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Starting a horse under saddle

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  • Starting a horse under saddle

    I have a 6 year old mare who was said to be broke as a 2 year old and then never ridden since. I have had her about a year now and am starting to break her out. I started with ground work, lunging, surcingle, saddle, snaffle, ect. I put the first 6 rides on her and she did great, had no problems changing direction, stopping, bending her head around to both sides, and we even trotted a few times. She is soft mouthed more so from the ground vs. when I'm on her back. I always lunge her before getting on. Now the last few times I've got on and started walking, she is constantly chewing the bit, and moving her head all over the place, more so toward the ground and she tenses up and gets super sensitive to my legs. At the point where she gets tense, I can feel that she wants to buck so I turn her head in and get off and we do more intense ground work. She never offers to buck when I'm lunging her with the saddle. And I have worked with pressure on her sides also. She does fine with that, but it's like all of a sudden she gets super jumpy when I get on and start walking. Then when I get off, she is super spooky/sensitive with her sides. It's like she is a completely different horse for a bit. I have tried a couple different saddles, but that doesn't seem to change anything. Also have given her a few days off, thinking maybe she was sore, but that didn't seem to help either. I was completely comfortable on those first 6 rides, and now when she tenses up, I get nervous (that's why I just get off and lunge her). I know what I need to do if I stay in the saddle and she starts bucking, but I don't want to ride a bucking horse. I've been in a couple horse accidents(stepped on) and that's why I get nervous. My question is.. Is there something else I could be doing to prevent this tenseness, besides staying in the saddle and trying to push past it that way?

  • #2
    You need to really sack her out and get her broke before getting on. She should be completely desensitized to a variety of stimuli. Also look into the concept of giving to pressure, and pressure/release as a form of training. You may be teaching her to get nervous, and releasing pressure at the wrong time. Don't simply lunge, do groundwork. Just sending them in a circle around you with no purpose is useless.
    "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him."

    Comment


    • #3
      No, no, don’t get off if she feels like she’s going to buck. You are teaching her if she humps up, you wil reward her by getting off. She won’t remember ground work followed a few minutes later, only the instant gratification of you getting off immediately.

      They learn what we teach. Whether it was what we wanted them to learn or not. Every time to repeat that instant reward, it gets more ingrained in her behavior.

      Not a thing wrong with getting a stronger rider on her to unteach what she has learned and teach proper behavior which does not reward threats of violence if she doesn’t get her way. You need some help.

      BTW your experience is not unique. Most are easy the first month or two. Until they figure out they now have a job and are expected to work regularly. Older horses that never finished training often lack a work ethic when they sit for years then get restarted. Sometimes they never developed one because they bluffed or misbehaved an inexperienced trainer out of continuing and learned it works.

      You can usually reverse that but you simply cannot let it continue or it will get worse. Time to fix it, probably with the help of another because if her threats scare you, she knows it. Again, get some help or send her out for 30 days.

      There also could be other reasons she sat for years. Horses are expensive even out in a field. People usually sell anything they don’t have time for, if it’s saleable plus unless you bought her from her breeder? Your seller is just repeating what they were told so you just don’t know what happened.

      If you are by nature nervous, this might not be the right horse for you.
      When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

      The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by findeight View Post
        No, no, don’t get off if she feels like she’s going to buck. You are teaching her if she humps up, you wil reward her by getting off. She won’t remember ground work followed a few minutes later, only the instant gratification of you getting off immediately.
        I totally disagree. You do step off when a horse is getting ready to buck. You have no idea how hard the horse will buck, and it teaches the horse nothing by trying to ride it out.

        But this is not the problem, the problem is that the horse is not ready to be ridden yet. The horse should be totally desensitized and sacked out, give to pressure left and right, stop, go, move the shoulders, move the hindquarters and side pass all on the ground, AND be very relaxed and calm about it all. THEN it is ready to ride. If the horse tenses up and is super sensitive to the rider's leg, then you need to do a bit of ground work so the horse responds to the pressure on it's sides while staying relaxed.

        OP, you can do this, most anyone can. You just need to be aware of what you are asking the horse to do, how the horse responds, and how/when you release pressure. If you are asking the horse to go and it tenses up and acts like it's going to buck so you cease your aids, you just taught it to tense up and act like it's going to buck. Go back to the ground and work on the correct response.
        "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him."

        Comment


        • #5
          We can agree to disagree but OP needs to note we are in full agreement that mare is learning the wrong lesson.
          When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

          The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.

          Comment


          • #6
            I have to agree with Findeight. I had a horse that had learned to threaten to buck and it would make riders get off. He got to be very quick about it and pretty soon he wasn't even willing to walk around the arena, he just wanted no part of the game.

            Actually riding him through that behavior and teaching him that it wouldn't get me to quit (and would in fact result in MORE work, not less) was the only thing that got him past that ugly behavior. He got rewarded for being soft and forward and obedient, not for bucking/refusing to work.

            It was not a particularly fun nor a particularly fast process, and unfortunately, it remained his go-to test of new riders for quite a long time. I was willing to deal with it at the time because he was quite a beautiful and talented horse otherwise, and his big hole was the reason I was able to afford him.

            The GO button is one of the most basic lessons that need to be taught to any horse. I'd definitely agree that doing a good amount of groundwork, teaching the notion of giving to pressure and so on is all good preparation, and that getting a good, confident and unemotional rider to help if needed makes sense. But I'd get that threatening behavior nipped in the bud.
            **********
            We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.
            -PaulaEdwina

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            • #7
              Originally posted by findeight View Post
              We can agree to disagree but OP needs to note we are in full agreement that mare is learning the wrong lesson.
              Fair enough.
              "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him."

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                She has been sacked out, and stands there with no problem. She's fine with tarps, plastic bags, feed sacks filled with dirt put on the saddle, whips cracking and rubbing her all over, me jumping up and down beside her, waving my arms above her head, ropes all over her ect.. I have done work with pressure also, she moves away from the pressure when I push her sides, chest, and neck. She flexes softly from both sides on the ground, and has been long-lined also. She is calm and quiet but all of a sudden a switch will flip when I'm on her and she gets tense/jumpy and almost like she's scared of leg pressure and leg movement against her sides. So, when this happens I usually get off and do ground work and sacking on her sides. She's usually jumpy for a few mins after I get off when I mess with her sides, then after that she's completely normal again. It's very weird, because I would also tell someone that they need to sack the horse out before even thinking about climbing on. But the way she is so relaxed when sacking, and fine with when touching her sides with anything, I just don't understand.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Barring any physical (ulcers?, dental? etc) or equipment (saddle fit? bit?) issues, I am with the couple of others that you need to stay on and get her walking. Maybe have someone watch or walk alongside for 'eyes on the ground' feedback or touch her sides while you're on her just to see how she reacts. She's either truly sensitive or using sensitivity to sandbag.
                  I've broke out plenty of babies, and a couple have been at the tail ends of the bell curve. My trainer put it best when she said that horses go thru stages like people learning to do dishes. When you're 5, doing dishes is fun because it's like playing. When you're 15, you hate doing dishes, choose not to do the dishes, suffer the consequences, and end up doing dishes anyways. When you're 25, you do the dishes because it's not a big deal and it's part of your life duties.
                  I think I can PM you an article that Dana Hokana wrote about a horse she trained that was very sensitive to the leg. A sensitive horse needs to get used to having legs on so they're not surprised.
                  Also, are you wearing spurs? Just asking because a good many western trainers always wear spurs, and maybe that's too much for her right now. (I've worn/not worn spurs depending on the horse, etc so neither here nor there on it.)
                  Just throwing out ideas, not meaning to offend, step on anyone's toes, argue over training methods....

                  Comment

                  • Original Poster

                    #10
                    No, I have not worn spurs with her at all, at this point I feel they would be way too much for her. I know that I'm going to have a lot of different opinions on this issue and that's what I'm looking for! Everyone has their own way of training and I've tried some of the things I know and we're not going backwards, but we aren't progressing the way we should either. I try to keep my legs relaxed on her sides all the time, so it isn't a surprise when I do use them. Those first rides, she was completely fine with me giving her a bump or push with my legs.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      My other initial thought was perhaps ulcers or kissing spine. If she doesn't have either of those or any other physical issues, I would try pushing thru the barrier a little and cautiously but with authority.
                      I've had good luck with doing slow rollbacks on horses that have mischief in mind or rehabbing a mother bucker. I'll walk them a few feet off the rail, and at the first sign of the behavior, I will roll them back into the fence and send them forward into a brisk walk in the other direction. I don't care how far we make it until we have to do it again. It's not so boring as the 20 meter circle, and you don't have to worry about them dragging out of the circle either.
                      Hope you get some other ideas to try!

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Thank you, I'll try that! I've been staying off the rail, just in case she started bucking. But today I did some pretty extensive groundwork and switched directions A LOT until she was pretty tired and very very relaxed, then I stopped her and let her rest for a couple mins and then I got on her and kept it short and sweet. I kept her in a fairly tight circle, switched directions quite a bit and then hopped off. It went well, she didn't tense up at all, but I was only on her for like 7-8 mins. I like the rollback idea, but the last few rides, I really haven't even tried giving her her head and going straight. But, I'm going to try this tomorrow!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Good luck, use good judgment, and make sure someone knows you're riding or is watching. Sounds basic, but screen names and number of posts don't correlate to amount of riding experience.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by ctil8810 View Post
                            I put the first 6 rides on her and she did great

                            Now the last few times I've got on and started walking, she is constantly chewing the bit, and moving her head all over the place, more so toward the ground and she tenses up and gets super sensitive to my legs. At the point where she gets tense, I can feel that she wants to buck so I turn her head in and get off and we do more intense ground work.

                            I was completely comfortable on those first 6 rides, and now when she tenses up, I get nervous (that's why I just get off and lunge her).
                            In general, most horses "figure it out" after 6 rides and that's when things like this can happen. (Old cowboy tales say that the 6th ride is the one to watch out for, rather than the first!) They've gone from not knowing what to expect and being clueless, to realizing what they do can influence what that person on their back is doing.

                            I agree that you need to ride it out, and not get off. You've got to show the horse how to relax and listen to you. If you've truly "done your homework" on the ground, you already have the tools to proceed under saddle.

                            If you have any doubt on if you would be able to do that, then send her off to a trainer for a few weeks to get through this little hiccup. Confidence is so very important. Absolutely no shame in sending them off for a bit. I haven't had a colt on my place for 8 years (he's 8 this year, LOL ) but someday when I do, I am totally "past" that part of my life that I will be sending them out for their first 90 days, or so.

                            But yes, keep her feet moving, keep her brain engaged and she'll forget to get nervous.

                            It is not enough to know how to ride; one must know how to fall.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Have you tried working above her on a fence? Many horses are very uncomfortable with a person above them until they have been desensitized to it. You can sit atop a fence and teach her to come up under you and rub all over her while she's there. I use the bed of my pickup instead of the fence. You can also use a tall mounting block or even another horse. Just get her used to you being above her and used to you putting your hands and feet/legs all over her. That should solve a lot of your problem.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Consider looking into the Equitation Science. The step by step ground work and under saddle work will help fill in any training holes and will build the horse's confidence by breaking down all the needed command responses to very basics. it is a scientifically developed training program that has been based on the least stressful methods of training responses (but as it is science based, the terminology used can be a little harder to process).

                                I would also stop lunging. lunging reinforces the flight response in a fearful horse.

                                I would also consider your saddle is not fitting well, and now that you have been doing more, it is starting to cause an issue.
                                Freeing worms from cans everywhere!

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by beau159 View Post

                                  In general, most horses "figure it out" after 6 rides and that's when things like this can happen. (Old cowboy tales say that the 6th ride is the one to watch out for, rather than the first!) They've gone from not knowing what to expect and being clueless, to realizing what they do can influence what that person on their back is doing.

                                  I agree that you need to ride it out, and not get off. You've got to show the horse how to relax and listen to you. If you've truly "done your homework" on the ground, you already have the tools to proceed under saddle.

                                  If you have any doubt on if you would be able to do that, then send her off to a trainer for a few weeks to get through this little hiccup. Confidence is so very important. Absolutely no shame in sending them off for a bit. I haven't had a colt on my place for 8 years (he's 8 this year, LOL ) but someday when I do, I am totally "past" that part of my life that I will be sending them out for their first 90 days, or so.

                                  But yes, keep her feet moving, keep her brain engaged and she'll forget to get nervous.
                                  I think this is right.

                                  OP, I think the best rider for this horse is one that can become the Buddha on her when she gets tense about the bit or your leg. In this spot, I'd just let the horse trot along a bit. Ideally, I'd be in a round pen. I'd be in the walk, no hand or leg, just the horse softly in the chute I've made with my hands and legs, and then just suggest with my leg and voice that she trot. Let that be as little and slow as she likes. Then, just trot along and post and breathe with your eyes up. Use one rein at a time (starting with the inside one) to turn the horse in from time to time and make a circle or do a figure 8 to change directions. Just cruise along and keep your body centered over her and relaxed. She's working hard on figuring out how to stay underneath you so that she doesn't think that being ridden means perhaps losing her balance or being uncomfortable in which any self-respecting 6 year old mare would buck the problem off.

                                  If you think she's humping up her back and will buck, turn her in a smaller circle with your inside hand. No outside. When she walks or relaxes in the trot, pet her on the neck, take a moment, and then go back to what you are doing. But it's hard for them to hump up to buck if they are going forward and in the trot. But I do "get it" that this is a 6 year old, not a weaker, more unsure baby.

                                  What I think is happening is that she's now trying to figure out how to carry your weight. IMO, they just need experience with that. They need to spend time with you trotting around, one leg on each side, so that they figure out how to carry you and learn that they can do that without their worst fears being confirmed.

                                  But you can't hop off and try to change her mentally when she gets tense under saddle. If you do that, you are unfairly asking her to change her mind and not be bothered by the scary feeling of being just about to lose her balance. Rather, you have to put her in the spot where she thinks she can't carry you at the trot without losing her balance (or you making her lose her balance by pulling on her head, which she uses to balance), She has to learn that she can keep her balance with a rider on her; that she can work through her own tension and relax herself.

                                  What you are teaching her, and what she doesn't have yet, is the skill of self-soothing. Trust me, you need a riding horse to know how to chill themselves back out after life gets stressful. But! If you are unable or unwilling to give her the kind of ride where you both "hang in there" and you stay centered and relaxed on her, then send her to the person who can do this piece of the training. The hopping off and doing more ground work or lunging isn't actually answering the problem she has at the moment. What you are answering is your own emotional need for feeling sure and safe around this horse. But she doesn't get it. And you can't make her responsible for your not feeling nervous! If you keep doing that-- training with a bunch of non sequiturs-- I think you will dig a hole for yourself.
                                  The armchair saddler
                                  Politically Pro-Cat

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    That’s called “ sitting chilly”. Some riders are naturals, some can learn but many never master that skill because they can’t get out of their heads.

                                    Its OK if you aren’t able to, you are younger and relatively new to breaking horses. Quite understandable. Get some help.
                                    When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                                    The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by findeight View Post
                                      That’s called “ sitting chilly”. Some riders are naturals, some can learn but many never master that skill because they can’t get out of their heads.

                                      Its OK if you aren’t able to, you are younger and relatively new to breaking horses. Quite understandable. Get some help.
                                      Indeed. I'm one of those that has had to learn this. But I have been accused of being in my head by plenty of people (not that I think they are right, LOL). It takes some will and desire on the part of the rider to master his or her nerves or physical tightness/stiffness.... the way a pro golfer has to care about making minute improvements to his swing. This is a kinesthetic skill like others; it can be improved upon.

                                      I point this out *not* because I think every rider should set himself the task or learning to do this on a very green horse. I do, however, mean to say that it's the rider's obligation to do the best he can to read the horse and to give the horse the ride he needs. After all, the green horse can't do anything other than what he's doing; he's bringing is little baby A-game to the ride! That's what I meant by talking about the problem with getting off (or getting harder or whatever) because the rider is "nervous." That will keep you safe for that day, and that's priority one. But it won't help train the horse, which is the advice I think the OP was asking.

                                      So you are right about your basic advice to pay someone else to ride baby mare through the stage where she has to learn to tolerate and then not mind having a rider on her back while she feels a bit out of balance. A good pro on a horse with a good foundation and an OK work ethic should be able to get this done at all three gaits in 30 days or so. Again, this is assuming they don't find hole in the horse's foundational training that has to be remediated. And an excellent pro-- the one I think the OP should look for-- will make it is or her business to also teach this horse to tolerate the less-perfect ride... the one we amateurs will give a green-but-going horse.

                                      ETA: And the way I know what I like in a young horse pro is having been that ammy who wanted to make up her own young horses, but who knew she couldn't sit quite as chilly as a colt might need in his first 30 days. Last time I did this, I hired a pro who agreed with me that she needed to put in some imperfect rides, too, so that when I made a mistake with the baby, it wasn't the first time and the little colt could tolerate my physical faux pas without getting really scared.

                                      Hope this helps!
                                      Last edited by mvp; Aug. 18, 2019, 05:58 PM.
                                      The armchair saddler
                                      Politically Pro-Cat

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        After you make sure that your mare does not have torn ligaments on her back ( from possible field accident that nobody saw for example ) or any other kind of medical issue like the ulcers someone mentioned etc. - so I would have a vet check her out , - then , if there are no medical issues, I would hire someone who is very good at backing horses - kind and confident. Because - animals use their senses and are really good at assessing situations , because they have to , and if they even sense that you are not confident - it will lead to many problems. You are trying to create a Foundation for the rest of this horses life - it must be done correctly or you very well might create a problem horse. Just telling you this because I have backed horses and I , myself, have created issues when I was not confident so I'm speaking from experience. It might be just someone who comes over every day for a week to more - depends on the mare and you. good luck with her - stay with it because it is so rewarding to have a horse that you develop a relationship with that hopefully will last many years~!

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