We have been talking about working with a young horse, foundation training, groundwork, saddling and getting your horse used to the basic equipment (bridle, bit, blanket, saddle). Now it is time to take that first ride. The purpose of the first two or three rides is to get your horse comfortable with you or her back. You must focus on translating the ground exercises you have already taught her into under-saddle cues. If you have been consistent with your cues, you will see that the horse is responsive and easy under saddle, even in the first few rides. Don’t be too demanding, just let her begin to understand your cues to guide her. You may look and feel like you are all over the place but if you stay focused with a game plan and picture your horse guiding correctly your horse will improve.
Work on basics in the saddle. Replicate the basics you established on the ground. Establish solid go-forward, stop and back cues. Move on to moving the hips over and shoulder control. Older, as well as young horses can become confused during lessons. This is why it is important to be consistent with your training and ask with a lot of patience. Just like people, some horses catch on more quickly than others. We need to be tolerant with them and always end the lesson on a positive note.
Once your horse is comfortable and working well with the basics, begin to work on giving to the bit. This is one of the most important things you can accomplish with your horse. You will likely have to do hundreds of baby-gives and gives until it becomes a true conditioned response. As part of this training you will also be teaching the very important one-rein stop and you will be gaining control of the nose, head, neck, should and hips under saddle.
Once you feel comfortable on the horse, it is good to mix up your training routine by going out on the trail or doing something different in the arena. I rode my young horse Jazz with a western saddle but one day a young rider at the barn put her in an English saddle and took her over several cavelletis and a series of height-adjustable wooden jumps used for schooling horses. I had taken Jazz over cavelletis on a line but I had never ridden her over them. This was different for her but she did fine. This mix up of the routine was good for her, allowing her to experience something new. Doing the same exact routine can be boring for you and your horse. The basic exercises need to be done but we should have fun with our horses and we need to make the lessons enjoyable for the horses too.
We all want our horses to be versatile in the arena and on the trail. To build our horse’s abilities, I suggest that later, when your horse get better and better with simple exercises, you introduce new lessons. For example, leg yields, diagonals, and counter arc bends. You can also work on crossing objects or do a lot of walk, trot, and canter transitions to make your horse more versatile.
In addition to building your horse’s skills, you need to increase your own knowledge. I explain many of these exercises in detail in my book Building Your Dream Horse and you can find more information on my Web site, www.charleswilhelm.com where there are helpful articles. In addition, read lots of general horsemanship books and go to clinics. Every bit of new knowledge will help you be more successful with your horse.