A person that has little or no experience with horses should never be encouraged to buy a green or inexperienced horse. Unfortunately in the world of horses, people are often given no choice. The financial reality is that the horse that most people dream of is either not for sale or is priced well beyond their budget. It is typically the un-started 2 year old horse that is too tempting to resist for the first time horse buyer. It is often reasoned that someone can learn from a book or an article like this one what they need to know to start a young horse. The chances of success when a young horse and an inexperienced horseman are placed together are probably much less than ten percent, and yet this situation recreates itself over and over throughout the horse world.
Most horse owners in this situation don’t get far enough along to even consider getting on their horse. However, there is always someone who will try. These potential equestrians risk serious injury if the horse is not properly prepared. There are three skills the horse must be able to perform; as a function of ground work, before a rider should ever consider mounting.
The first skill the horse must be able to perform is a very basic rein cue. The horse must be able to give his head in both directions with very minimal pressure. The rider will start on the ground on the right side of the horse next to the saddle horn. He or she will give a light lift of the rein upward and toward the opposite side of the horse. The goal is to have the horse tip his nose to his right shoulder. While applying light pressure the rider must look for even the smallest give of the head towards the right shoulder. When the horse moves his head even a little towards the right shoulder, release all pressure. Over a period of time the horse will give his head further. The rider will eventually be able to tip the horses’ nose all the way to his shoulder. This technique of pressure and release must be practiced from both sides of the horse. About five or ten minutes per side should be sufficient. This skill is the beginning of the rider’s ability to control the horse’s direction. It is also effective for achieving good flexibility in the neck area of the horse.
The second skill the horse must be able to perform is a shoulder yield. Before a rider attempts to mount the horse he must know how to give his shoulder to light pressure. To begin this exercise the rider will start with the horse on a short lead. No more than ten feet of lead is needed. The rider will begin on the right side of the horse, about five feet away and even with the horses’ shoulder. The rider will start with their hands out in front of themselves and begin walking towards the shoulder of the horse. If the horse moves his shoulder away from the pressure before the rider reaches him, the pressure should be stopped immediately and praise given to the horse. This is the goal of the exercise. When the horse is proficient at giving to pressure he will move his front end around his back end in a circle as the rider continues to walk toward his shoulder. If the rider reaches the horses’ shoulder and the horse has not moved, the rider should place a knuckle on the horses’ shoulder and apply light pressure. If there is still no movement, increase the pressure until the horse makes an effort to move his shoulder away. Even a very small movement at this point should be rewarded. When a small movement is given by the horse, release all pressure, pet the horse, then back up and start again. This exercise should be practice from both sides of the horse. About five or ten minutes per side should be sufficient. When the horse will move his front end in a circle while the rider is walking toward his shoulder without physical contact, the horse is proficient at yielding his shoulder.
The third skill the horse must perform is a hip yield. This skill can be taught in exactly the same manner as the shoulder yield. Another technique that can be used to perfect this skill can be employed while working the horse on a lunge line. With a relatively short line, again about ten to fifteen feet, the rider should begin lunging the horse at a trot. The rider should be positioned facing the horses’ hip at a distance of about five feet. The horse should be working at a trot in a circle around the rider. When the horse is relaxed and paying attention the rider should use the lunge line to give a slight tip of the nose and begin walking towards the horses’ hip. If the horse does not move his hip away from the pressure the rider should use the knuckle technique described above. Because of the horses’ forward motion this lunging technique is usually quite successful. This exercise should be practiced from both sides of the horse. About five or ten minutes should be sufficient. When the horse will move his hip in a circle around his front end while the rider walks toward it with no physical contact, the horse is proficient at yielding his hip.
This is an excellent routine that the rider can follow to prepare the horse for its first ride. Until the horse is extremely competent with these skills, he should not be mounted. To do so will put the rider in extreme danger and set the horse up for failure. This routine can easily be accomplished in an hour or less and should be done no less than five days per week. Some horses will become proficient in a single week while others may take a month or more to become competent. No matter how long it takes, the rider must have the patience to continue working the horse in these skills. The horse must be perfect at all three skills, from both sides, if he is to be started successfully. The rider must not attempt to mount the horse until the horse is prepared.