The day has finally arrived. The green horse you sent to a trainer is coming home. You can’t wait to mount and see what your horse learned in its first 30, 60 or 90 days under saddle. He stands patiently for saddling and mounting. He walks, trots and canters without hesitation.
The first few rides on your own go okay. Your horse knows the basics but over the next few weeks or months you don’t notice any additional progress. Getting stuck in a rut sucks the fun out of riding. Horseman Greg Robinson of Gainesville, Texas estimates that 85% of horse owners are lost in the “middle.”
“So many horse owners get lost in that zone, their horse is not at the upper end of their training, but they don’t need to go back to the beginning either,” he says. “It makes it frustrating for the rider and they get discouraged because the enjoyment is gone.”
Some riders don’t trust their horse and expect a spook. The constant worry is transmitted to the horse making it more apt to startle at unfamiliar objects. Other riders struggle to move past treating the horse like it is an untrained baby rather than one that knows its job. Both situations are discouraging for the horse and rider.
Here Greg offers five tips for developing a relationship with a newly trained horse for successfully moving beyond the first 90 days of training.
Ride with confidence
Horses crave confidence from their riders. The instant horses sense danger, their natural prey instinct kicks in and they revert to fight or flight mode.
“Horses feed off of us better than any other animal out there,” Greg says. “When they see people worry, that’s when things go wrong.”
It is easy to assume that a young, inexperienced horse will spook or act out, however, Greg suggests treating all horses like they are finished horses. That does not mean expecting them to respond perfectly to every cue, but it does mean setting aside worry that something will go wrong.
“People ride young horses like they are a baby and then they get in a rut,” he notes. “You have to ride them like a broke horse so they can relax and soften their body.”
Watching a horse and rider work as a team is impressive. It is as if the horse can read its rider’s mind by responding to nearly invisible cues. Achieving that level of connection takes practice and feel, but it also takes proper position. Riders are often coached to shift their body in the direction they want their horse to go. However, Greg cautions that can send the wrong message to the horse.
“If I turn my body in the saddle, it shortens my rib cage and throws my hip out, and my horse does the same thing,” he explains. “Staying straight and square in the saddle allows our horses to stay with us.”
Think about the last time you danced with a partner. Your partner did not turn without you and expect you to catch up—you turned together in one fluid movement. Greg encourages riders to think the same way by keeping their weight square in the saddle and asking the horse to turn with you.
Riding the horse’s body
Regardless of the discipline, all riders strive for developing a horse that is soft and supple. Greg thinks of his horse’s body like the bendable 1950’s child’s toy, Gumby, and uses exercises to teach his horses to be flexible.
Think of the horse’s body as being four quadrants: left front, left hind, right front and right hind. Each should independently respond to leg and rein pressure. Greg uses this particular exercise to teach and test his horse’s suppleness in each area. He acknowledges it can be difficult to pick up without a visual so you can watch him use this approach.
- Placing your left hand on your pocket and not farther back than your hip and circle to the left.
- Tip your horse’s nose in so you can see about a quarter to half of its eye.
- Let your leg hang naturally with your heel directly below your hip.
- Shorten up the inside rein, increase pressure on the inside leg and release pressure of the outside leg to ask the horse to pick up his back and step away from pressure.
- Leave your hand in the same place, but switch legs and ask the horse to counter arc its body.
“I do all of this and never move my hand,” he says. “It’s learning how to ride the horse’s body and not their face.”
Create a triangle with your hands
Think of the horse’s nose as the point of a triangle with your hands creating the base of the triangle. To achieve this position, hold your hands in front of the saddle horn on a western saddle or the pommel on an English while keeping your elbows bent with zero pressure.
“If I could get everybody to ride like that, they would find so much of their riding and relationship with their horse will change,” he says.
Horses have more than a hundred neck muscles giving them more strength than any rider. Rather than yanking or jerking, Greg works with just fingertip pressure to teach horses to remain soft. When a horse resists, he patiently waits rather than apply more pressure.
There is no substitute for time in the saddle. Riding with the trainer who started your horse can help you learn how to correctly use the cues they train with. Consistency is key to avoid confusing the horse.
“Staying in a once a week lesson program can help you advance your feel and knowledge,” he adds.
If it has been awhile since the horse was with a trainer or you are looking a new person to work with, he recommends watching the horseperson’s YouTube videos to get a feel for their training style and if it is a fit for you and your horse.
“The love of the horse and their relationship with us is why we all got into this,” he says. “Find someone who loves the horse and enjoys the journey.”