Riding the Green Horse: The First Ride Out
By Will Clinging
The longer a horse spends in training, the more monotonous the work can become. The horse’s rate of learning is always changing based on how much we are trying to introduce or improve. If there is too much challenge in learning because we are teaching faster than the horse can learn, the horse will start to tune out and stop improving. If we never challenge the horse to improve and let him get comfortable with what he knows for too long, boredom will set in.
With the green horse there is also a safety factor that is not always present with a schooled horse. If we do too much the potential for the green horse to react violently is very real, yet to continue learning there must be a challenge to improve every day.
The amount of improvement will be different each day, but there must be some. There is a difference between teaching a new concept and improving a skill already taught. The hard part is knowing when to ask for improvement, when to teach the next skill, and how much to expect from the horse on any given day. I am a big believer in allowing the horse enough down time to think about what he has done. I think it keeps him mentally fresher. Long term breaks are good, but if they come too frequently we never get to enjoy the horse and what he can do for us.
When a horse is starting to have a difficult time learning or improving what he already knows after he has had an extended period of time off, he might still need a break, but maybe just a change will do. There are other ways to work the horse and allow him to use the skills he has developed. Getting out of the arena and trail riding or hacking around the barn might be just the change he needs.
Riding out of the arena will help him become more reliable in a less predictable environment. Photo: Shauna Clinging
The horse must be safe to take out of the arena or there is no point going out. Hacking or trail riding should be relaxing and casual. So, a few days before I take a horse out, I will start to prepare him so it is a good experience. On the first day I may work the horse as usual and instead of cooling him out in the arena, I lead him around the farm just to show it to him.
If he can take the place in and be curious and relaxed, it is an indicator that there should not be a problem. If he is freaked out by something, I want to know about it before we are out riding. I ride by myself most of the time, so I don’t have another horse there for him to follow. He must be prepared to take to the big, bad world without much help. I may not take the horse too far, depending on whether he feels this change of scenery is interesting or terrifying.
The next day I will change my lesson a bit and try to work the horse as if we were on the trail. I will ride with slack in the reins, although not at the buckle. I will see how responsive the horse is with less support and guidance from me. Can I steer him, stop him, and get him going as if he were a broke trail horse? If not, then I either help him do so or cancel the field trip. At the end of the lesson I will again cool him out by leading him around the farm, going a little farther than the day before.
When I am confident that my horse will be able to put his training to work in a less mechanical and a more relaxed mode, I am ready to venture out. I’ll start my lesson as usual in the arena, but walk and trot around for only a couple of minutes. I want to take note of any environmental factors that could be an issue. I don’t want to protect my horse from scary things, but being forewarned is being forearmed. Then I will head out at a casual walk and ride him as casually as I have been the past few days.
I will head out on the same route that we have been walking the previous days, so the surroundings are somewhat familiar, and I won’t take him farther than we have already been. The ride should only take a few minutes and then I will head back to the arena. A few circles and I will either put him away, if I think that another circle is unwise, or we will do another lap and then call it a day.
I keep him at a walk the whole time we are out and let him stop and look around, especially if there is something he is concerned about. I don’t fight with him if he doesn’t want to go past a particularly scary spot. I will instead get off and lead him past it, before we really argue and taint the whole experience. I try to remember that we are supposed to be relaxed — not stressed. If he is too stressed then I will turn back and instead do some light work in the arena.
The point of all this is to expand the horse’s world and give him some down time during the training process. Building confidence out of the arena will help him become more reliable in less predictable environments. Don’t try to teach him anything when out on the trail; his mind is too occupied by where he is going to learn effectively and the ride will just become a fight. As Dominique Barbier would say “just listen to the birds."
Main article photo: Shauna Clinging - I will let him stop and look around if there is something he is concerned about.