The Green Horse; Confidence in Movement

When working with a green horse progress is not always consistent. The horse will plateau as he becomes confidant performing what he has been taught. How much we expect from the horse, his physical and mental ability to handle increased expectations for performance will be major factors in how quickly he improves. There are times when the horse can scare himself by doing something he did not fully understand. Movement can get bigger or faster than the horse is capable of handling with the level of training he has. The power that they have can get away from them and send them out of control. You could equate it to learning how to drive in a grand prix race car. An uneducated driver will not know how to handle the speed and sensitivity of the car, and will likely be out of control.

Riding a green horse should not be taken lightly. It is very easy to get beyond the horses and or the riders comfort level. Patience and preparation are very important to ensure every ride is successful. Success is a relative thing and should not be yet measured by correctness or performance. Success is building confidence and encouraging the effort to perform. Improvement is inevitable with effort, support and patience.

In practical terms, When I am working a green horse from the ground I am trying to prepare him for what I will ask him for later in the lesson when I ride him. I try not to jump too far ahead and teach maneuvers that he does not have all the tools to perform successfully every time I ask. For example if the horse I am riding only has a few rides I am still working at the walk. Eventually I want to have a comfortable canter. If I only concentrate on the canter and overlook more fundamental skills I may be able to get the horse to canter before he is prepared properly. The canter will not be of good quality. The departure will not be smooth, he may scare himself because he is off balance and I can not steer, or stop him because I overlooked developing the confidence and skills he needed to canter. What also happens is that the horse develops tension and anxiety while being ridden because he was not prepared for what happened.

If I can develop a nice forward walk, and work on the skills he needs to trot the transition to trot will be easy. The same is true from trot to canter. Forward, soft, straight, with comfortable transitions from walk to trot and back to walk, then canter is just around the corner.

A way that I evaluate the quality of the movement in preparation for an increase in movement is done on the longe line. In the early lessons I taught him how to longe in a basic way. Introducing the side reins and the concept of contact and straightness makes the longing more difficult. I try to encourage mechanical correctness as much as I can and evaluate the comfort in the movement more than the quality. If the transition from walk to trot is comfortable and he is comfortable maintaining the trot I will ask for canter. If things fall apart and he starts to race or bulge out or drop in excessively on the circle then the canter needs some work. I try to think to my self “would that feel comfortable to ride”? If my answer is no then I will not ask him when I am riding to do something that he can not do on the longe line.

Each ride should build on the last ride and lead to the next ride. I may work on the trot on the longe line for a couple of weeks before I ask for it under saddle. I should be able to give a specific aid and get a consistent response. Then when I ask under saddle I know what to expect from the horse and I am more likely to get a comfortable departure with a calm relaxed trot. It is much more important to have that consistence when going to canter. There should be no guess work if you want to have things work out the way you hoped. Actually if you are hoping it will work I will bet that the horse is not ready. You should KNOW that the horse is ready. This is a lesson that I have learned the hard way. Teaching the quality in movement on the longe line however slow is faster and safer than the weeks or month of trying to teach it to a scared horse after things have gotten out of control.
© 2008 Will Clinging