Ina’s Helpful Hints on Horsekeeping 7 – Now We Are Three!, by Ina M. Ish

February 20, 2008

So we ARE– colt and filly both!  YOU finally get to actually ride the critter.  Assuming you are going to be doing this at home, and not have a trainer do the job- there are lots of things to consider.

I assume your young horse already knows how to work on a lunge line or ground drive, has been bitted , and is used to tack on his or her back–there really is not much point in starting saddle work until   some if not all of this is accomplished.  Starting a horse under saddle without any previous work is something out of practice during the last 100 years!

You are going to need the help of at least one more person- so if you can’t arrange this, don’t attempt to back the horse until you can!  Before the day arrives your horse should be willing to stand quietly with various stuff on his back- it may be needful to “sack him/ her out”.  Very simply this means getting the horse desensitized to assorted stuff being put all over the whole body of the horse.  You will know if this is needed the very first time you try and put a saddle pad on the horse!   If it scoots sideways away from you, or rears or takes any evasive action- well that horse needs sacking out!  I recently heard of a really spiffy notion about desensitizing- a lady I know takes long long pieces of Surveyor’s tape- as bright as she can get, and drapes them  over the horses back- not so long they can be stepped on of course but about as long as mid foreleg. Keeps them all more or less in place by running a strip of duct /or masking tape on the top and bottom side of the ribbons.  Cause that is what she has created in effect- a blanket of bright , flapping ribbons.. Need I say the first time you try this, you do- be prepared for quite an experience!!!

Back to main theme here!  As with all new things you are trying to introduce to your horse, let him/her smell it and and see it from both eyes- one side at a time! Always a good thing to remember and don’t rush the animal!  So, it is helpful to place the saddle and pad on a stall front or rack where the horse can investigate it slowly and at it’s leisure.  This is a good reason not to use your best tack for this stage!   Besides possible future damage when you actually get onboard!

Next , and this is important!  You will need a mounting block- oh yes you will, I don’t care if you can mount from the ground- it is the horse’s back that concerns me foremost!  Mounting from the ground puts a great deal of pressure on the spine, not to mention creating twists in the saddle and lumps in the saddle pad!  Remember the expression – ‘a burr under the saddle’?  A young horse especially ( all horses actually) – has a very vulnerable spine and muscles along the spine.  you want to avoid causing any damage.  A Two Step Rubbermaid step-stool works beautifully- even for a 16 hand horse I have found. They are inexpensive, and lightweight and a neutral color- I know, I know, supposedly horses can’t see color— I don’t believe it!  If you can’t get the step-stool or anything else resembling a mounting block, having a third person is most helpful, cause though it is not as easy on the horse’s back, having that person pull down on the off side stirrup does help remove the un-even pressure that mounting from the ground creates.

OK, so we are hopefully ready!  You should be in an enclosed area. One person should be heading the horse, with a long line or lunge attached- even a twelve foot dog training leash is very useful here. The second person should be putting pressure on the off stirrup, and you are finally ready!  Take more than one very deep breathe, think good thoughts and puts you weight in the stirrup.  Lay over the back if there is no reaction from the horse so far.  As a matter of fact, spend some time lying across the horse’s back till it gets used to weight.  Some folks drape sacks of grain over the youngster- I don’t know how this works, never have done it myself.

If all is quiet so far, you might consider having the header person lead the horse in a big, slow circle with you draped across it.. If you are not comfortable doing this or if the youngster acts up, back up the process till you reach the point where the unease began and spend some time working on that- most likely it was when weight first was applied, but then again, it could have been when you first got UP on the mounting block.  Horses are prey animals and something appearing up over them is a possible trigger for flight!   The horse must be comfortable with the physical presence of the mounting block- that goes without saying almost.

Having gotten so far with no distress or problems, the next step is dismounting- oh and by the way, be very, very careful your toes do not dig into the horse!!  A sure fire way to create a spook if ever there was one–having a sharp toe jabbed into the ribs!!!

Back to work, either that day or the next day- I think the next day is better myself, but it is up to you, go through the whole procedure again, but this time swing your leg over so you are actually sitting on your horse!!!! Fantastic!!  Whew!  Have your header person lead the horse in a big , easy circle- both directions in fact. Hey!   You are riding!!  From here on in, it is simply more of the same and slow progressive actions, from walk to trot and stay at this level for quite some time- cantering can wait!  Not only cause cantering builds wind, and trotting builds muscle, but cause cantering this soon is simply too much to ask.  The youngster is learning to steer, stop, turn, carry weight, get her/his balance under all those conditions.  Footing is a consideration here as well- rocky ground is not preferred!   There is plenty of time to canter, just as there is plenty of time to teach the horse to back up under saddle- don’t rush it.  When in doubt go slow and repeat what went well the last time.  Always end on a positive note, when the youngster has done well.  Don’t make these session too long or tedious either!  If you did in fact acclimate your horse to music, then by all means have some music available outside- with the wealth of portable radios available to day that should not be a problem!

Good luck, success to you and Congratulations !!!

Love and blessings, Ina

Ina M Ish