Trying it out
When horse hunting, riding your potential horse is a must. With this said, never climb on a horse you do not know unless you watch it go first. It can be ridden by the owner, the trainer or perhaps your trainer. If the owner says no I don’t ride him, and the trainer says no I don’t ride him, well, you would be ill advised to climb aboard. It only takes one fall from an unruly mount to set in motion the fear of riding. When you are trying horses, ask to see the horse perform at the level you plan to use him for. If you want a 3’ jumping horse to do the equitation on, he should be shown to you on an equitation type course of jumps with equipment that is legal in the equitation show ring. If you are looking for a 2’6” packer the horse should perform at 2’6” when you watch it. As you climb on the perspective horse take a deep breath and try to relax. Remember, if you have brought your trainer along, they are looking out for you (or they should be!). They will not let you climb up on a horse they believe will hurt you. Next, try out the gates of the horse and if you will be jumping it, you must jump it. If you feel uncertain about the horse from the beginning and you are not willing to ride it at your current riding level, it is most likely not a great match for you. The horse you buy will feel ‘right’ to you from very early in your relationship with it. This is not to say the relationship will be without bumps, it simply means listen to and follow your inner voice when you try horses. While you are trying out horses your trainer is your greatest resource. A knowledgeable trainer, who works for you, is a gift when buying horses. After your inner voice, the advice of the trainer is the most important tool you have when horse shopping.
Horses Move into Pressure
When we talk about ‘into pressure’ we are talking about the horse’s normal reaction to pressure against its body. If two horses are together and fearful, the will get very close to each other, pressing their bodies together and look out away from each other. This body pressure is very comforting for the horse. This helps explain why pushing on an untrained horse actually will elicit the wrong response, instead of moving away from your push, the horse will be inclined to move towards you, especially if he is nervous. To test this idea, stand and press on your horses shoulder with even pressure. Begin to increase the pressure very slowly; the horse will increase the pressure as much as you do.
Using this idea in training, helps us understand why a cowboy will flap his legs lightly or kick with his heels gently when teaching a young horse to move away from their leg, or why wiggling your fingers keeps a youngster from pulling too hard on the bit.
As a horseman you will need to override the horse’s natural urge to move into pressure. You can teach this to young horses by using a tapping motion to get the response you are looking for from the horse. Start with asking the horse to move his head and shoulder away from you. Stand beside his neck and push with a wiggling motion against his shoulder. When he moves away from you reward him by stopping the pressure. If he moves into you, move from wiggling to tapping, then to poking. Again as soon as he moves away from you stop. Repeat this exercise until you have the horse moving away from a gentle wiggle. Then move to steady pressure, followed by wiggle and steady pressure again. If you have gotten him trained he will make the transition to moving away from pressure.
Teach your horse a verbal cue while you are moving his body around. I use ‘come up’ to walk forward, ‘back’ for move back, and ‘get over’ for side movements. These verbal cues can help your horse learn, they also make you breathe which will help you stay relaxed.
Some horsemen use a flicking or waving hand to get a horse to move away. This does work, but it is using your horse’s flight reaction to get him to move. I choose to save this signal for times when I need to bring a horse up short. An example might be when he is going to come into my space or is being aggressive. In order to keep my horses relaxed and confident I avoid having them feel the need to be afraid.
Now you move towards the back of the horse’s body and repeat the training for each area of the horse. If you are getting the right response from your horse he will learn to move away from pressure from your hand on any part of his body. This training can take several days to several weeks to complete. Do not rush your horse through it. Remember anger and frustration does not work well for training a horse.
Think of your horse as a rectangle, when you push on the front he should move back and with pressure in the back he should move forward. Pressure on his side in front of his push point should move his shoulders away from you, and pressure behind his push point should move his haunches away. When you are right at the push point his whole body should move way from pressure. Remember that this is a learned response for the horse. The push point on most horses is right where the rider’s legs fall on his sides. It can be more forward or back depending on your horse’s conformation, so mess around with pushing your horse away from you and see when he moves from swinging his shoulders away to moving his haunches away. That place is the push point of your horse.
Next we will explore how to use this idea when you ride your horse. Good luck and happy training!
Type Rather Than Breed
Horses come in all shapes and sizes. They come in everything from the mini horse who can be used for driving to the 18 hand draft who pulls a plow in the country. For our purposes we will look at the sport horse and the characteristics he must possess. No one breed of horse stands out as a proper sport horse. Indeed many breeds venture into the sport horse arena with varying degrees of success. The top sport horses in modern riding is of course the warmblood. These horses however come in so many varieties a person looking for their first sport horse could well throw their hands up when trying to decide which breed is the best. Better than looking for a particular breed of horse is to look for a type of horse. The type you are seeking is a sound, kind soul who is willing to work through many hours of riding as you learn. He will be tractable, patient and comfortable for you to ride. Your leg will fit him well, he will neither have too much blood nor will he be heavy in way of going. The horse may have minor conformation flaws or minor soundness issues. Remember that these flaws effect way of going. If you are just starting out and are looking for 2’6’ jumping horse these minor flaws should not be off putting. However, if you are looking at a horse who must perform at a higher level, the flaws you will accept in your new mount will become much more important. A common mistake at this point is to say “well my goal is to jump 4’ so I should get a horse who can do that!” If you are just doing cross rails, or perhaps 2’6”, a horse who can jump 4’ will be in your future but you must progress as a rider and be jumping a course of jumps at 3’6” first. That 4’ horse will be a fine mount for your trainer, you however need to have at least two horses before this one. Your first horse will be a safe and kind 2’6” solder. He will be perhaps, physically limited but relatively easy to ride. This horse will teach you the skills you need to know to get started. Your second horse will be another step up the ladder, it will be a safe 3’ jumping horse. He will teach you about the power and scope you need to be able to control in order to move up to even bigger jumps. Only after riding these horses well, and understanding the skills needed to control them, will you be ready for that more powerful sport horse.