SEPTEMBER 1998 BACK ISSUE
Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 9/4/98; 2:00:00PM.
Training Strategies: Ten Steps To Prepare Your Young Horse To be Ridden
By Leslie Vilhauer, Cheney, WA
Starting a young horse under saddle is a dreaded day to many horse owners, but it doesn't have to be. There are steps to take along the way that will make mounting for the first time just another step in a process rather than an event in itself.
These steps can be done by most horse owners before they take the horse to a trainer for riding. In fact, good trainers prefer a well handled horse and may even refuse to take in a young horse who has been ignored for its first two or three years.
The following steps provide a guideline for gently starting a horse toward a lifetime of learning and pleasant experiences.
1. BASIC GROUND MANNERS. A two year old should be halter broke and be able to lead and tie well. This training should have begun two years ago and not last week. He should be used to wearing a winter blanket or sheet and eating an occasional sugar cube, both of which will pay off later.
2. GOOD HOOF CARE. Before riding, a horse should have been on a regular hoof trimming schedule. Bad hooves are not a good way to start off a performance career.
3. LUNGEING. A young horse can be taught to lunge and this is a good time to teach voice commands such as walk on, trot, canter, and the most important, whoa. Use a lunge line that is a minimum of 25 feet long and only lunge for short periods of time (such as ten minutes maximum each way). The voice commands will be your greatest asset later when you're ready to ride.
4. BRIDLING. Using a simple headstall with a snaffle bit and no reins, teach the horse to bridle by using a sugar cube to encourage him to open his mouth for the bit. The sugar also encourages salivation for a nice, soft mouth.
5. SADDLE PADS. While grooming, gently lay a saddle pad on the horse's back. Take it off and put it on. If the horse is used to a winter blanket, this may not phase him at all.
6. GROUND DRIVING. Once the horse is comfortable lungeing, ground drive him, using two drive lines (or two lunge lines) and a surcingle. If he is used to the belly strap of a winter blanket, it will be easier for him to accept the surcingle being tightened. Ground driving also introduces the pressure of the reins.
7. SADDLING. Once the horse is used to blankets, pads, and surcingles, saddling may be easy. Start off with a light saddle if possible and work up to a western saddle. With all the straps banging around, tacking up with a western saddle is a great learning experience even for an English prospect. Leave the saddle on for five minutes at first, and then later leave him tied and saddled for twenty minutes or so.
8. WALKING WITH THE SADDLE. Once the horse is used to standing and moving around at the hitching post while saddled, walk him around. Bang the stirrups around a little bit, but don't be too aggressive and frighten him.
9. LUNGEING WITH THE SADDLE. Assuming the horse is a lungeing pro by now, lunge him with the saddle on. This will get him used to both the weight on his back and the motion of the saddle while he moves.
10. PUTTING WEIGHT IN THE STIRRUPS. At this point the horse is ready for weight in the left stirrup. Start by pushing down with your hand. Then hold the top of the saddle and pull it toward you, simulating the weight shift it will make during mounting. Finally, if you're ready, put your left foot in the stirrup.
At this point, the horse is ready to be mounted. Whether you do it or a trainer does it is up to you. Either way, if you've accomplished many of these steps, your horse has a great start on life. Training shouldn't be traumatic for the horse, the owner, or the trainer. If these steps seem overwhelming and way beyond your skills, consider buying an older, more experienced horse. But if you can accomplish some of them, do as much as you can, and your trainer will thank you when it's time to mount up.
LESLIE VILHAUER, M.S.
from the Training Strategies Archive