Back In The Saddle, By Ken McNabb with Katherine Lindsey Meehan
When you have been away from riding for a while, it’s hard to know where to begin when you want to start again. Maybe you quit riding because of time constraints, maybe you had accident horseback. Whatever your situation, this month’s article will cover how to build your confidence and how to choose the right horse to get you back in the saddle again.
When you are nervous and struggling with your confidence, I find it is always best to start working with your horse on the ground. Keep working on the ground until you want to ride again. Allow yourself all the time you need to build your confidence and your relationship with your horse. You’re ready to get on when you feel comfortable and believe you can.
The first ground work exercise I want you to practice is a longeing exercise. I use this not as a way to tire my horse out until he will behave, but as a way to get his mind on me, and to get him in the habit of responding “yes” to my requests. I like to use a rope halter and a 12′ lead rope for this exercise. Begin with the lead rope in both hands, your right hand closest to your horse. Guide him off to the right with that hand, and with your left hand swing the tail of the lead rope , asking him for forward motion. When he moves off around you, step to the side dramatically, blocking his path, to stop him. Be sure to step in a ways in front of him, giving him time to notice you and stop before he runs you over. The reason I like to stop my horse immediately after he moved off for the first time is as a reward. I’m letting him know he got the right answer. Pet him, and then send him off around you in the opposite direction. Stop and change directions frequently. Remember, the point of this exercise is not to tire your horse out, it is to get his mind on you and get him responsive to your requests. Your horse should be moving forward, but always thinking back to you. It is very important that you stop your horse using your body position (stepping in front of him) rather than by pulling him to a stop. If you step in front of him and he doesn’t stop, then you can pull on the lead rope to explain to him what you wanted. But always ask for the stop with your body first. Practice this exercise at least until your horse longes around you without pulling on the lead rope, stops off just your body cues, and changes directions nicely. Practice until you just can’t wait to get into the saddle, keeping in mind that your ultimate goal is to move beyond this exercise”¦ so give yourself time to get comfortable without letting yourself get stuck here forever.
Once you are ready to ride, find a bomb proof, safe, quiet horse. Especially if you had a wreck the last time you rode your horse, it’s important to give yourself the opportunity to regain your balance and get comfortable in the saddle on something that isn’t going to act up or do anything unexpected. I also like to have you practice the riding exercises you will do with your horse with a broke horse first so you will have a feel of what you are looking for. Put your saddle and bridle on him. Before you get on, practice two things on the ground briefly. First, make sure he will soften his face left and right off the bridle. What this means is when you pick up on one rein, your horse should bend his neck and tuck his nose in towards the pull of the rein. When he does, release the rein. Do this a few times on each side, then get him soft and turn your attention to his hind end. You want him to step over with his inside hind foot, crossing over in front of the outside hind foot, while keeping his face soft. When he does this, all forward motion with his front feet should stop. This is called disengaging the hindquarters, and it is your emergency brake. When your horse crosses over with his hind end, it takes away the power behind a buck, rear, or runaway. Because you are going to be using these exercises in the saddle, make sure your hand position on the ground mimics where your hands will be when you are riding as closely as possible. Once you can disengage the hindquarters from both sides on the ground, you are ready to ride. Practice disengaging the hindquarters at the walk and trot on the broke horse until you know what it feels like and are confortable giving the cue. Later on, you should practice this from the lope and run as well. At faster speeds you just have to be careful and slow your horse down with circles before completely disengaging his hindquarters. When you are doing this from the saddle, in the beginning it will be helpful to look over your shoulder at the top of your horse’s tail. This pushes your seat bone on one side down, giving him a cue from your seat, as well as the rein, to step under. Remember to keep your hand position correct throughout this exercise, hands near the saddle horn at all times.
When you are comfortable with this exercise on the broke horse, teach it to your horse on the ground, then from the saddle. Knowing you have a way to stop your horse if anything goes wrong is a huge confidence boost.
Enjoy your horses as you work through these steps to build your confidence and get yourself back in the saddle. Until next time, may God bless the trails you ride.
For more information on Ken McNabb’s go to www.kenmcnabb.com.