Pre-ride Equipment Check

A pre-ride tack check is something every rider should do before mounting up, but even some of the most experienced riders have tack mishaps because they missed something before mounting up.  Growing up I had my share of tack problems, most of which could have been prevented if I had only taken a few extra minutes to make sure my tack was in good working condition and put on properly.

ribsJust recently I had an accident where I was riding a young horse with a saddle that I failed to tighten up all the way.  The saddle slipped, the colt freaked out and I ended up with a few broken ribs and a banged up knee.  If I had only double checked to make sure my cinch was tight before I had gotten on, I could have saved my self a lot of pain and money.  The picture to the right is of my underarm after I landed in the panels when my saddle slipped. The video link here is a case where a loose saddle slips off, and the rider, Mark Lyon, takes a spill.  This was during a 2008 Extreme Mustang Makeover.  Mark actually got back on the horse and finished the ride to finish first in the event.  And neither Mark or his horse suffered any injuries.  2008 Extreme Mustang Makeover Winner Mark Lyon and Christian

Checking Your Tack

Saddle Pad

The saddle pad is pretty easy to check before putting it on your horse.  Just make sure it is free of any objects that can irritate your horse such as stickers or a piece of hay.  Also if I notice there is a lot of hair built up on the underside of the pad I will take a curry comb and brush it off.

Saddle

Your saddle has so many parts to check.  I start with making sure my  cinch straps or billets are in good working condition.  Make sure there is no uneven wear on them.  Also make sure they are not cracked or dried out.  A couple times a year I will oil my straps with Neatsfoot oil to help keep the leather soft. Make sure your cinch is fairly clean and there are no broken strands if it is a rope cinch.  Also check to make sure all the parts of your stirrup fenders are in good shape.  Make sure they are not split, thin or cracked.  Then before you mount your horse double check your cinch and make sure it is snug.  I usually will saddle my horse and only cinch them up half way tight.  Then I will do a little ground work and tighten the cinch a little more.  And I will then bridle my horse and finish tightening up the cinch.  By cinching in three steps it helps prevent my horse from becoming “cinchy”.  Also make sure to have your rear cinch snug enough that it isn’t hanging down.  If you leave that rear cinch hanging down, it really isn’t doing anything but hanging there.  Also it leaves a place for a horse to catch his foot if he happens to kick at a fly. It doesn’t need to be tight, but don’t leave it hanging clear down.

Bridle

When checking your bridle you need to make sure all the leather is in nice condition, free from any cracks and not dried out.  If your bridle has Chicago screws make sure they are all securely fasten.  Chicago screws have a tendency of becoming loose after a while so it is good to check them every time you ride.  If the Chicago screw is in a place that I don’t need it to ever come out, I will put a dot of glue in side the screw before fastening it.  Make sure your reins are securely fastened to your bit, and also be sure your bit is adjusted correctly in your horses mouth. I like to have the bit so it is just starting to make a wrinkle in the corner of my horse’s mouth.  Other people adjust their bits looser, and others adjust it tighter.   I have found that the start of one wrinkle works best for most horses.

Well hopefully before you hop on that pony of yours next time you will take a peek at your tack just to make sure it is all in good working condition.  You never know it might just save your life.

 

Building My Horse From the Ground Up — Part 3

By now my colts are usually becoming pretty good thinkers and problem solvers.  They are figuring out that when I am doing something I am actually asking them to move in some way, and it is the colt’s job to figure out how I want them to move.  They are also figuring out that if they move the right way I quit asking, and if they move the wrong way my asking gets harder and faster.  Here is where I like to introduce my colts to the saddle, and  this is also when I start  lunging (or circling if you are a Parelli person) and ground driving.

Saddling

Even the most desensitize colts can be afraid of a saddle.  One it is heavier than anything else you have put on them.  Most saddles also make noise, and they squeeze around your colts belly. So I have several steps I like to do before actually throwing the saddle on a colt’s back.

First you can take a long lead rope and put it around your colt’s heart girth.  Slowly tighten the rope while reassuring the colt that he is okay.  He may not mind this at all, or he may act up. If he acts up loosen the rope slightly until he settles down, then again. Repeat until he lets you tighten the rope without moving around.  Another step I take in getting my colts ready for being cinched is putting a surcingle on him.  This is a training device that is used for lunging and ground driving.  I may start ground driving using a surcingle, but typically I just ground drive using my saddle.  I use a light blanket when I use the surcingle.  I let the colt sniff it, then rub it along the colt’s neck and put it over his back.  Then the first few times I fasten the surcingle, I use my lunging whip to reach under the the colt’s belly and pull the girth underneath him.  First fasten it fairly loose then tighten it a little at a time till it is snug.

To get my horse use to seeing the saddle I will set it in the pen when I ground work my colt.  I will sometimes stick it on a barrel or sometimes I put it on the ground.  I let the colt sniff it and look at it several times before I pick it up and show it to him.

After I let him sniff the saddle a little and he is starting to think it won’t eat him, I will pick it up and let him sniff it some more.  I will then take the cinch or a stirrup and rub it on his neck to get him use to being touched by the saddle.  I try to start with a little lighter saddle and one that I don’t care if it gets knocked around.Now I see if he will let me put a stirrup and the cinch on his back.  Depending on how the colt is acting, I may put the cinch and stirrup on then take it off several times before I try to put the whole saddle on.With the stirrup and the cinch over the colt’s back I gently set the saddle on his back.  If he jumps and the saddle falls off, that’s okay, just start over.  Once he stands fairly well with the saddle sitting on his back I will fasten the cinch.  I start with it pretty loose but snug enough it won’t slide under him if he bucks.  I like to use a breast collar so that if it does slide a little it doesn’t slip clear under him.  After you have the saddle on and relatively snug.  Step back a little from your horse and see how he reacts.  Some colts are just fine others blow up.  Some trainers don’t like to let their colt’s buck.  I tend to turn mine loose and let them buck if they want.  In my opinion it is good for them to buck and realize that they aren’t going to get the saddle off.  I then take the saddle off and repeat, repeat, repeat.  I try to get to a point where my colt will let me swing the saddle on without spooking with in the first couple days of saddling.

From here on out I will saddle my horse every time I work with him.  Saddling just becomes part of our routine.  Even days that I just go out and don’t have time to do any actual work, I will throw the saddle on and leave it on for a couple minutes while I give the colt some grain.

Saddle Desensitizing

Once the colt is accepting the saddle  I do a little desensitizing with it.  I will slap the fenders, pull on the cinch and breast collar, and grab the saddle horn and rock the saddle.  When I do any of these activities, the colts first reaction is to move.  Just stick with it and continue to repeat what you are doing until your colt stops moving his feet.  Give him a couple seconds to rest then repeat.  In the picture on the left Gabby is grabbing hold of the stirrup and snapping the fender.  This saddle has really soft leather so the fenders move easily and make a great popping noise.

 

Lunging

There are a few theories on lunging.  One is that you run your horse in circles to get him worn down.  The problem with this theory is that, much like an athlete, the more you run your horse in circles, the better shape they are in.  The first few times you lunge your horse he may get tired in five minutes, but over time it takes him longer and longer to get tired.

The second theory is that you run your horse in a few circles, changing direction often, to make sure he’s paying attention and listening to you.  If the horse I’m going to ride is well broke, I only trot them in this exercise.  If it’s a green horse, I may push them up to a lope a couple times around, but loping in this small of circle can be hard on the leg joints, so I don’t lope them much.

Start with your horse facing you.  We’ll start going left.   Hold the rope in your left hand and stick your hand out to the side.  You will hold the tail end of the rope in your right hand and swing it at your horse’s left shoulder.  As your horse starts to move away from the swinging rope you  keep him going in a circle around you.  If you need him to go faster, you can swing the tail end of the rope.  I try to direct my swing around the saddle area.  If he needs more encouragement you can pop him on the rump.  I try to keep my body positioned in the drive line of the horse, which is about level with your stirrup.  If you get in front of this line your horse will stop. Behind it and your horse will end up turning  his nose toward you.  Usually, I go three circles and switch directions.  To switch directions you disengage your horse’s hindquarter by bending your body and looking at his hind end at the same time you will gently pull his nose in toward you.  He should cross his back legs, moving his hiney away from you.  As you straighten back up, reach across your body with your right hand and grab the rope out of your left. Pick up the tail end of the rope in your left hand and swing it at your horse’s right shoulder.  From here it is just repeating what you did with your horse going to the left.  I typically go three circles to the left, switch and go three to the right. I perform this exercise over and over several times until my horse is paying attention to me and moving how I want him to, when I want him to.  The most important part of this exercise is not the running of the circles, but the changing of direction.  The more changes of direction you do, the better your horse will pay attention to what you want him to do.  Also this shouldn’t be a tug-a-war with your horse.  If he is pulling on the rope don’t pull solid pressure back on him.  Instead give the rope three good tugs and see if he quits pulling.  If not give him three more tugs.  I have found over the years that little bumps or tugs work better than solid pressure.

Ground Driving

Ground driving is basically driving your horse from the ground and not in a cart or buggy.  The reason I ground drive is so that my colts have a clear idea what I want when I ask for something with my reins.  Before I ride my colts, they will know how to stop, back and turn off a direct rein.  I will drive them enough so that when I finally get on their back they won’t be confused with what I am doing with the reins.  I will start ground driving with my colt in a halter then graduate to a loose ring snaffle bit.  Also you can use a surcingle to drive your colt or you can use your saddle.  I like to use my saddle and just run my reins through the stirrups.  When I’m first starting a colt on ground driving I will tie my stirrups together under the horse so that if he spooks my stirrups don’t end up on his back.  Also I do not use really “driving reins”, I just have a couple of lunge lines that I use for reins.

I start ground driving in a round pen. I will hook up two lunge lines on my colt’s halter, one on each side of his nose.  Then I will run the right line through the right stirrup.  The left line I leave loose.  I hold the left line in my left hand, right line in right hand.  I then ask the colt to lunge to the left while I stand in the center of the round pen.  To start with I want him to get use to how the line feels when it crosses the back of his legs.  I then start to move out of the center of the pen and start to fall in line kind of behind the colt.  I will then ask him to whoa and put a little pressure on the reins.  Then I repeat, repeat, repeat.  Once he is going good one way, I switch lines and have him go the other direction.

Now that he goes good both directions I will run each line through a stirrup and drive the colt from behind.  I start at a walk around the round pen.  I will ask the colt to stop and back a couple of steps then turn towards the fence and walk again.  If you have trouble backing your colt, apply a little more pressure to one rein than the other and the second he makes an attempt to back release pressure.

 

 

Eventually I want to get so I can drive my colt out of the pen, but I don’t attempt this until I can control him pretty well in the round pen first.  In the round pen I will maneuver him around barrels, over a tarp or bridge, in figure 8’s and anything else I can think of before I take him out into the wide open.  When we are driving in a field or down the road I will occasionally ask my colt to stop and back, then just stand still for a couple of seconds before continuing.  At first the standing in one spot can be pretty hard for a colt.  Start with standing about a half of second and build up from there.  I also try to find natural obstacles for my colt to go around, on or through.  

The length of time I drive my colts really depends on the colt.  Some catch on really fast and others take longer.  I won’t even consider getting on him before he will stop and back very well when driving.  And if a colt I have been riding has had a week or so off, I will saddle him up and drive him for 15 minutes or so before riding him.

We’re getting closer to riding.  I really do spend a ton of time on these ground working skill before that first ride, so that the first ride goes as smooth as possible.  It would really take a lot to over do any of the skills that I have written about thus far.  This is the foundation of your colts entire training, and like your house’s foundation, you want it to be as strong as it can.

Building My Horse From the Ground Up–Part 2

Even though this section is about starting colts any older horse can benefit from these exercises.  Especially if you have a horse that is pushy or bossy or shows little respect.

At this point your horse should be able to stand quietly while tied and being groomed and lead nicely without crowding you or rushing past you.  We also have worked on desensitizing our colt (which up to this point has been ground work, but desensitizing can also be done in the saddle).  Now we are going to start asking our colts to do some more advanced moves.

When teaching a colt anything new, I start with a small cue. Then make it bigger and bigger until I get the desired result.  Then once the colt starts to figure out what I want I refine them and make them smaller and smaller until the colt moves with just the slightest suggestion of what I want.  Also when first asking a colt to do something new, timing is very important.  You want to reward your colt for the slightest attempt at doing the right thing.  This will help develop him into a problem solver.  He will learn that when you are giving him a cue, he needs to do something to get you to stop, and it is his job to figure out what you want.  Most importantly you must not stop cuing your horse until he makes and effort in the right direction.  If your horse goes the wrong way and you stop cuing him, you’ve just trained him to go the wrong way when you cue him that certain way.

Lateral Flexion

Lateral flexion, to me, is one of the most important things to teach your horse.  It helps build softness in your horses.  It helps them relax.  And it is the key to a one rein stop.  Honestly  I’m a little nervous riding horses that don’t know how to flex their heads to the side.

To teach my horse to flex laterally, I simply stand beside my horse at the shoulder, facing the same direction as the horse.  I place my right arm over my horses withers, and with my left hand I grasp the side of the nose band of the halter and apply pressure towards my hip.  At first your horse will probably move around in circles.  Just stay with him and continue to apply pressure.  The second he quits moving his feet and tips his head slightly towards you release pressure.  Then repeat, repeat, repeat.  Eventually he will get so he will tip his nose all the way around to you.  Once he will reach his nose around towards you, you can hold his head over here for a couple seconds at a time.  Repeat with the other side.

Moving the Hind Quarters

This may seam like a pretty easy task to teach your horse, but it is very important that he learns it and learns it correctly.  We can easily move our horse’s rear end by pulling his head around and swinging the rope at his rear end, but we want to refine this so that when we are in the saddle we can disengage his hind quarters in and emergency.

The goal here is to be able to slightly tip our colt’s nose towards us and touch his side slightly behind where your leg would hang while riding (what I call foot position three) this will result in you horse crossing his back legs as he moves his hind end away from you.

To start I give my horse the cue as if he already knows what I want.  I tip his nose slightly toward me and gently touch his side.  Most likely he hasn’t a clue what I want and will just stand there, but if he happens to make an effort to move his rear end away from me, I release pressure, rub his neck and let him stand for a couple of seconds before asking him again.  If he doesn’t move I will apply more pressure with my hand on his side.  I progress from pressure to tapping his side, to swinging the rope at his rear end, to popping the rope on his butt.  I only up the pressure until I get movement in the correct direction.  Once I get movement the colt gets to rest a couple of seconds.  Then I repeat, repeat, repeat.  Always starting with the smallest cue and working up to only as big as necessary.

Once the colt is starting to understand what I want I ask for more steps.  Then I ask for him to do the same thing the other direction.  It is important to work both sides of your horse.  With a horse just because you do something on one side doesn’t mean he will understand what you want on the other side.  Also I don’t spend a lot of time working on this each session.  This is something your colt should pick up quickly and working on it a few minutes everyday should be plenty.  After my colts understand what I want from them, I move them a full circle each direction three times and call it good (Circle left, circle right, circle left, circle right, circle left, circle right).

In the first picture I show how I hold my rope, second picture is where I apply pressure, picture three is Cobain moving his hind end, pictures four and five are me moving him with just moving my hand and not actually touching him or you could say I’m driving his hind end around.

Moving the Front End

Getting your horse to walk around on his front end can be a little more tricky than moving his hind end.  I like to teach my horses to pivot on their hind ends (walking around with their front legs) for a couple different reasons.  One, if they are used in halter classes they need to know how to pivot. Two, it’s a lot easier to lead a horse that you don’t have to push around but will move nicely away from you when you step towards them. Three, it is easier to teach a horse to pivot under saddle if they were taught to pivot from the ground.

The most important thing to remember here is that a pivot on the hind is still a forward movement.  Your horse will still have 3 legs walking around one that is standing still.  Keeping that in mind, I start to teach my colts to pivot by walking them forward, then turning into them and ask them to step away from me.  What we are looking for is that the colt moves away from me and that he front leg closest to me steps over the other front leg.  To start we get one step and walk the horse forward.  So the pattern will go like this:  walk forward, get one cross over step, walk forward, get a cross over step, walk forward.  You want to make sure you are always walking your colt out of his pivots otherwise he will start backing his hind end around  Once he is doing one step well ask for two and build from there.  Don’t forget to repeat on the other side.

If you have problems getting your horse to step away from you, you can try a couple different techniques to get him to move.  To start I will pump my hand towards his nose.  Then I will push my thumb into the little groove between his shoulder and neck (see picture).  If he still don’t move I will twirl my rope at his shoulder.

Picture one, walking forward. Two, pumping my hand towards his nose. Three, where to push if he doesn’t move. Four, swinging my rope at his shoulder.  Five, he’s crossing his front legs over. Six, he moves with just implied pressure.

These ground work maneuvers are so important.  They are exercises that I go over and over till they are near perfect.  They are a great way to build a bond with your horse.  And they also help create respect towards you.  Even if you are riding an older, already broke horse, if he can’t do these simple maneuvers, go back and teach them to him.  I promise he will seem like a new horse.

 

 

 

Building My Horse From the Ground Up–Part 1

Once my colts are desensitized pretty well and I am able to lead them and pick up their feet, I start focusing on preparing them for that first ride.  Now I know there are cowboys out there who like to just hop on and see what they got. Not me.  I want to know what I can expect from my colt before I even think about climbing on his back.  That’s why I build my colts from the ground up.

Ground work is the foundation to all the colts I start.  It lets me teach them what is expected of them.  And if done properly, the foundation you put on your colts can make them faster learners.

Everyday Ground Work

What I consider “everyday ground work”, is work that you do with your horse pretty much every time to take him out of the pen.  If you have a well broke horse you may not even thing of this as ground work, but if you are working with a colt this “everyday ground work” is a big part of his training.  Tasks that I put in this category are leading,  grooming, and standing tied.  If you are having problems with any of these areas, they need to be fixed before you try to do any further training with your horse.  Problems in these areas typically  means your horse doesn’t respect you.  Without respect a horse can be very dangerous.

How do I know my horse is being respectful?  You want your horse to walk nicely with you when you lead him.  If he tries to run you over or rush past you, he is being disrespectful.  Both are potentially very dangerous behaviors and should be fixed as soon as possible.  To remedy a horse trying to run over you, you can simply shove the palm of your hand into his cheek when he crowds your space.  This will not make your horse head shy, it just gives him a clear message that what he is doing is wrong.  It is very similar to another horse nipping at him if he crowds their space.

To fix the problem of my horse rushing past me, I start leading my horse and the second my horse passes my shoulder while being led, I give a couple of backward jerks on the lead rope to stop him then immediately back him a couple of body lengths.  I’m pretty aggressive when I’m backing my horse I expect him to move freely and quickly.  I don’t want to have to drag him backwards.  The more energy you use the better the back will be.  This may fix your problem after just a couple of times, or it may take twenty times.  It just depends on the horse.

Disrespect while being groomed or tied up is moving around.  The same process can be used to fix both of these problems.  Basically we want our horse to  move our horses feet so that he will decide standing still is the best option.  I take my horse out to the middle of the pen equipped with a halter and lead rope.  I give my horse the chance to stand still.  If he stands nicely I praise him and let him continue to stand while I start to brush him.  The second he starts to move around I trot him in a few circles then give him the chance to stand again.  If he stands still great, if not run him in a few more circles.  Eventually he is going to decide that it is easier to stand quietly than to  have to run in circles.

If my colts aren’t doing well with the everyday ground work, I don’t go on with more advanced ground work.  I just continue to perfect the basics.

 

Getting in Shape

As the weather starts warming up, and it continues to stay late longer, many riders are going to pick up riding again after a long winter break.  It is tempting to just go out and ride all weekend when the temperatures rise, but remember if you haven’t ridden all winter you as well as your horse are probably a little of condition for a long ride.  For this reason it is important that you and your horse ease back into a riding routine.

Horses are natural athletes; however, when we ride them, we ask them to exert themselves more than they normally would.  If you just pull your horse out of the pasture and ride him hard for hours, it can leave him sore.  This in turn can make him grumpy the next time you go to ride.   I like to start getting my horses in shape with short 40-45 minute rides the first week.  During these rides I do a lot of bending, flexing, walking and trotting with a little loping thrown in.  Over the next few weeks I increase my riding time and increase the amount of time I spend working on loping, lead changes and other strenuous maneuvers.  I may even allow my horses a day off here and there after a particularly hard workout.  The day off would consist of some light ground work and maybe a little riding with only flexing, bending and walking.

It is also important to get yourself in shape for riding.  An overweight rider is more of a burden to your horse.  And if you are already in pretty good shape, riding requires the use of muscles that aren’t necessarily used in other exercise routines.  Riding requires a tremendous amount of core strength to help maintain your balance.  Also if you haven’t ridden in a while a long ride will leave you stiff and sore.

After winter filled with cold days and little activity, you need to start your horse off slow in the spring.  Begin conditioning your horse with short rides to start, then build up to longer rides.  By doing this you and your horse will be less likely to suffer injuries or soreness.  You horse will then find your riding sessions more enjoyable, and he will be more willing to do what is asked of him.

Sensitize or Desensitize?

When working with your horse you actually want to do both: sensitize and desensitize him.  However, if you make the wrong move at the wrong time you may end up sensitizing him to something you want to desensitize him to or visa versa. That’s why timing is so important when working with your horse.

Sensitizing

When you cue your horse, it would be great if he would do what you want with the lightest cue.  To achieve this you must sensitize your horse.  The concept of sensitizing is simple. You apply pressure to your horse.  Your horse moves away from the pressure.  You release pressure.  However, applying this concept can be a little tricky.  At first your horse may not know what the pressure you’re applying means for him to do.  He may move the wrong direction, and if you stop applying pressure here, he will learn to do the wrong thing.  Or perhaps your horse has moved ever so slightly in the direction you are asking, but you didn’t feel the movement so you don’t release the pressure.  This can confuse your horse.

To properly sensitize a horse you must apply a cue only until your horse makes an effort to perform what is being asked.  As soon as any effort, no matter how small, is made all pressure must stop.  Then basically repeat, repeat, repeat, until your horse responds with just the slightest cue. Here’s an example.  You want your horse to move smoothly into a trot from a walk.  You bump your horse’s sides with your legs and continue to bump him until he starts to trot.  The first step he makes that is a trot, you stop bumping him.  He may only take a couple of steps at a trot and slow down into a walk.  Once he starts walking again, you need to bump him again until he starts to trot.  As soon as he breaks into a trot, stop bumping.  Eventually, he will put it together that when you bump his sides, you want him to trot.

A mistake often made is that a rider will continue to bump their horse once he is trotting.  By doing this you will desensitize your horse to the cue.  If you don’t reward him by stopping the application of pressure, he will learn to ignore the cue.  What benefit would there be for him to trot if you are just going to continue to bump him.

Desensitizing

Desensitizing should be a major part of any training program.  When desensitizing your horse, you basically repeat the same action over and over until you get no response from your horse.  When I start training my horses, I first desensitize them with a rope.  I rub a rope all over their body.  At first most horses will move around and try to get away from the rope, but I will continue to touch the horse all over with the rope until he decides  the rope won’t hurt him and stands still.  I will repeat this with a brush, then a plastic bag, a saddle blanket and whatever else I find laying around.  Then I will take and twirl a rope around and swing it onto my horse’s back.  Again, I will do this until he decides there is no threat and stands still.   I will also take a saddle pad and rhythmically pat it on my horse’s back until he stands still.  Exercises such as this help your horse become confident that you aren’t going to  hurt him and tell him that you want him to stand still.  The most important part of these exercises are that you stop when your horse stands still.

I’m always doing something to desensitize my horse.  The more your horse is desensitized the safer he will become to ride, and the less likely he will spook.  Friends that ride often with me are use to me twirling my reins around and making goofy noises in an effort to desensitize my horse even more.

The most common mistake made when desensitizing a horse is when the rider or trainer stops applying pressure when the horse moves instead of when the horse stands still.  Let’s say you are wishing to desensitize your horse to having a saddle pad thrown on his back.  You start to swing the pad and your horse moves, then you stop swinging the pad to settle your horse down.  Because you stopped when your horse moved he thinks that is what you want him to do. Now you have sensitized your horse to the swinging pad, and he will move when you swing the pad at him.  It is very important to continue with rhythmic swinging until he stands still.

You can improve your riding time with your horse by properly sensitizing and desensitizing him.  With a horse that is sensitized to cues, you won’t have to try to pull your horse where you want him to go, and riding him will become less work and more enjoyable.  By desensitizing your horse he will become safer to be around.  He won’t worry about you touching him, and he will become less likely to spook.

Pre-Flight Check

Any good pilot checks his aircraft to insure it is flight worthy before boarding.  Why shouldn’t a good rider check the safety of his mount before climbing aboard?  Before I even think about putting my foot in the stirrup, I have a check list of maneuvers I put my horse through on the ground to insure he’s safe to get on.  Like people, horses have good days, and they have bad days.  I like to find out what kind of day my horse is having  before I mount up.  Some days my pre-flight goes great.  My horse does everything I ask of him perfectly without hesitation.  Other days my horse may be feeling a little frisky and requires a little more ground work before we go for our ride.

To perform my pre-flight, I saddle and bridle my horse.  I don’t tighten the cinch completely. Just have it snug enough to keep it secure.  I then fasten a 15 to 20 foot long rope (I use nylon rope bought at a farm supply store) to the curb strap of my bridle using a bow-line knot.  Since the bow-line knot won’t pull tight, it will allow my rope to move to what ever side of the horse I am working on.

Flex My Horse Laterally √

First on my pre-flight check list is making sure my horse will flex when asked.  There will be several times during my ride that I will ask my  horse to flex, so I like to make sure he is flexing well.  To do this I pick up the rein on the same side that I’m standing and pull it up to the swell of my saddle.  If all goes well, my horse will tip his nose over to me as pictured.  If he doesn’t I hold pressure on the rein until he turns his nose to me.  Once he does one side well, I check the other side in the same manor.

Disengaging the Hindquarters √

After my horse is flexing well to both sides, I disengage my horse’s hindquarters.  To do this I  tip his nose slightly towards me with one hand, and using my other hand I cue him with the stirrup where my foot would be if I was riding in position three.  We go around in three circles with his legs crossing well. Stop and back.  Then go three circles the other direction. Stop and back.  If your horse is being a little stubborn, you may have to cue him a little harder.  If he is being a little naughty, make him turn three more circles to each side.  The reason I like to disengage my horse’s hindquarter is because it is part of my emergency stop.  I want to make sure my breaks are going to work.

Yielding the Front End √

Now that I have the back end of the horse moving like I want, it’s time to move the front end.  Standing by your horse’s head, start, leading him forward.  Turn and face your horse’s head and walk towards him.  I typically put my hands up, one by his face and one by his shoulder.  Start by asking for one step, where your horse crosses his front legs.  After one step, turn and walk forward again.  Take about ten steps forward then turn and step toward your horse again. If my horse is doing well, I perform five or six turns each direction, more if he is not doing well.  The first few times you perform this maneuver with your horse he may only take one crossover step.  As he progresses he should be able to take more crossover steps.  Horses that I have been working with for awhile can easily turn a half  to a full circle. Until you and your horse get the hang of this exercise it may seem a little tricky.  At first if my horse doesn’t want to turn I will take my thumb and push on my horse where his neck and shoulder connect.  I only push hard enough to get my horse to move.

Moving Hind End and Following the Rein √

This is another test I perform to get my horse’s hind quarters moving.  However, this time I’m going to use rein pressure to get him to move his hind end around.  While my horse is standing still, I take my rope and run it down his side opposite of where I’m standing.  I then bring the rope around my horse’s back legs, making sure to stay above the hocks, and stand  a couple steps away from my horse’s shoulder.

Now I gently apply pressure on the rope.  The object is for my horse to follow the pressure of the rope, turn around disengaging his hindquarters, and end up facing me.  To start you may have to pull a little harder, but after your horse gets the hang of this, it should only take a small amount of pressure.  Also the first few times you do this exercise your horse may try to turn the wrong direction and move around trying to figure out what you want.  Just hold steady pressure until your horse turns the direction you are asking him to move.   I typically run him through this two or three times on each side or until he performs the maneuver smoothly.

If you notice, when I put pressure on the rope, Dollar’s nose starts to come around, and as he’s turning he crosses his back legs, disengaging his hindquarters.  When he has finished, I reward him with a pat on the head and let him stand a few seconds.Lunging √

I finish up my pre-flight check with lunging my horse.  There are a few theories on lunging.  One is that you run your horse in circles to get him worn down.  The problem with this theory is that, much like an athlete, the more you run your horse in circles, the better shape they are in.  The first few times you longe your horse he may get tired in five minutes, but over time it takes him longer and longer to get tired.

The second theory is that you run your horse in a few circles, changing direction often, to make sure he’s paying attention and listening to you.  If the horse I’m going to ride is well broke, I only trot them in this exercise.  If it’s a green horse, I may push them up to a lope a couple times around, but loping in this small of circle can be hard on the leg joints, so I don’t lope them much.

Start with your horse facing you.  We’ll start going left.   Hold the rope in your left hand and stick your hand out to the side.  You will hold the tail end of the rope in your right hand and swing it at your horse’s left shoulder.  As your horse starts to move away from the swinging rope you  keep him going in a circle around you.  If you need him to go faster, you can swing the tail end of the rope.  I try to direct my swing around the saddle area.  If he needs more encouragement you can pop him on the rump.  I try to keep my body positioned in the drive line of the horse, which is about level with your stirrup.  If you get in front of this line your horse will stop. Behind it and your horse will end up turning  his nose toward you.  Usually, I go three circles and switch directions.  To switch directions you disengage your horse’s hindquarter by bending your body and looking at his hind end at the same time you will gently pull his nose in toward you.  He should cross his back legs, moving his hiney away from you.  As you straighten back up, reach across your body with your right hand and grab the rope out of your left. Pick up the tail end of the rope in your left hand and swing it at your horse’s right shoulder.  From here it is just repeating what you did with your horse going to the left.  I typically go three circles to the left, switch and go three to the right. I perform this exercise over and over several times until my horse is paying attention to me and moving how I want him to, when I want him to.  The most important part of this exercise is not the running of the circles, but the changing of direction.  The more changes of direction you do, the better your horse will pay attention to what you want him to do.  Also this shouldn’t be a tug-a-war with your horse.  If he is pulling on the rope don’t pull solid pressure back on him.  Instead give the rope three good tugs and see if he quits pulling.  If not give him three more tugs.  I have found over the years that little bumps or tugs work better than solid pressure.

Tack Check √

Checking your tack before you mount up is an important part of your pre-flight check.  Most horses will puff out their bellies when first being saddled.  Because of this your saddle is probably fairly loose.  Take this time to tighten your cinch and make sure all the rest of your tack is on correctly.

Now that you’ve done all this work with your horse, you should have a good idea on how your horse is going to act this ride.  Remember sometimes your horse will have bad days where his mind is on something besides you.  On these days he may require a little more ground work before you go for your ride.  Other days, your pre-flight may go smoothly without any hitches, and you can get to your ride shortly after saddling your horse.  But unless you preform a pre-flight check you won’t know what kind of day your horse is having, and you might find out the hard way that he was having a bad day.