Jitterbug's Guide To Starting Your Human In The Saddle

Jun 10, 2016 - 4:29 AM

After many years of working with the same Human, I recently decided to expand my horizons by taking on a few beginner students. It gives me the chance to rest my over-worked bucking muscles and recalibrate my brain cells.

I find that working with children is considerably more rewarding than working with adults—they are both easier please than adults and easier to scare into submission when necessary. 

Too many of my four-legged compatriots shrug off beginner riding lessons, and consequently, fail to milk them as much as they could. It’s also in my best interest to get an inexperienced student going the right way, so I can address bad habits before the little one gets so tall and fat as to be exhausting.

Starting a Human off the right way requires discipline, attention to detail, and lots of drama.

Key points for lessons: 

  • The Human should learn early on that nothing in life worth getting is easy to acquire. For this reason, I prefer to wait until at least the third request before lifting my foot to be cleaned. I also like to pack mud in thoroughly against my shoes before a beginner lesson for an extra challenge.
  • Tiny Humans should have big aspirations. That’s why I smear mud into spots that are challenging for short arms to reach, like inside my ears.
  • In a similar vein, I do my best hot air balloon impression while the Tiny Human huffs and puffs to do up the girth. This will also make clear to her the importance of checking her tack before she gets on…especially if the saddle takes a spin when she mounts up.
  • I don’t see any point in timidity. For that reason, I only respond to requests to walk after a few firm (often breathless) squeezes with the leg. When the student becomes more advanced (bigger), it may be necessary to balance this bold attitude with a few bucks, but I like to postpone that phase. At least until Lesson Two.
  • I emphasize to the Tiny Human that my time and exertion are valuable by making them very hard to get. This is best achieved by responding with Enormous Sighs after she requests that I do something. For the particularly small Human, an Enormous Sigh might wobble her a little, which teaches her the importance of building a strong lower leg.
  • I emphasize the need for upper body strength by periodically (preferably without warning) reaching down to scratch my cheek on my splint boots. I might even stop during a walkabout for a good itch. This tends to pull Tiny Humans onto my neck, encouraging them to add a few sit-ups to their bedtime routine. One of many advantages of being a draft cross is that my neck is ample enough to catch them, so they can concentrate on the experience instead of crying over the boo-boos they’d get if they toppled off.
  • The final point in the first lesson should always be that of my Cookie Requirement. My Cookie Requirements are quite extensive, and in direct proportion to the amount of bouncing around I’ve had to put up with during the ride. I’ve learned Tiny Humans respond most to moments that resemble the illustrations they’ve seen on the cover of Pony Pals or Saddle Club. I lower my head. I flare my nostrils gently. I make my eyes as big and liquid brown as possible. I accept pats and allow my forelock to be braided.
    Suckers fall for it every. Single. Time.

Jitterbug is a Michigan-bred Professional Draft Cross who skillfully avoided saddles until age 5. Since then, she has been lauded for her talent in successfully managing humans while training herself to one day achieve eventing greatness. Jitter and her human live in central Kentucky.
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Photo by Dark Horse Photography.

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