Young horses must be trained from the time they are foals to accept human companionship, handling and eventually the saddle. Training is a drawn-out process filled with trust-building and repetitive drills; it culminates in the horse and rider coming together as one. Don't wait to begin the processes that create a good riding horse. Start training early.
Beginnings of Training
A horse should begin training as a foal without a saddle but with a halter. As soon as possible, the foal should be trained to wear a halter. Once the foal is used to the halter's pressure on his face, he needs to get accustomed to being led on a rope. Trust builds early between the foal and his owner; by the age of 2, the horse should be completely halter- and lead-trained.
The Gentle Touch
Horses have to be taught to understand simple commands; you'll facilitate this learning through your touch. Petting, stroking and patting get the horse used to your hand; soon you'll guide the foal by using mild pressure on his side to get him to move in one direction or another. Such early training gets him used to human interactions. Horses who get this type of attention early on get used to the saddle much faster than those who are not touch-trained.
Lunge training should be handled by a professional, as it is easy to confuse, frighten and injure a horse when not done correctly. However, it is an essential part of riding training whereby the trainer holds a lead line and gives signals through the line and through commands to control the horse's gait. The young horse moves around in a circle, learning to not shy at everything, practicing these commands and learning trust.
Among the final steps toward riding the horse is to train him to wear a bridle and accept the bit in his mouth. Early on, offering a sugar cube at the right moment gets his mouth open for the bit to slide in. He won't like the bit at first; be diligent and talk gently to him. Stroke his face and neck, and let him understand this is not a bad experience. Reward him with another sugar cube.
Trying the Saddle
A healthy horse should be able to carry a rider by the age of 3. Before you can ride, though, you'll train the horse to wear a saddle. Get him used to wearing a blanket or saddle pad first so he doesn't startle the first time the saddle goes on. Cinch the straps of the saddle loosely at first and then tighter so he will get used to a properly fitted saddle. Leave the saddle on for a few minutes at first; later, leave it on the horse for an hour while he's tied up. Walk the horse with the saddle on to let him get the feel of it.
Preliminary Riding Training
When he's used to the saddle, the 3-year-old horse is ready for riding training. With the horse saddled, pull on each stirrup with your hand, one at a time. Also pull on the saddle itself while pressing into the stirrup with a hand to simulate the act of mounting the saddle. Pressing on the stirrups with a foot comes later when you've come to trust the horse not to move.
Secondary Riding Training
Now that the horse is used to the saddle and to human weight, it is time to mount the horse. You'll undertake this is in stages: You or the trainer will mount and just sit in the saddle at first, then dismount and repeat several times for a few days until the horse is used to it. Then you'll mount the horse and start off on a slow walk, taking a short break every half-hour, and practicing signals and verbal commands until you and the horse feel comfortable together.
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