Building Your Horse From the Ground Up — The First Ride

Okay, you’ve been working your horse from the ground.  You can lunge him, drive him and even stand in the stirrup.  Now we are ready for that first ride.

Before the Ride

When I go out and know I’m going to put a first ride on a horse, I don’t just catch him, throw the saddle on and hop on.  I go through all my pre-flight checks before I get on.  I will groom him, pick up his feet, lunge him, disengage his hind quarters, move his front end around, flex him, maybe drive him, and stand in the stirrups on both sides of the saddle.  If he seems good to go I will then throw my leg over, if he seems a little out of sorts I may just do some more ground work and put off that first ride till the next day.

The Ride

I have two different ways I put a first ride on a colt.  The first way is for if I’m nervous about a horse or the horse seems a little more nervous than I’m comfortable just hopping on and going.  This method involves having another person there to lead the horse around for you while you ride.  This is how I put my first ride on my mustang Cobain. Dan, my husband, was helping me.  Notice he is standing right beside me.  He has a hold of the lead rope.  In this picture I’m just standing in the stirrup.  Cobain is use to this, but I have Dan there for when I swing my leg over.

Then I swing my leg over and I’m on.  I keep his head flex over while I get my foot in the stirrup.

I then pet his neck to let him know I’m there and to comfort him.

Then I ask for him to flex his head to the right.  I will flex him several times each direction until I feel him relax a little.

After I flex him several times to each side and I feel him relaxing, I dismount and give him a couple of seconds to rest.  Then I hop back on and flex him a couple more times.

Now we are ready to move.  I will click and squeeze my legs a little while my helper starts to lead the horse.  My helper keeps a fairly short lead on the colt and is ready to turn him if he starts to act up.  Typically all goes pretty smooth because we put in so much time building trust.  I communicate to my helper what I want to do.  If I’m going to ask the horse to stop, I’ll say “We’re going to stop in 1, 2, 3, whoa”  This way we can both give the horse the correct commands at the same time.  I may ride around 10 minutes, having the horse do several stops and changes in direction and maybe a couple steps backward. Then I will call it a day.

When getting off, my helper stands in the same place they stood while I was getting on.  I swing my leg over and try to land close to my helper.

The second way I do a first ride is without some one holding on to my horse.  This is also how I will do my second ride on the horse that I had someone hold for the first ride.

After all the ground work and standing in the stirrup I will swing my leg over.

Once I’m on I will ask the horse to flex both directions for me several times until he starts to relax.

Notice in the second picture of Andy flexing, his head is lower than the first picture.  This tells me that his is relaxing.I will dismount then get back on and ask him to flex again.  Once I feel that he pretty relaxed, I will smooch to him and ask him to go.  A lot of times the horse won’t know what you want and you will have to pop them on the bottom to get them moving. Or if you have someone that can help you, you can have them move them around as if they are lunging the horse.

My first ride I like to walk and trot the horse and stop several times.  Some people like to also canter on the first ride, but I don’t.  Just a personal preference.  When you are done with your ride, you need to flex your horse’s head over to the side you are getting off on.  When you step off of your horse you need to land moving forward.  I try to land slightly in front of the shoulder of the horse.  Colts will often times give a little kick after the first couple of rides and stepping forward will help to keep you safe.



Building Your Horse From the Grown Up — Part 4 (After this we ride)

I know it seems like I’m spending an eternity on ground work with my colts.  Everything I have done up to this point can take a colt anywhere from a couple days to a couple of weeks to catch on.  The speed in which you progress will really depend on the colt you are working with.  For example, I just got a gelding to train for the 2012 Extreme Mustang Makeover in Fort Collins.  He was so willing to learn and easy to work with that I was on his back by day five.  It’s important that you read your horse.  When he does one step well move on the the next. It is really important that you don’t miss any steps, and some horses require more steps than others.  What I have covered so far is the minimum of what I do with my colts. Some colts require a lot more work on working with their legs than others, so I do different exercises that can help build more trust in that area.  Really the main thing is don’t try to rush.

We are now to a point where I want to get my horse ready to be mounted.   To be at the point where I consider a horse ready to practice mounting, I must be able to move all around the horse with out him getting nervous.  I need to be about to touch him all over his body and be able to pick up his feet.  I also like him to lunge well and understand what I want when I am ground driving.  If he pasts all these tests I start my mounting training.

I really like to break my mounting down.  First I want my horse to flex his head over to me when I ask for his nose.  Of coarse we taught this to our colt earlier so this shouldn’t be a problem (see Part 2).  So to start I ask for my horse’s nose then I pull down on the saddle horn kind of like I would do if I was actually mounting.  If he moves around, that’s okay, just stay with him and keep pressure on the saddle until his feet quit moving.  Once his feet stop moving release pressure on the saddle and the bit.  Then repeat until he doesn’t move when you put pressure on the saddle.  After he does one side well do the same thing on the other side.  I will work both sides a few times till he stands still each time I tip his nose and put pressure on the saddle.

Once my horse is standing there just bored with me pulling on the saddle I move on to actually putting some weight in the stirrup.  Like before I tip his nose over two me. Then I put just the toe of my boot in the stirrup.  I then start to bounce a little in the stirrup.  If I’m on the left side and my left foot is in the stirrup, my right foot don’t come off the ground for more than a second.  I’m really just doing little hops not actually standing in the stirrup yet.  Most horses will move around a little here.  You really want to try to stick with them, keeping their nose tipped and continue hopping until they stand still.  Once they quit moving their feet, take your foot out of the stirrup and release their nose.  Repeat until you can do this without the horse moving.  Then repeat on the other side.  Again do this as many times on each side as needed, till your horse will stand still when you put your foot in the stirrup and you hop a couple of times.

Now we are actually going to get all of our weight on the horse.  The way I like to do this next step is to start out like the previous step.  I will ask for my horse’s nose, then I will hop two times on the stirrup then on the third hop I stand up in the stirrup.  If you look at the picture you will notice I am leaning over the horse.  I have weight in the stirrup and I am resting my hip on the saddle.  If you horse moves around here just keep his head tipped over to you and stay with him until his feet quit moving.  Once his feet stop step down and let him rest a second.  Then repeat.  On my second time up I like to reach over and rub his neck a little and mess with the opposite stirrup.  Again I do this over and over until my horse just stands there and seems bored with me.  Then repeat on the other side.  This is the last step before actually swinging your leg over and riding your horse, so you want to make sure that both you and your horse are comfortable with everything up to this point.  If you feel like you just aren’t ready to swing that leg over, don’t.  Go back and do some more ground work and practice everything up to this point until you are both relaxed and comfortable.