This article was written by Lindsey Forkun, Equine and Natural Horsemanship Expert, and author of the book Natural Horsemanship Answering the What, Why, and How for ALL Disciplines.
This last week I have been working with Gemma in the saddle. We spent our first week of training doing ground games only and developing a partnership. The second week has been with the saddle on doing ground games, and then starting some in saddle work.
When starting a young horse, it is really helpful to follow these steps:
1) Teach the horse the cues from the ground without any distractions: don’t have the saddle or bridle on to start with because this can be too over whelming. Just start in round pen with the basic tools of a rope halter, lead rope, and arm extension stick. Try to pick a time with no or few distractions around the pen.
2) Continue practicing with some distractions: after the horse understands your cues, start to add some distractions to get a feel for how the horse will react. Add the saddle, bridle, and maybe a distraction or two around the ring like a dog running around, some obstacles set up, etc. This will help the horse to get desensitized and become more confident.
3) Start some in saddle work: first start with just hopping up and down beside the saddle, putting pressure on the horse’s back. Make sure the horse understands there is no need to get upset or worried. Once the horse can stay calm and relaxed, then you can start practicing mounting and dismounting.
4) Start some cues in the saddle, and use help if needed: We want the experience to be positive and easy for the horse. Start with simple cues that you have taught from the ground like that pulling back on the bridle means back up, or saying ‘walk on’ means walk on. If the horse gets confused, having someone lead you on the ground, or pony you while riding another horse can help the horse understand.
I followed these steps with Gemma with huge success. She is actually quite a calm and tolerant horse. She was completely still while I mounted and dismounted from both sides. She was confused when I asked her to walk on, so I had James help me by leading her forward.
Gemma was so relaxed about riding that we even did some trots while James led us around the ring. Gemma was calm and willing about the whole ride.
We finished with James leaving us on our own, and I asked Gemma to walk on. When she did walk I gave her lots of praise. She did a couple very nice halt, back up, halt, and walk sequences that I gave her some praise and then dismounted.
It is important to end on a positive note so when you come back to work with the horse again later it will be easier.
Key message this week: Remember to take it slow and easy for horse. If you are teaching something new try to remove the distractions and slowly add them in. Try to always think how you can set it up to be an easy and positive experience for your horse!