moves his feet. I will then release, pet him and repeat until he will take a few more steps each time. If he pulls on the rein to straighten his neck I don’t want to get into a tug of war I will just hold and wait. Eventually his neck will get tired and he will move his feet. If I have to bend him to move him when he stops moving I will alternate between my legs and bending him to try to help him respond to a leg cue. I don’t want him to over react so slow and quiet movement is all I want. Once he starts moving I don’t care where he goes. I will generally have one rein slightly shorter than the other so I am guiding him in a general direction but if he decides he wants to go the other way I will not argue with him. I don’t want any conflict so if he wants to go straight I will ask to go straight; if he wants to go left then I will ask him to go left. If he stops I will say whoa and pet him. I will only ride for a few minutes before I get off. I will have several of these short rides during a session and when things are going well I will get off and call it a good day. I will only ask him to walk and not to trot or canter. If he offers to trot or canter then I will go with what he is doing and not try to stop him. When the walk is forward and comfortable I will encourage him to speed up but I try to listen to him judging how comfortable he is at a lower speed before I ask for a faster one. As a rule if I can encourage him faster and he is willing to speed up then he is ready. If I have to push him to speed up he is not ready and I will try again another time or another day. Discretion is the better part of valor.
© 2007 Will Clinging