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.
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.
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.
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.