Getting to hop onto a horse and ride it around is one of the thrills of equestrian ownership. The bond between horse and rider is just something special, but it doesn’t happen instantly. Not every horse is just programmed to allow you to ride it around, and some may need a lot of training before their saddle-ready. If you’re looking for a way to get your horse into riding shape, here are a few simple tips for breaking your horse.
The main difference between a horse that’s ridden all the time and one that refuses to be ridden is typically just a matter of familiarity. A new horse naturally won’t be as used to the idea of having a saddle on with a rider on its back. You need to slowly introduce your horse to the basic concepts rather than assuming they’ll instantly pick them up and just start galloping into the sunset.
To start things off, you need to get your horse used to the idea of you being in control. You accomplish this over a few weeks by calmly coming up to it and sliding its halter onto its face, then walking while holding a rope connected to the halter. The goal here is to get your horse used to the notion of moving when you ask it to. Many horses will naturally start walking with you, but if they seem more stubborn, turn in circles so that the rope is pulling their head to the side, making them want to move to correct this. Remember, you’re not hurting the horse but rather just getting it comfortable with the notion that you’re in charge of making it move.
Basically you’ll want to continue this for a few weeks, making sure to brush it frequently as well so that it becomes accustomed to handling by humans, you specifically. You’re not just teaching it to ride on your commands but rather teaching it to trust you and your judgment. If you can start to get your horse to trust you or show affection, that’s a good thing.
After a bit, start moving on to pressure training, which is as simple as poking your horse on the shoulder until it moves a step, then immediately stopping. Doing this repeatedly, alternating shoulders, will cement the notion that pressure from you means to move and that movement on the horse’s part instantly stops the pressure.
Next comes familiarizing your horse with its saddle. Bring the saddle out on a daily basis and let your horse get used to it by letting it smell the saddle and placing it on the horse’s back (but not strapping it just yet). Keep this up for a week or so and then actually strap it onto your horse to let it get used to this strange new feeling. You’ll probably want to do this in a round, enclosed area so that when the saddle is trapped on (not too tightly!) that your horse has some room to fidget and buck if it needs. Keep repeating this process again and again over the course of another week or so, but don’t just assume that your horse is ready and plop the saddle on and start riding. Neither of you are there yet.
Once you’re ready to take the final plunge, pull out a girdle or bit and slide it onto their face or into their mouth. Be gentle here as you don’t want to turn your horse off to the experience this late in the game! Finish harnessing your horse, then slowly pull yourself onto its back. If your horse moves away, reset and try again until you’re up in the saddle, then just sit there, making sure your heels aren’t touching your horse. Pat it on the head and rub its neck, making sure to speak softly and reassure it that everything is good and that it’s doing great. Don’t ride just yet! You’ll need to continually mount and dismount for a bit until your horse is completely used to the experience. Horses are all about repetition in learning, so keep it up.
When you’re finally ready to try a full ride, get on and squeeze your horse with both your calves to get it to start moving. You’ll turn right by squeezing your left calf and pulling the right rein, and vice versa to turn left. To stop, you lean back in the saddle and pull the reins. This part may take a while to get down, so you’ll need to keep constant with riding every day until your horse really gets the concepts down. Some horses are so smart with riding that you can even start to steer them without hardly moving at all!
While we just assume that horses were built to be ridden, don’t mistake that for a right on your end. Horses need to learn how to be ridden just as much as you have to learn to ride. Be gentle and loving in your attempts and make sure to build up trust. Eventually, your horse will be broken and you’ll have a new riding partner!
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