What a Horse’s First Ride Looks Like

…or should. We finally started the mare who has been waiting ‘Way Too Long, and it was the kind of experience that you really want to have, especially when you’re the sacrificial monkey.

The Hollywood illusion of the badass cowboy throwing himself on the bronc and riding till he flies off or the horse gives up is not only dangerous, it’s stupid. Yes, some first-time riding horses will buck, but the point is to set them up so they aren’t tempted to try. That makes for a much more pleasant and less bone-shattering experience on all sides.

Here’s how it works.

There’s quite a bit of prep work involved. We have to teach the horse to tolerate being groomed and having her feet cleaned, lead, stand, move over when requested, move forward or backward ditto, wear a saddle, wear a bridle (with or without bit in the early stages–there are schools of thought; I’m with the one that says use a bit), get used to flapping objects such as stirrups and reins, and it’s also a good idea to teach the verbal gait commands for when you want to teach the horse what the touch commands are from the saddle: “Walk,” “Trot,” “Canter,” and a rather important one: “Halt” or “Whoa.”

This takes at least a few days and often a couple of months. With this mare, we started in March and backed her in August–longer than I would normally, but I have other horses and, you know, a living to earn, so there we were.

That first ride needs at least two people in order to be truly safe: someone to stand on the ground and hold the horse (preferably an experienced horse handler), and someone to do the actual sitting part. The latter person needs to be a very quiet, balanced, experienced rider whom the horse trusts, and who has the ability to surrender control to the ground person and to stay in place regardless of what the horse may decide to do. It helps if she’s a little bit nuts. That’s usually me. (Experienced horse people, a few years back, when we were training another of the herd: “You let your trainer do what while you’re riding your 5yo breeding stallion?” He was loose in the arena, no reins, while trainer worked him in walk and trot and, if he felt like it, canter. I was on his back, going with him whatever he did.)(Uh. Yeah. But I raised him from birth. I trusted him.)

This time we had a not very small, very strong-minded, highly intelligent mare who had been dangerously aggressive when handled around her right flank. Another perspective on the experience, from the ground person (with special fantasy-magical-weirdness element), describes that situation here. That’s part of why it took so long to get started. There was  No  Way In Hades I was putting a leg on that horse until she was good and ready.

And then finally, after much work, she was. Herewith, illustrated courtesy of Traci Castleberry, is the saga of Ephiny’s First Ride.

Short form: Woooowwwwww.

We were going to do this last week, but Camilla-the-War-Mare tromped Ephiny’s left fore so hard she was lame for several days, so we had to postpone. Horses. I swear. (A lot.)

So this week all was well. Traci had a lesson on Khepera (our lovely Evil Gelding) first. Ephiny was totally with the program–right there and waiting for her turn. Interestingly, Camilla didn’t push for a lesson at all. It was Ephiny’s day.

S started by renewing her acquaintance in groundwork and bodywork, establishing herself as a safe place to go in case things got scary. Ephiny was a little dubious. Last time they worked together, she got worked through all kinds of trauma especially on the right side. But she settled down and S handed her over to me. “Do that you do to get connected.” So I did a little groundwork, leading, and so on. We were settling in–then Khepera Left. The. ARENA!!!!! Massive Ephiny-freakout. She was mad. Ephiny, when mad, grows to 19 hands and Explodes.

Oh boy.

So we got Khepera back into the grooming area, eating hay. We both calmed down. Mostly. S took a potty break. I noodled a bit. Ran the stirrups down and did some weight-in-stirrups play.

Ephiny abruptly started to sing a happy little song. No more mad.

She had thought that when K left, the lessons were over and she was going to get put in, too. That was why she was mad. She wanted her lesson! She wanted her Ride!

So we did a few bendy bits.

And then we went over to the mounting block and did our hangin’ out thing.

S came back and got back into the mix–and we did the mounting thing. (That’s dangerous. If the horse takes off, you can crash. She stood like a rock, bless her heart.)

Mission Accomplished.

Then I sat quietly, doing nothing but slightly turning my body on bends, while S did bodywork with Ephiny, showing her how to connect when there’s a monkey on her back. Like so:

And so:

And hey! First gear!

VERY interesting experience. Ephiny was solid to mount, back like a tabletop, good broad barrel. Totally ready and balanced, though at first she kind of forgot she had a left rear quadrant.

She was actually more unbalanced left than right–amazing considering her major right-hind issues at the beginning of the training process. We have to work on that. One thing she did that really interested me was want me to sit very light, very up in the torso–floating upward but with my seat solidly plugged in. That felt amazing.

She has a wonderful walk even at this stage, and she’s so happy and so into it. At the end, she and S shared a moment.

And so did I.

Then she got to run a little bit and show off, though she really just wanted cookies and hay, please.

I think that gives you the sense of what kind of rocket I was sitting on.

And that was Miss E’s Big Day. It was the best first ride I’ve ever had with any of my young ones. She was ready, she was solid, she has no holes or anxieties. She had one big spook but did the oatented Lipizzaner thing, bless her: tucked me into her back and we flew along together. She settled right down, no lingering effects–also a Lipp trait. Look how relaxed she was in the debriefing:

It’s a privilege to ride a horse of this quality–and to get to be the first person ever on her back? Woooooowwwwwww. Not to mention all that Lipizzaner hard-wiring. She knows what she’s for. She’s going to be such a great riding horse.

Hey, she already is.

Next step: groundwork, handling, and if she asks me to get on and someone is there to spot us, we’ll go for it. Then we’ll have S come back for another formal session and maybe some work on steering and brakes.

Meanwhile, Woooowwwwww.


And that’s what it should be like.




What a Horse’s First Ride Looks Like — 9 Comments

  1. You know what this reminds me of? In the old days, the process of Breaking In Your New Car. It was a slow and gentle process. Nowadays because of the computer components in modern vehicles you don’t have to do it at all.

  2. As I already said on your blog: Yay! Also thanks for linking her to the trainer’s viewpoint – I hadn’t read about the prior-life injury before. Wow.

  3. Judith–good grief, who on earth gave you flack about letting the trainer herd you around on Pook? That’s SOP in some Western circles (look at all those colt-starting clinics, where some Horsie Whisperers will do it in packs!). Not my style to do it in a pack, but I can certainly see the effectiveness of doing round pen work with a greenie who’s been trained to it. We haven’t done it in this barn much, but I’ve been the first one up a couple of times on greenies. I can see where it would be an effective way to introduce a greenie to carrying a rider at all gaits using a familiar technique without messing with reins, bits, halters, hackamores, whatever. That said, you need to have a solid rider with a good independent seat to pull it off. But that’s what you need for a greenie, anyway.

    Trainer G says that bucking is much less common these days (he deals mostly with stock/QH-breds), mainly due to breeding for temperament in quality horses as well as differences in training methods.

    Brenda, the Naming of Horses gets even more interesting when you break it out by breed. Lipizzaners have their naming conventions, as do warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, and Quarter Horses. TBs and QHs often hearken back to bloodlines in a less formal way than Lipps or WBs, and there’s length restrictions. QHs will get you into abbreviated spellings such as “Heza,” “Sheza,” “Ima” and so on.

    My mare’s registered name is Miss Olena Chic. Her sire’s registered name is Chocolate Chic Olena (hearkens back to noted sire Doc O’Lena, by Doc Bar out of Poco Lena) and her dam’s name is Miss Lorena Wood (by Doctor Wood out of Ducks Princess). Doctor Wood traces back to Doc O’Lena.

    Some breeders have a consistent naming theme for all their foals. One of my online friends breeds Arabian sporthorses, and her farm name is Faerie Court Farm. Her homebred stallion’s name is FCF Oberon’s Vanity. Other homebred names have the Faerie element, as well as FCF.

  4. Joyce, it was Western people who were freaking out. I think more at the fact he was an acive breeding stallion than that he was being free-longed. Apparently he was supposed to live in isolation and be handled with a whip and a chair. Not trained and ridden like, you know, a horse.

    Brenda, done. Next horseblog. I cannot wait to regale you with some of the choicer, erm, choices in the horse-naming world.

    Ephiny is nicknamed after a character from Xena (and the actress, Danielle Cormack, knows and is amused) because when she was born she was tall, long-legged, and coal-black with a thin crescent moon on her forehead. Totally Amazon, baby. Her registered name is Gloriosa (and that has a story, too).

    Estara: 🙂 She’s demanding more work in no uncertain terms. At this rate she’ll be a solid riding horse in no time.

  5. Lipizzan naming: Reminds me so much of the whole slew of books about Lipizzans (one of them was even turned into a movie over here) by Arthur Heinz Lehmann. The most famous of his horses is probably Maestoso Austria. He wrote about the Austrian Spanish Riding School in the time before World War 2 mostly, and about friendship and love as well. Some of it is thinly veiled autobiography, which is why the German paperbacks of his works often have pictures of the horses and people he was writing about.

    They even translated one of the books into English. I so wish I could gift it to you, but I’d need your postal adress… it’s not all that expensive on Amazon now:

    I could send you all the German ones, but there aren’t all that many English native-speaking fantasy authors who also read German, except Sherwood Smith, I expect.

  6. Judith–hmmm. Weird. This from a style with subdisciplines that feature working, breeding stallions. Ah well, not all folks are at professional levels and not all pros are equal.

  7. Judy —

    RE Ground Person’s experience — BodyTalk sessions for horses!

    Metaphysically, the mind boggles. There are theories about reincarnation that suggest humans spend some time as Other Things first — but that animals may be reincarnated in the same species?

    Of course, I believe that the Burmese cat I Iost in February was the reincarnation of a previous Burmese cat in my household. But having one’s whimsy confirmed is an odd experience….