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Mounting a Horse:

How to and Troubleshooting

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

This is Part 1 of a 3 Part article

Mounting

Adapted from Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill

Making not Breaking, the First Year Under Saddle

Making not Breaking, the First Year Under Saddle

Whether your are mounting a young horse for the first time or an older horse that you have had for some time, do you anticipate mincing and dancing, a fight, an explosive surprise, or do you see things going like clockwork with both you and your horse emerging winners? It is natural to experience anxiety before mounting a young horse for its first ride – that’s just normal horse trainer’s stage fright. A small amount of apprehension will probably make you pay closer attention to safety. Being alert primes your nerves and muscular actions. But too much tension can take the smoothness and confidence out of your moves and that might bring undesirable reactions from your horse. If you have an older horse that is developing bad habits when being mounted, proceed like you would with a young, untrained horse.

The best way to make the first mounting just another day in the string of lessons for your young horse is to precede mounting with the proper ground training. Contrary to what you might think, the vast majority of accidents with young horses are not due to a horse being sneaky or dishonest and pulling out all the stops on mounting day. Most young horses act very honestly and predictably and are merely reflecting their previous handling. Accidents with young horses can usually be traced to the violation by the trainer of one or more very simple, basic safety rules or to the omission of important basic ground training. Even the most experienced, accomplished trainers consistently emphasize the importance of the basics. The importance of groundwork should be taken seriously. The true test of when your young horse is ready to mount is whether you can actually perform the various ground work exercises with your horse that I list in Making Not Breaking or 101 Longeing and Long Lining Exercises. I’ve posted a list of in-hand exercises on this blog that is a starting point. Can you do all of these ground work exercises with your horse?

How  to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillThe overall goal of the first few rides is to reinforce the horse’s trust in you. He must overcome his inborn fear of having “an animal” on his back. To further a horse’s trust in you, never do anything that will scare or hurt him. You should aim to develop a partnership, one in which you are definitely in charge but not one in which the horse is inhumanely dominated by rough tactics. Earning a horse’s trust and respect simultaneously is the foundation of horse training. A young horse needs to know in very clear terms that you are the boss and that what you request, he must do. But you want willing compliance, not a broken-spirited submission. What you ask of your horse must be based on sound horse training principles and must be consistent.

The Pre-Mounting Warm-Up

Currently, it is not a widespread practice to wear a protective helmet when riding yet it should be. More and more trainers and instructors advise the use of a “hard hat”, especially when riding young horses. Boots with heels are an important safeguard because certain stirrups can allow a non-heeled boot or shoe to slip through them and trap the rider’s foot. If gloves are used, they should be of the type that allow grip and a feel of the reins. A thick or heavy pair of gloves can make for cumbersome movements.

Longeing and Long Lining the Western HorseYou can use in-hand work, longeing, driving, or ponying to take the edge off a young horse prior to its first ride. Whatever method of warm up you choose, it should be very familiar to the young horse. It would make no sense to introduce a new ground training lessons on the day of your first ride.

You can choose to take your first rides using a halter and lead rope, bosal, or snaffle bridle. It is not so important what you use on his head but how you use your body. Although it is good to keep your mind open to different methods for the future, for now choose the method with which you are most comfortable and proficient. The pre-ride warm-up and the first ride should take place in a safe enclosed area. I prefer a 66 foot diameter round pen with sturdy walls and sand footing.

Your  Horse Barn DVDBegin the session as if nothing out of the ordinary is planned. Be sure you do not have time constraints because if you are in a hurry, it will surely affect your work. Be thorough with haltering, leading, tacking up and leading to the round pen. Warm your horse up by leading him in-hand for a few moments to “untrack” him. Check the cinch for appropriate tightness and then ready the horse for longeing, driving, or ponying. The pre-ride warm up should take the edge off the horse but not tire him out. He will need to be alert and have muscle strength and energy left if you expect him to pay attention and actually learn something from the first mounting lesson.

After the warm up, check the cinches (and breast collar if used) once again and be sure they are snug but not uncomfortably tight. Be sure to remove the stirrup hobble rope if you used one for driving. Square the horse up so he will have an easier time maintaining his balance as you mount. If he has one front foot way out to the right, for example, he will likely bring it under his belly with a quick motion when you begin mounting. If one hind leg is far behind, the horse will probably step forward as you begin mounting. Either of these circumstances may make you think he is going to walk off. This might make you lose your concentration or balance or you may instinctively snatch at the reins and start a cycle of errors. Any time you have difficulty in the chain of events, and this goes for the horse’s entire training, stop, go back to where your and your horse were comfortable and performing well and proceed from there.
Watch for more parts to this topic.

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Companion Sports

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

So that you can keep in shape year round, even during the non-riding season, continue walking, stretching exercises and strength training. In addition, try to find other activities that will keep you ready to ride. Companion sports will help you minimize weight gain, prevent muscle atrophy, and reduce chance of injury when you do return to active riding. Even if you ride all year, it is a good idea to participate in other sports or activities to make you a well-rounded person mentally and physically.

Brisk walking and bicycling provide great cardiopulmonary benefits and fine-tune your rhythm and equilibrium. Cross-country skiing is a wonderful off-season sport to keep your muscles and cardiopulmonary system in shape. The characteristic crouch of the skier uses many of the same muscles as riding does, and the aerobic exercise is unequaled in winter sports.

Indoor cross-training can include various types of dancing. Ballet improves flexibility and the ability to execute patterned movements. Ballroom or country and western dancing can improve your coordination and the ability to perform sequenced movements. Fencing utilizes some of the same leg muscles as riding and can improve your reaction time as well as developing a sense of poise in your body carriage. Gymnastics can improve balance, strength, poise, and focus.

East Meets West

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese system of relaxed concentration that focuses the mind, balances the body and enhances energy. It is practiced through a series of hand and body movements with a great emphasis on breathing. Tai Chi can help a rider gain body awareness and coordination and when it comes time to sit on a horse, many riders have found that Tai Chi helps them to be a more balanced and perceptive rider.

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This time of year, many people get back to riding after not being able to due to weather or other commitments. A while back, I was asked to write a magazine series for people returning to riding after time off, illness, an accident, pregnancy or other reason. Following is that series. I hope you might find some information that will help you, a student, or a friend.

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Part One – Attitude and Confidence

Have you been riding your computer or your truck more than your horse? Has an injury or surgery prevented you from riding? Maybe you’ve had a brutal winter or scorching summer and six months zipped past without a ride. If it’s time for you to get back in the saddle, with a little preparation you can make a smooth re-entry to riding.

After riding most of my life and teaching and judging many riders, I’ve seen that certain attributes can help or hinder a rider. Whether you are getting back to riding or taking it up for the first time, you should evaluate your attitude, confidence, relaxation, balance, flexibility, coordination, durability, strength, and fitness. Next month’s newsletter will contain tips on how to improve areas that need work.

ATTITUDE

A good attitude is made of motivation, optimism, diligence, patience, and honesty.

TEST: Answer Yes or No to these five questions:

1. You get up an hour earlier every morning so you have extra time to ride.
2. You see something ahead that might spook your horse. You alter your course to avoid the confrontation.
3. Your horse moves 3 small steps when you are mounting. You “let it go”.
4. You want to smooth out your horse’s lope but after several weeks you don’t see a change. You start looking for another horse.
5. When your instructor/trainer says, “Work with your horse every day to improve your riding”, you say, “I do!”

Yes to #1 shows motivation.
No to #2 shows a positive attitude that you can overcome your horse’s fears.
No to #3 shows diligence to work on small things to make the whole better.
No to #4 means you don’t give up quickly; training takes time.
Yes to #5 either means you are a rare person that can work with your horse every day OR your definition of “work” includes grooming, petting and feeding treats OR you just say “I do” to your instructor to keep from getting a lecture. To improve, you first must make an honest evaluation.

CONFIDENCE

Confidence comes from knowledge, training, and experience.

TEST: Answer Yes or No to these questions:

1. Have you had your horse handling and riding skills evaluated by a professional instructor?
2. Do you take regular lessons?
3. Do you know safe practices for handling and riding horses?
4. Do you work with a well-trained, experienced horse that can “show you the ropes”?
5. Do you know how to stop a runaway horse?

If you answered YES to these five questions, you have set yourself up to be confident.

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