To start a young horse is not necessarily an easy task, but it can be so rewarding and amazing to be a part of. I had always wished to try it myself and suddenly the opportunity showed. Not only once, but twice! I would like to share with you my approach to the project by taking you through a few steps I find very important…
How do you prepare the young horse to be mounted?
Preparing the young horse to be mounted in my case involves loads of work from the ground. Most of the time it doesn’t even seem to have anything to do with the mounting part actually, but rather working on the relationship between horse and rider. From my point of view trust is the most important thing in this process. Making sure the horse knows you will always help him and never expose him to things he can’t handle. This can be achieved in many different ways. Through going for walks side by side, by doing agility, by playing in liberty and by simply hanging out together.
When a good foundation of trust is there I like to play with the ‘parking’. To those of you who doesn’t know what is meant, parking is when the horse places itself in front of the stool so you can mount. This is a great way of practising a rider above the head of the young horse. I usually do this by guiding the horse to the stool and afterwards give a treat by reaching over the back of the horse. This of course is the beginning of mounting the horse. When the horse is allowing you to put a little weight on his back while giving the treat/petting, you can take the next step – jumping on. I prefer to get up, give a treat and get back down right away the first couple of times before I ask for a single pair of steps!
What is the first thing you do when you get up?
As already said the first thing I do when I get up is to breathe, give a treat and get back down. If the horse feels alright with the whole proces I might as well repeat the whole thing a couple of times before ending the session. I usually spend a couple of sessions doing nothing more than this. At least not other things considering me on the back of the pony…
The horse should now be confidential with you sitting up there, moving around a little on his back and jumping off. It is now time to take the first few steps as a riding horse! I am the kind of person who uses my voice a lot, so I usually ‘click’ with my tongue to encourage a little movement. Depending on the sensitivity of the horse I can also lightly use my legs to make the connection between the two things. As time and days passes I will ask for more and more steps before stopping and jumping off. What I find most important these first times of course is to give the young horse a good experience. Secondly I focus on installing the stop, start, turn and back-up.
How do you teach start, stop, turn and back-up?
Starting a young horse includes a lot of new things to process at the same time for the horse. Therefore I like to split things up and introduce them once at a time instead of all at once. It might sound silly, but signals such as stop, turn and back-up can easily be ‘installed’ long before even getting near the back of the horse. I see that as a huge advantage as the horse is most likely to be more relaxed when it is already confident about parts of the process. What I mean is that it often seems to be less stressing for the horse when mounted if he already feels confident with the signals and parking for example.
Working in-hand is something I like to do with the young horses. I use my cavesson and a couple of reins for this purpose just as a normal bridle. (A sidepull, halter or bridle works just as fine). I then walk beside the shoulder of the horse and hold a rein in each hand on either side of the neck of the horse. Exactly as if I was riding. The advantage of teaching start, stop, turn and back-up from the ground is that I am able to use my body and clearly show myself what I wish for the horse to do. If I want him to stop, I stop. If I want him to turn, I turn and so on. Meanwhile I use the rein signals at the same time and after a while the connection between body language, (voice in my case) and rein-signal is usually made.
While practising from the ground you can also go one step further and introduce the trot. Simply by using your body and voice the horse can often be persuaded to trot a few steps beside you. This of course can also be done on the longe-line if you struggle the keep up the pace or find the other thing easier.
How much do you use rein and how much do you use body/voice?
The use of rein and body/voice depends on the horse, situation and surroundings. Of course my goal is to use as much body and as little rein as possible, but you have got to start somewhere! In the beginning I find it more important to support the young horse than to avoid any kind of ‘touching’ because of a principle. Showing the way into a turn for example by stretching my arm and ‘showing the way’ is totally fine in my opinion. I am not talking about pulling here, but lightly guiding.
I always prefer to use my voice when starting and stopping, and in the stops I prefer to only use the rein as support and not as the only signal. Either way I always try support whatever I wish from the horse by using my body. To share an example; If I wish for a turn, I turn my hips, shoulders and look in the direction I would like to go as well as showing the direction with my arm and the rein. Thereby combining rein signals and body language.
Through my work with all above I put a lot of attention into making sure the horse ends the lesson with a success. I would rather end the session 10 minutes earlier if everything works perfect instead of going on until the horse becomes tired. It is always so tempting to try again and again when things are working out for you, but better stop on the top than being frustrated when the horse is becoming tired and things no longer work as great as before!