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Partnering up: Some Do’s and Don’ts that will keep you safe

By SHERYL LYNDE - Horsetrader columnist - November 20th, 2014 - Trainer Tips

PatriciaDemers_170pxWhere does a successful and safe horse-and-rider relationship begin? In the very beginning, when the two are partnered up.

Correct partnering between horse and rider is essential to create a relationship in which both can develop confidence, expand their abilities and enjoy the experience. If you are looking to purchase a horse, do some soul-searching. Think about what discipline most interests you and complements your lifestyle, ability and budget. If you enjoy riding trail, look for an experienced trail horse, not a Thoroughbred off the track because he is pretty. It’s easy for color to draw your attention away from the original plan, too, and get you off course. That color may cost you down the road, either in training fees that you hadn’t budgeted for, doctor bills, or the emotional toll of losing your confidence and becoming fearful of being on the back of a horse — no longer a place of refuge, but a place of dread.

If you are a less-experienced or green rider, do not purchase a young or green horse. There is a reason for the saying, “green-plus-green equals black-and-blue.” Someone in the horse-and-rider partnership must have more experience than the other — if the horse is green, then the rider should have more knowledge and experience than the horse. Likewise, if the rider is green, then the horse needs to be more seasoned and experienced than the rider. An older, seasoned trail horse will build confidence in a green rider while keeping them both safe. Conversely, a younger, inexperienced green horse will benefit from the guidance and consistency of a more seasoned rider.

A green horse isn’t necessarily defined by its age, as in a 2-year old or a 3-year old. I have started 9- and 12-year olds that have never had a rider on their backs. Not only are they green, but their training takes more time. I prefer starting colts at age two or three because, as a general rule, they are easier to train, more compliant and willing to progress — they are looking for a leader to keep them safe. Every colt is different, and there are other variables that come into play such as the quality of their handling prior to age two, but generally I need 90 days to start a 2-year old. The older the horse, the longer their training will take, and you can expect to add an additional two months of training time for every year after the age of two. The same 2-year old that would take 90 days to be trained safely under saddle at a walk, trot, and cantor in the arena and on the trail would take six additional months if started as a 5-year old. The older the horse, the more set in their ways and aware of their size they become. Without proper handling prior to being started, they can become aggressive, pushy and disrespectful on the ground or more fearful and difficult to handle. Their personalities are more developed, and getting their trust and willingness to progress will take more time, skill and patience.

If you are looking for a trail horse, keep in mind what kind of trail you will be riding. You may think that a horse who has been used primarily on a rental string or one that has spent his life only on a ranch would prove to be a great trail horse. This may not necessarily be true. The rental-string horse may have had so many different riders pulling on his mouth that he became buddy-sour and tougher to guide, and the ranch horse may prove to be spooky since he’s unaccustomed to city trails.

When you do go out and look for a horse, bring someone more experienced with you, ideally your trainer if you are working with one. Take your time and line up several horses to see. Ask the owner to ride the horse first and show you the horse’s capabilities. Come back and ride the horse a couple of times in different environments before you make your decision. Do not allow anyone to pressure you into making a purchase — the match for your skills, abilities, and lifestyle is the most important thing to keep in mind. Once you have made your selection, your purchase should be contingent upon the successful completion of a pre-purchase exam by a vet of your choice. When you bring home a new horse, give him time to adapt to his new environment.

There will be an adjustment period for both of you. Building a partnership takes time and does not happen overnight. Everything worthwhile in life takes time as well as a willingness to grow. The relationship between horse and rider is no exception. When you get it right, the reward will keep you hooked for a lifetime.


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