View Full Version : Starting under saddle a young horse... alone.

Sep. 22, 2011, 06:58 AM
Hi folks, I use to post in the breeding forum, but I have a specific question today about training.

For those of you who starts under saddle young horses alone (no helper besides you in the ring), what are your step-by-step method? What is your training schedule?

Thanks for sharing!

Sep. 22, 2011, 07:29 AM
I make it a rule to stay within a smaller comfort zone working young horses by myself. I have an overall goal and plan, but I watch very carefully to make sure the horse is ready for each step and stays calm and cooperative. Tiny steps add up fast. I do very thorough ground work: does the horse understand how to lead? does she know voice commands for walk, trot, whoa? I like to work in a maze of ground poles and barrels to get the horse thinking and playing and develop a cooperative spirit. Horses love games. Playing in the round pen is good. Depending on the age of the horse, teach her to lunge with light contact on side reins. (Short lunge lessons are better--you don't want tired, cranky, sore muscles, avoiding bit, etc.) Establish voice control so you have some communication when you get on. I ground drive my youngsters all over the farm and trails with saddle, bridle, long side reins, circingle, and driving lines. They usually love this and it gives them the confidence to go out by themselves and stay in front of a rider. I teach them to let me mount during the two year old year by standing on a stool while grooming and leaning over the back. I stand on the near side, lean over the back and let them reach around to their right and take a carrot. This teaches them to stay well positioned for mounting. At some point I just swing on up and sit--never had a problem with one yet. First days riding I just do this in the round pen instead of the grooming rack. If you have a routine in the round pen you can always go back to that if you run into problems. I like to walk around for a few minutes the first time up and then get off. It's really important to not wait for trouble to develop when you work by yourself. Very small steps, made successfully, add up fast. If you let trouble develop, you will be a long time fixing it. Repeat the mount up and walk around. Use your voice to walk and whoa a few times while gently introducing the seat, leg and rein aids. When the horse is ok with things, go on to trot. There's nothing that different about the goals when you work by yourself--just make sure to take baby steps and get each step fairly well confirmed. It's a lot harder to get out of trouble by yourself, so don't get into trouble. I like to work with my young horses everyday for twenty minutes or so, and keep it positive. Other than that, the horse will let you know the schedule. Good luck!

Sep. 22, 2011, 08:50 AM
what she said ^^

I don't parell, but I do a lot of Parelli-type games, I want to be able to send the horse confidently over obstacles, through gaps, up and down terrain outside of the round pen. Long-lining in an arena, and up and down the road.

For actual backing, I have her work with a saddle on, with things tied to it, flapping things, trailing things, heavy things ... I put weight in stirrups, and I lean over her bareback and 'sack her out' with my body.

But for actual getting on her the first time, I have someone with me. I have a friend I can call and trailer over to her lesson barn, or I can wait for my husband to come home one evening. I don't do that step alone. I don't do first rides completely alone either - that means our first rides are inconsistent and dependent on getting help which is very rare. OTOH, backing and riding are just steps in the whole program, so we carry on with all the ground work we were doing anyway. The one thing I do which is probably different from most, is that I get my husband to do the very first 'weight bearing' tasks. The ponies are small, and he is tall, so he can lie across them with no effort on his part. If they choose to scurry off or buck, he just lands on his feet and does it again. They get bored of this game pretty quick and I haven't had one that still likes to buck when I get on them for real.

Sep. 22, 2011, 08:59 AM
I start them classically with the only exception being I do first backing with a bareback pad so I can feel everything they are communicating

Sep. 22, 2011, 09:06 AM
I always started horses alone, with no problems. I made sure they were good with all the ground basics first, especially knowing how to move away from taps of the whip (I introduce leg pressure gradually), and also comfortable with people over and above them.... lot of work at a mounting block, etc. Generally speaking I did so much groundwork with them that it was never an issue actually getting on. I think we as people tend to think of it as a big deal, when it needn't be if enough preparation is done. Good luck to you!

Sep. 22, 2011, 10:10 AM
I started my horse alone, too. I ground drove him and lunged him lightly for a while first before getting on. I don't recall how long I did this kind of work with him, but long enough that he was responding well to voice and rein commends.

I also tacked him and untacked him a lot, so he was used to me being all over him, used to stuff on his back, etc.

When I got on him for the first time I did it in an indoor roundpen, so it was a more contained area. I don't remember how long I stayed in there, but it wasn't terribly long before I was riding him in the indoor arena, and then outdoors.

In retrospect I guess I wish I had had someone there with me just in case--to hold him when I got on and things like that. But it all worked out okay--nothing negative ever happened. I might not do that again, though--just for safety's sake.

I might have done things differently if I had a spookier or more nervous horse, but he has always been so easy to deal with that I never had any problems doing things alone.

Sep. 22, 2011, 06:23 PM
I must admit, my girl is very mellow! And I should have wrote more precisions about where we are in the training processus.

We did all the ground work last year when she was 3, lungeing, side reins, saddle, and in hand work. She was bred at 3 and foaled at 4, so now that her filly is weaned, she is back for 1 to 2 months in light training. She is again pregnant for a second time so that's why she wont go into full training this year. Don't worry, plans for her is to put her into professional training of an FEI rider in the fall of 2012, as she wont be bred again next spring. But I really do need to get her going decently w-t and hopefully canter before the winter. So she can "remember" some basics when she goes to the "real" trainer next year.

She is pretty well used to tack, etc. She understands and responds well to voice commands, and is pretty ok about having me sitting on her back, stressed or worried are not words I would use to describe her attitude towards training and introducing new things. Basics are done, she was professionnaly handled since birth.

I am now at the "real beginning" of the story: legs pressure lessons, etc. I used in my young 20's to train young horses under saddle, for both hunter and dressage trainers, but I remember that we were always 2 for the first couple of times, in case the horse need to be sollicited to go foward, or extra "explanations" about the left and right thing :)

In fact, I am more afraid of how to manage alone lack of fowardiness (do this word exists? English is not my first language...) than too much fowardiness!! :)

Sep. 22, 2011, 09:20 PM
It's really important to not wait for trouble to develop when you work by yourself. Very small steps, made successfully, add up fast. If you let trouble develop, you will be a long time fixing it.

It is better to do a few short sessions with good work than one long one in which many things go wrong. It is hard to untrain bad training.

Eclectic Horseman
Sep. 23, 2011, 08:47 AM
I actually prefer to start horses alone. I want the horse's full attention on me during this critical period. Most people have never backed a young horse, and hours of patient training can be set back by some well meaning bystander (Bystander: "Wait, he's got a fly on him." Smack! Horse: Spook, buck, etc. etc.) Or when the bystander loses control of his/her horse, dog, child etc. and freaks out your youngster. I have learned that it is much better to trust myself, and to limit the possible issues in the environment as much as possible.

Assuming that the horse has been socialized (haltering, tying, grooming, and can lead, then it usually takes 90 days to get W-T-C mounted, with the last month or two weeks being the actual backing and riding. Sometimes the canter only comes in the last two days of that. This is not a rigid schedule--just having done it a lot this comes out to be the average. Some horses get things sooner and some later. ONLY INTRODUCE ONE NEW THING AT A TIME. And do not move to the next thing until each new thing is "old hat." Use lots of positive reinforcement. Within the 90 days the schedule goes-

-tacking up (concurrent with longe training) including bitting.

--advanced leading developing into longeing. Do leg yield on a circle to get the horse to understand straightness and balance on a circle. Use a round pen for longeing if you have one.

--longeing W-T with transitions and beginning voice commands. "Whoa" is your emergency brake and you should school it to get a conditioned response, as it will be important in case of emergency.

--longeing introducing side reins in surcingle once horse is bitted, continuing transitions and voice commands.

--longeing in saddle without stirrups then with stirrups hanging down swinging. Begin to lean over saddle and put foot in stirrup from mounting block.

--when the horse can w-t-c on the longe from voice commands and accepts your weight and you can swing your leg over to the other side of the saddle, begin mounted work. Stay on the same circle that you did on the longe.

--Do walk whoa transitions using voice commands. The do walk trot and trot walk and whoa transitions. Finally do canter transitions just for a few strides.

--Now you are ready to go larger in the arena at the walk, trot and eventually canter and start to abandon your voice commands.

Having done it different ways, I find that it is ideal to have the young horse watch other horses being tacked up and ridden. They do learn from observation. It is particularly helpful to have them watch you working with other horses and giving them attention and rewards. When I am starting a horse, I find that 3 times a week for a total of 20 mins (including tacking up and grooming) is sufficient, and then I don't pay any attention to the horse the other days--they do seem to get "jealous" when they see the other horses getting your attention and look forward to working with you. It can be done without observing other horses work, but I have found that to be optimal.
Good luck!

Sep. 23, 2011, 09:11 AM
I have started lots of youngsters and I do most of the work alone, but I do usually have a helper holding the horse for the first few times I throw a leg over. I make sure the horse does walk/trot/canter on the lunge line, in side reins, stirrups down and flapping. sometimes I will lunge them with a plastic bag or a jacket tied to the saddle so that they get used to something flapping around them. They need to know the voice commands, especially "whoa". Then I have my helper hold the horse (lunge line attached to the bit), while I hold the reins and I lay across their back a few times, then put some weight in the stirrup, bounce a bit, and let them get used to the feeling of my foot touching them. once that's going well I throw a leg over and have my helper take me for a little lead line ride at the walk. After having done this 4 or 5 times, I'm usually pretty comfortable with just getting on and going by myself. I prefer that these first few sessions be done in the round pen, but most of the time I don't have access to a round pen and I just do it in the full dressage arena. Having a good helper is imperative. If the groundsperson is not familiar with young horses or is nervous themselves, you are better off not having them there.

Sep. 24, 2011, 12:03 AM
Hi folks, I use to post in the breeding forum, but I have a specific question today about training.

For those of you who starts under saddle young horses alone (no helper besides you in the ring), what are your step-by-step method? What is your training schedule?

Thanks for sharing!

Step-by-step method - I do all the groundwork necessary (I use PNH) to prepare the youngster for our work u/s. We work both on-line (increasing lengths of line, various patterns and obstacles, etc) and at liberty (not round penning necessarily) until the horse has a sufficient level of confidence, is thinking (as opposed to reactive), and is a solid partner on the ground (which, imo, is almost more important than teaching them the actual aids on the ground, which they also learn of course). Introducing tack and a rider is then a breeze, because you've done all the prior prep. The horse knows what to expect from you, fully trusts you and whatever you will throw at him, and both horse and human are communicating back and forth seamlessly and harmoniously. The groundwork really enables a quiet start when you start introducing a rider, and I find it really allows me to then progress the horse in a classical dressage sense.

Training schedule - whatever that horse needs and whatever my schedule allows ;) From spring to now I've been working client horses 5-6 days a week, two weeks at a time, then two or two+ weeks off in between. Where I was initially hesitant as to how this schedule would work for the horses, I actually LOVE this schedule. I am always pushing the horses to learn (albeit not over the edge, which is a fine line), but I particularly push them at the end of those two weeks together (ie, last couple days). By the time I come back they've each had time to think on what they last learnt and I find ending on the note we did, with their being pushed to the limit, to be incredibly beneficial. Allowing all that time for their previous lessons to sink in seems to allow them to accept what they last learnt even better and they come back fresh, relaxed, and prepared to advance. I don't recommend such a schedule with your advanced horses - they need more conditioning than the aforementioned schedule allows. But my point is that with babies, pretty much anything goes if your approach is right. Time off between blocks of sessions (even if just a few days) is especially beneficial, imo. Usually however in the past I worked babies on a 4-6 days per week schedule, which amounts to 18-20 days per month total (this is likely the schedule I'll stick to next spring). They start off with maybe 20-30min sessions, which gradually increases as we introduce u/s work. Even with u/s work, within the first few months they're still only working say 45min total, groundwork and saddle work included (unless we hit the trails ;)). The more advanced youngsters might be u/s for over half an hour, but the average is maybe 20min u/s. They're not working hard physically but they are working hard mentally, and are learning a little of a variety of lessons each session. For the average youngster who has not been mishandled, they're usually w/t/c within 30 days (though the canter may only be a few strides, but it is introduced and they are comfortable with it). 'Problem' horses with prior mishandling take longer. By 90 days the average youngster is being conditioned and is progressively learning to balance itself at w/t/c, is doing lateral work, is comfortable on the trails, etc. Every youngster is different though; I am always adjusting/tailoring my program to suit the needs of that individual youngster, timelines included. The activities are the same, but they're tweaked to suit that baby, or we'll focus more on specific patterns and exercises that will benefit that baby most. A lot of it is more about feel than an exact or precise science.

On a related note, I check in via text regularly with my SO while I am working the babies. If I don't check in, he becomes worried and drives out to the farm to check up on me. I also keep my phone nearby, if not on me, at all times.

Sep. 24, 2011, 11:07 AM
Because your mare has foaled already, she's probably pretty quiet and not fussy about her sides. It sounds as though she is. And, as she is older, you can start her easier because she will have better balance.

Since you've already done all the ground work wtih her, it sounds like you just need to put a leg over her back at this point. Make sure she understands verbal commands to walk, trot, and halt. Make sure she understands that a whip pointed at her means to go forward. That's pretty much all the ground prep you need.

It helps to have an area which is fenced to start her in, but he arena will do if she's used to lunging in it. After lungng her a few minutes until she is attentive to you and listening, take off her lunging gear.

Have her stand still at the mounting block, and swing a leg over her. Talk to her, reassure her, and offer her treats from your hand. If she's balanced enough to swing her head around and take them, then you can use your verbal walk command and lay the whip on her behind your leg so that she moves off.

Use a leading rein to steer her, like you do when you lead her. Keep your legs off of her at first, because sometimes horses object to that, but if she's calm and accepting, you can lightly put your legs on her after a bit.

It's perfectly ok if she doesn't want to move the first time you mount her- not all horses do. The thing is to keep in her comfort zone. If she just wants to stand there, after a few minutes just hop off. Next time you get on her, she'll probably take a few steps, where upon you can praise her to the skies and start teaching her to steer.

Always keep it VERY short, and always lunge her first. After you can get her to walk and turn and stop and she's got a littel clue as to your leg aids, you can cluck to her and encourage her to trot around the perimeter of the arena, and voila! You're on your way.

Young horses tire very easily, so one or two laps around the arena in each direction the first couple of times you ride her is more than enough work.

My technique is to never break a sweat on a young horse- of course in 90 deg. heat, that's not a good indicator, but she should not be breathing hard whilst you work her or you're doing too much.

good luck- it's not that difficult - young horses are fun!!

Sep. 24, 2011, 06:48 PM
The former... ;) Dear husband takes care of 19mo son and do the barn chores while I'm working the said mare (he's awesome... I know)

No... not alone ALONE ;)

Sep. 24, 2011, 11:09 PM
Well, if your hubby is around, I will add the other step which I use - have hubby spend 5 minutes feeding the mare suger cubes- unending amounts of sugar cubes- while you get on her for the first few times. If he can walk forward while bribing her to follow him with said sugar cubes, that will do nicely for your first 2-3 rides- after that you can try to do more on your own, because she will have accustomed herself to balancing under your weight.

The most preferred manner of starting youngsters is to then have a quiet made horse to lead the youngster around- she can follow and see what the other horse is doing. That is the way I like to put on the 3rd to 10th ride, and start them trotting. Little by little, as they learn your aids, you can start moving them around without a leader. But then you need another horse, another rider, and a babysitter for child. :winkgrin:

Sep. 27, 2011, 11:28 PM
I taught the last two I started to go forward off the leg before I ever got on them. I can't tell you how amazingly cool :cool: it is to get on a horse and have him (or her) calmly walk on when I put my leg on. I also taught them steering off the bit. The last boy I used a rope on the halter so I wouldn't catch him in the mouth if he jumped and the steering was awful, so I picked up the reins and he happily did exactly what I asked because he already knew what to do when he felt the bit pressure.

I prefer to not have anyone near the horse (around in case of splat, but not "helping") when I get on for the first time. I have a list of things the horse needs to be okay with before I get on, and I spend a lot of time ensuring that the stand still for mounting part is solid. I let the horse tell me when the right time is for actual mounting, though I usually have a pretty good idea when it's getting close. My timeline is based on the horse's willingness to learn and acceptance of new things. I want to keep introducing new things so he doesn't get bored, or decide that rides mean X,y,z and how dare you try to add anthing else, or decide that A means B when really B is only a step towards C. But I want him pretty comfortable with each thing before adding another thing. When introducing a new thing I will do one side for the first day or so until he's starting to understand, then I'll do the other side.

My three year old is the first horse I've started using food rewards. He is very food motivated and I accidentally discovered just how much he will adjust his behaviour based on the timing of food rewards when he was a yearling. I've used small slices of carrots in introducing new ideas and reinforcing the desired responses. It's worked fabulously well for this horse and once something is solid I can reduce and then eliminate the food rewards and he's kept the behaviour I want. Because I am constantly asking for new stuff he can still earn his carrots. I do not think this would work for every horse. I had one horse that couldn't connect his behaviour with the carrot reward - it just didn't work for him. I had another who was very ho-hum about food - he'd take it if it wasn't too much effort (carrot stretches with this horse were difficult as he'd just quit trying if he didn't get the carrot soon enough). Then there are the horses who get so focused on getting the carrot that their brain shuts down.

I'm not starting horses for money or resale, so I have no urgency and take my time. My own horses that I had from foals I did a lot with them in their two year old year with 1-2 short sessions a week. As three year olds no more than three times a week - preferably with a day between sessions/rides to give time for any healing, building strength, and processing the lessons. 20-30 min rides. There are so many details involved it's hard to boil it down into a bb post.:yes:

Sep. 28, 2011, 08:41 AM
I have nothing new to state just say that I do a lot of join up type work - some parelli type games I have come up with myself over the years - I really make sure the horse respects my space, moves away from pressure, understands voice commands. I have ground driven horses before but I have started more without.

As I am also a mom with a 4 year old and an 8 year old - I value my personal safety more than I did before they were around so I always have someone there the first time I get on. As a norm, I have NEVER had a horse buck or be nutty in all the years when I personally started the horse. However, ONCE someone brought me to their place to start some horses someone else had started to start but then quit. One mare was wonderful to get on and off of but apparantly what the owners had said had been done with her - hadnt or had not been done right. As soon as I put pressure on her at all she flew into the air - totally unpredictable - she had a laid back, sweet face and was totally relaxed and it came so out of nowhere. So my lesson then was if I take over training a horse in the middle of that crucial starting process, I have to start at my starting place no matter what the owners say. I was younger and obviously stupid.

But because the mare acted so wicked out of nowhere - I thought - I better take the HUMBLE route and remember that I dont know everything and have someone there because if I lay in the roundpen with a broken neck, my family suffers!

Sep. 28, 2011, 11:08 AM
I started my horse alone. I only had a non-horseperson help me out as a groundsperson twice--the first two times I got on. Since he wasn't a horseperson, I used him more as emotional support for the pony than someone who I really expected to wrangle the pony around if something went wrong.

One thing that helped me was ground-driving ALOT before getting on. The horse gets the idea of being steered from behind, the idea of not seeing the handler but listening, etc. etc. Once he was doing this confidently, riding pretty much made sense to him.

Oct. 12, 2011, 08:46 AM
I'm back here, and thanks to all who took time to write down their experiences and way to start a young horse alone.

I had some guests on Thanksgiving weekend and they took time to film the last few minutes of the 4th time under saddle of my girl. I tought I would share it with you as you gave me some helpfull hints.



Dec. 3, 2015, 12:48 PM
Spike your mare is looking great!

Anyone has a tip for a horse that is reluctant to move forward of the leg? I'm planing on doing more ground driving but she is totally cool with me on, walk and trot when a helper is lounging us on the line. But when I get on by myself she is very reluctant to move of the leg or whip or voice. I'm thinking that ground driving might help, any other tips?

Eclectic Horseman
Dec. 3, 2015, 01:01 PM
Spike your mare is looking great!

I'll bet she looks even better NOW (4 years later.) :lol:

You may want to start a thread with your own question, Kasiopea. This one is really old!

Dec. 3, 2015, 01:02 PM
I'm glad this got bumped up.... what a beautiful mare!