Maggie's First Ride
The following is a description of the steps I typically follow to prepare for a non-eventful first ride on a youngster. This Friesian filly was a coming 3yr old. The outcome of this ride was typical of all of my first rides.
If You Want To See Bucking, Better Attend The PBR!
I have started over 250 young horses and I have yet to have one buck!
Maggie was no different. I had worked with Maggie on one occasion two years prior to riding her for the first time on April 20th 2007
Upon my arrival I observed Judy Deboer catch her horse then tack her up. I asked Judy to lead Maggie away, turn to the right and lead her back to me. I also asked her to lunge Maggie. First at a walk, followed by a trot. Observing the pair as they interact allows me to access their relationship in a matter of minutes as well as pinpointing an exact place to start.
To Lunge Or Not To Lunge?
I only lunge a horse for five minutes in each direction if I feel it’s necessary. It may take me much longer to teach my client to lunge properly; we are simply working on walking quietly and stopping obediently. We won’t move onto a trot until we have perfected our communication at a walk. The point of teaching my clients to lunge is to refine their communication with their horse. I don’t lunge my own horses prior to riding but ask all of my clients to demonstrate their ability to lead or lunge. There were only a few areas that needed addressing. Maggie wanted to turn in toward Judy when asked to halt. She refused to remain on the lunge circle per Judy’s request. She would break into a trot when asked to walk, and continue walking when asked to halt. These were common problems yet simple to correct.
After breaking down a few tasks, I addressed and corrected each problem. I taught Maggie to halt on my circle, to remain at a walk until given a cue to trot, and to halt immediately from a walk. We repeated this in the opposite direction. A successful first ride depends on my ability to teach the horse to read, understand, and respond immediately to my body language, with and without verbal commands.
How Long Can This Keep Going On?
On average my clients rarely require more than 3 visits. As a traveling trainer I am never too familiar with the horse I will be riding or working with. I don’t have 30 - 60 days in which to do my job.
Since Judy had done a great job in raising a well-socialized respectful filly that was comfortable wearing a saddle I was pretty confident I would be able to ride Maggie that day. If a clients horse is not really ready to be ridden upon my initial visit, I’ll assign homework for the owner, it’s usually very quiet work involving giving to pressure, or getting comfortable with a human from a mounting block. When they call for the second appointment the horse is really ready for it’s first ride.
Moving Right Along!
After lunging, we moved on to walking in hand, followed by trotting to cement our go forward cue as well as our verbal whoa. Maggie was lovely. I coached Judy while she worked with Maggie on everything we had covered up to this point.
We gave Maggie a 10-minute break to take a drink, and have a few minutes to herself. During this entire process she was calm and willing.
A Small Dose Of Round Penning?
I had asked Judy to leave the ring to demonstrate my version of getting the horse to join up with me at liberty. I don’t just turn the horse loose as I don’t want her to run around in frantic circles. As with lunging I never want to physically tire my horse. I prefer to exercise the horses mind. Some horses have had a bad experience with “round penning” I don’t want the horse to think he has to take off like a rocket. I prefer a relaxed walk or trot, with a few simple changes of direction.
To get the filly to understand I want her to turn and face me when I kiss to her, I attach a 12-foot lead rope to her halter. I rub her all over then walk toward her hindquarters. I clucked to her while drawing my body backwards as I pull her head towards me. I do this several times on both sides, the third time I shouldn’t have to pull the horse toward me. She knows to look when I kiss or cluck. I unclip the lead rope from Maggie’s halter and walk toward her head as I gesture for her to turn to the right. I walk away exuding the confidence of a herd leader. She follows me as I make tight circles to the right and left. I offer out my hand toward her nose as a gesture of friendship. As she reaches toward it I walk away, next time I let her catch up to me and I give her a nice neck rub. She follows me like a puppy. I gently send her off. After she finished two laps I kissed to her. She turned to face; I walked up to her, pet her and left. I gently send her off again, and change her direction a few more times. After a lap or two, I called her back to me. I attached a short lead rope for our next task.
A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste.
I prefer to work with horses at liberty in an area 10 times the size of the 60- foot round pen I was using. Some horses can feel too much pressure even if the handler is low key, and standing in the center of the ring. (This was not the case with Maggie) add an aggressive personality on a sensitive horse and you have a recipe for disaster. A larger area offers the horse more choices. They are allowed to use their brain, instead of responding like a caged wild animal that only gives in because he is trapped. So many horses are made to run recklessly, hitting their legs as they crash into the round pen panels. They’re driven way to aggressively till they are left with a feeling of defeat with no other option but to submit, or make a dangerous attempt to jump out of the round pen.
This is no way to start a relationship based on trust.
In a large area I am able to establish my leaderships while earning the horses trust and respect. She’ll actually put her heart into giving me her best once she’s under saddle.
If she can’t trust me to keep her safe, how can I trust her to keep me safe!
Are We There Yet?
Now I attached a shorter lead rope to Maggie’s halter. I asked her to give to pressure by flexing her head laterally toward the stirrup. I was very impressed to find this button already installed. This not only demonstrates a willingness to give to pressure it produces flexibility and suppleness. It enables horse and rider to perform a one-rein stop if a traditional one should fail.
I went on to ground drive Maggie for her first time. In preparation to add driving lines to Maggie’s saddle. I rubbed and lifted all four legs with a long soft cotton rope. She had no objections at all. I should mention this was one of those rare occasions that I had luxury of driving in a round pen.
Ground driving is very beneficial to horse and handler prior to the first ride. I’m not referring to long lining a horse from the center of a lunge circle as you are not able to simulate the same feel in the turns, halts, and rein back that the horse will feel under saddle. After driving I feel I have established a pretty clear way to communicate my desires to my horse, and I can clearly feel how she responds to my request. Under saddle this gives both parties confidence in each other.
We ground drove for about 10 minutes and I was able to move right along with the rest of my pre-flight checks that actually serve to discourage my horse from having me “fly” later.
The Grand Finale!
Almost two hours later I am just about ready to ride. From a mounting block I make sure to bump into my horse repeatedly. I’ll rub on them a lot. Then “accidentally” bump them. I’ll rub some more using my boot to scratch their rump. I want Maggie to see my leg swinging over as a good thing, and if I should really accidentally bump her she’ll think it was part of my plan.
I’m not sneaky about all this stuff, rather sloppy and nonchalant.
I try to make the horse feel really good about a human touching them in places they’re not used to. Maggie may have been rubbed all over from the ground, but from her new perspective it can seem totally foreign and downright frightening coming from someone that is now towering above her! Standing on the mounting block, Ill grab mane and jump down several times.
Now I jump on the block three times and spring on her back and slide off. I walk away and she follows me back to the block. I do that once more then repeat everything on the off side.
I put weight in the stirrup with my hand several times in between rubbing or bumping the horse. Now from the mounting block I’ll put weight in the stirrup with my boot. I believe the weight applied to the cinch is more frightening than the actual weight of the rider on the horses back. This is a very critical moment for horse and rider.
If all feels right, and it did with Maggie, I climb aboard. I kept my right foot out of the stirrup as I only intended to stay on long enough to rub her neck and dismount. I lead her away and repeat several times, jumping down from her off side as well. I then mount up put both feet are in my stirrups. I relax like I’m sitting on a couch, at ease but not complacent.
I shorten my reins, taking all the slack out and ask Maggie to take one step back. She’s very responsive. I feel comfortable walking off. I joyfully say, “Maggie walk on,” I cluck then tickle her fanny. She complies. After three steps, I say “Maggie and whoa” I say this very softly and slowly, this gives her a heads up with plenty of time to respond. I have forward, and I have brakes.
I feel great and Maggie feels very relaxed. I rarely use any leg with a first or second ride as this can make the horses cinch area tense. This feeling can ignite the launch sequence. Once in motion these series of events are not easily curtailed. More often than not, they end with the rider aborting sooner than planned. Happily I have avoided triggering this response in all of my first rides as well as the handful of following rides I put on before the client takes over.
Are We Finished Yet?
I ride for a few minutes, dismount then ride a little more. 5 - 20 minutes is an average first ride. I like to keep it short and sweet. This leaves you both wanting more. You and your horse will have no bad feelings when it’s time for the second ride.
Play It Again!
The next and final session was a week later. We were able to breeze through all the steps from the week before. Maggie was so relaxed; I actually applied some inside leg and was amazed at how willingly she yielded to pressure.
This entire second session lasted about an hour. I rode for about 20 minutes. I dismounted and Maggie went under saddle for five more minutes with her owner Judy as her passenger for their very first time!
Cathie Hatrick- Anderson is a Professional Horse Trainer specializes in starting colts and re-habilitating problem horses since 1990. This mother of four grown children resides in Upton Massachusetts, with her husband Robert. Cathie regularly travels to all six New England States training and presenting clinics. Dr. Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD, appointed Cathie as the first Bitless Bridle Instructor in the United States. She is a Member of the CMSA and The Massachusetts Six Shooters. She can be reached at (508) 479-5266. Copies of her DVD "Bitless Bridle Clinic" are available at www.bobcatfarm.com