After the horse is used to wearing the saddle and you feel ready you can give him his very first ride. Review the groundwork lessons before you saddle him and again with the saddle on. Then when you feel he is ready it is time to get on. For the first few weeks I will ride in a hackamore or a rope halter but you can start out in a snaffle bridle if you’d like.
The first ride should take place in a safe environment such as a round pen or small arena. Before you get on review the mounting lesson by jumping up and down next to him on both sides until he shows you he’s relaxed. Then, bend his head around and prepare to get on by lifting your foot like you are going to put it in the stirrup. If he stands quietly you can move on to the next step and actually put your foot in the stirrup and start jumping up and down. If he starts to move instead bend his head toward you and continue to lift your foot up and down. Keep doing this until he stands still then stop and let him rest. Start lifting your foot again until he stands quietly each time you do so. Then put your foot in the stirrup and jump up and down like you were going to step up on him. Again do the same desensitizing each time continuing the movement that bothers him until he stops moving then you stop. When he can stand still while you jump put weight in the stirrup and get half way up, rubbing him on his right side then get off and repeat. Do this on both sides.
When he is ok with that you can get all the way up. When you get on keep his head bent around. Bend his head side to side before you go anywhere to make sure you have control. If the horse is anxious and starts walking off keep his head bent until he stops moving his feet and flexes laterally to the rein pressure. You may have to repeat this multiple times, flexing the horse a different way each time, until the horse relaxes and stands still. A common mistake is to walk the horse off in a straight line right after mounting. This can cause the horse to become worried with the combined weight of the rider and leg pressure causing him to buck. Instead use a ground person to help the horse transition into being ridden. Make sure that your helper knows his groundwork well. It’s a good idea to practice your first ride on an older, broke horse before trying new techniques on a green horse. The part of the helper on the ground is important as the horse isn’t familiar with the cues you are using on his back but his is used to working on the ground and this will help him connect the cues together and help your first ride go smoothly.
Yield the horse’s hindquarters to the right by sliding your hand about a third of the way down the left rein bringing it up to his withers and holding it. The horse should bend his neck and bring his head toward you. When he is flexing laterally to your rein, press your left leg behind the girth until the horse disengages and crosses his hind legs a step or two. While you are applying the aids have your ground person encourage the horse to move by using the same body language as when yielding the hindquarters during groundwork. When he moves over correctly release your leg not your rein and wait for the horse to stop and stand still. Wait for the horse to bring his nose toward you and give to the rein before giving him some slack. Don’t let him straighten his neck all the way as you have control over him when his neck is bent. Do this exercise a few more times until he moves off of your leg cue, slows down and stops when you take your leg off and flexes laterally to your rein aid. Now yield the hindquarters to the left a few times until he relaxes in that direction as well.
Next you’ll yield the hind end then the front end one right after the other still using your helper on the ground tracking right around the pen. Start by yielding the hindquarters to the left then start moving the horse’s shoulders to the right by lifting your right rein up and out to the side, holding it with steady pressure. While also pressing your left leg at the girth. As you apply your cues have the ground person walk toward the horse’s head and neck on his left side using pressure with a flag or stick until the horse takes a step to the side. When he steps over release your aids and have your helper do the same. Once you move his forequarters over to the right, yield his hindquarters toward the left by bringing the right rein in toward the withers and applying right leg pressure behind the girth. At the same time have your helper shake the flag at your horse’s hindquarters to get them to move. When the horse is calm and moving off of your aids well yield his hindquarters and forequarters in the opposite direction tracking to the left. Continue turning him around in a circle like this until the horse is listening well then you can slowly add straight walking steps between every yield. For example yield hindquarters, take one step, yield forequarters, take two steps, and gradually add the amount of steps between yields.
When you feel like your horse is relaxed moving underneath you while yielding around the pen have your helper ask the horse to go forward just as you did on a lunging circle. At this point is it ok to hold on to the saddle horn or grab strap with your outside hand, keep a loose rein in that hand as well. Hold your other rein shorter in your inside hand in case you feel the need to bend his head around. Use the same voice cues on your horse that you did while lunging him on his first ride and every right after. The helper on the ground should point, cluck and then use the stick at the same time as the rider squeezes with both legs to ask him to go forward at a walk. When he is walking forward nicely around the pen move him up into a trot using your helper. Have him or her point, cluck twice, then use the stick while at the same time squeeze with both of your legs until he transitions into a trot. Don’t stop cuing until the horse trots just like you would during groundwork. Ask him to do a few quiet laps around the pen at the trot. If he walks at any time when you’ve asked for the trot go forward again using the person on the ground. Once he’s good at the trot have him slowly build up speed until he canters. Once he is moving around the pen calmly it’s important to move around on the horse at all gaits. You want the horse to become desensitized to your weight moving on his back. If you sit still on him all the time the one time you need to adjust a stirrup or whatever he could become worried and buck. It’s best to start from the very beginning and prepare the horse for his job thoroughly.
When your horse is doing well bend his head around, ask him to stop and stand then dismount. It is very important to bend the horse to a stop instead of using both reins. At this point the horse doesn’t know what pressure on two reins means and it will only make him tense and resistant. When you dismount keep the horse’s head bent around, take your right foot out of the stirrup, slide most of your left foot out until only your toes are setting on it. Swing down slowly in one smooth motion. Make sure to end his first ride, or any ride, on a good note. If at any time he seems worried when moving around the pen go back to yielding the forequarters then hindquarters gradually adding steps of trotting in between yielding. Now that you have completed the first ride on your young horse tie him up for an hour or two and let him think about his ride. The next 2-3 rides will go much like the first one until the horse is responding calmly at all gaits and during transitions. Riding a horse for the first time shouldn’t be scary as long as you’ve done all your groundwork correctly.
Slows Down or Stops- If the horse slows down or stops bend him around and get the hindquarters moving first before you kick him to go forward. Otherwise he will become tight and may do something stupid if you kick him while he’s locking up. It’s much safer to bend him and get half of the horse moving first.
Lazy and Won’t Move Forward- If the horse is lazy push him into a faster trot first from there ask him to canter. If you just ask him to canter from a slow trot he won’t have enough impulsion and may kick out. Have him canter a few good laps around the pen then bend him back to a trot then a walk. Don’t be afraid to use a whip or the end of your rein to encourage him to move forward.
Horse Bucks- You will feel the horse tense up right before he will do anything stupid. If you notice that he is tensing up disengage him and start again. If the horse bucks bend him around and stay on the best you can using the grab strap or saddle horn. Once he is bent around disengage him until he relaxes then start again. If you do all of your groundwork and prepare your horse properly he most likely won’t buck however there is always a chance.
Bolts, Spooky, Reactive- If you have done your groundwork correctly the horse should not become reactive. If for some reason he does bend him to a stop until he relaxes. Yield the front and back of the horse, keeping his attention on you and the ground person at all times.
Rears- Again make sure you do your groundwork properly. The horse should flex laterally nicely on the ground first before riding and at the standstill. The horse should also wear the saddle for quite a while until he is comfortable with it.
Won’t Stand Still- You should not get on a horse that doesn’t stand still. A horse that can’t stand still for you to mount is already out of control before you ever get on. Continue to practice mounting until the horse stands calmly. While under saddle keep flexing the horse from side to side until the horse stands still and relaxes. This may take up a few rides of doing nothing but flexing until the horse relaxes and stands still on his own.