You know the saying, “off to a good start.” Well, that is how we want every ride with our horse to begin. Here are some steps (I prefer to call them habits) to help you have a good start to your ride. The reason I like to call them habits is they need to be second nature, not something you have to think about each time.
Why is preparing to ride important? By preparing for your ride, you can hopefully avoid any unwanted accidents. In fact, a lot of accidents happen when a rider first mounts up to ride.
When you get in your car to drive, you go through steps as well that you don’t even think about. You may get in, start your car, put your seat belt on, check your mirrors, choose your station or plug in your phone. Then, right before you drive off, you look around to make sure no one is coming. It’s all second nature because you’ve done it so much. Missing one of those steps could cause an accident.
It’s the same with our horses. I’ve seen riders not have their saddle tight enough or try to mount up on an obviously anxious horse. That, to me, seems like an accident waiting to happen. If your horse isn’t behaving well on the ground, what makes someone think it will be better once they’re on?
The Steps/Habits for Preparing to Ride
You probably already do a lot of these, but hopefully, it gives you a brief insight as to why, though. Please note if your horse is having avoidance or distraction during any of these steps that perhaps you may need to do some work to get their attention on you or reinforce good habits.
Brush your horse’s Coat
Brushing your horse serves a couple of purposes. One, to clean off dirt that may irritate your horse under their saddle pad. Second, it gives you a little time with your horse and often relaxes them.
Saddle and Only tighten the Cinch part Way
I never fully tighten my saddle right away because often the horse is blowing out and it will feel tighter than it really is. Also, tightening your cinch gradually is much more comfortable for your horse. It gives them a chance to acclimate to the pressure. It’s a kind way of treating your horse instead of yanking that cinch as tight as you can right away.
Also, I think it’s worth mentioning that the order in which you saddle is important. Such as never put the breast collar on first. I prefer to tighten the front cinch, then the back if you have one, then the breast collar last. When you unsaddle, you will go in the reverse order, taking off the breast collar first, then the back cinch, then undo your front cinch.
Note how your horse is acting towards bridling. Is your horse turning towards you, giving you his face, or is he turning away and trying to avoid being bridled? This will show whether you need to work on building some respect and trust. Always tip their nose to you. Then, the goal is when they see the bridle; they are tipping their nose voluntarily. Avoidance towards any of these steps on the horse’s part can indicate a problem.
Do a Walk Around
Walk all the way around your horse, checking all the tack. Making sure nothing is twisted or pinched, and that everything is straight and put on correctly. This only takes a second, but can save you from an awful wreck.
Work Your Horse From the Ground
This can be anything from simply walking your horse around to lunging your horse or doing a sending exercise. This will help ensure your horse is comfortable with the saddle and everything that is going on in his surroundings. Is he paying attention to you or is his mind elsewhere?
If your horse is calm and paying attention, then just a short walk around will suffice. But if your horse is anxious and moving around you or being pushy, then I would recommend the sending exercise or some bending exercises. Get his feet moving and his mind on you while softening him.
One Last Tightening of your Cinch
Don’t forget you only tightened your cinch 3/4 of the way so before you get on you need to make sure that saddle is tight enough. The last step of walking around usually causes it to loosen anyway, and double checking it is never a bad idea.
Tip Your Horse’s Nose to You
Right before you are ready to mount up. Take your rein and tip your horse’s nose to you and keep that left rein a bit shorter than the right. This will give you more leverage if your horse takes off as you’re trying to get on.
Now that you’re actually ready to swing a leg over, the most crucial part of this step is that your horse doesn’t move. If they even take one step forward before you are ready, then gently correct them by moving them back. Then, continue that same correcting until they stand still.
If you’re already on, but you hadn’t asked them to move yet and they do. I would dismount and start over. For safety reasons, you need to make sure your horse is solid on this. For some horses, this needs to be reinforced often. Especially ones that are really ready to go.
If your horse is being difficult with this step and the correcting isn’t working. You can try moving their feet again or make them go in a few circles. By making the right choice easy and the wrong difficult, you can hopefully correct this behavior.
Attention on You
Before riding off, make sure your horse is listening and ready to respond to your cues. This can be totally up to you, but here are a few suggestions. You can begin by flexing their neck side to side and softening them up. Or you can move their hindquarters and forequarters separately. Doing some supplying exercises wouldn’t be a bad idea. Doing small circles with bends too could help. Especially if they are really ready to go and anxious. I would try to get them to drop their head and bend so they can get one eye on you.
Check Your Brakes and Your Back Up
One last thing you could do is a small little warm up doing some figure eights, but as you’re doing these, change your gait a few times and check your brakes with your horse. Is he stopping when you ask? Then, check your backup. Make sure your backup is soft and responsive.
This may seem like a lot to do before you ride your horse, but really it depends on you and your horse. The entire process could take 20 minutes or less if your horse is acting respectfully. These are really great habits and I really recommend having a ritual you and your horse do before each ride.
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