Beginning Young Horses Under Saddle:
My horses are handled quite a bit as babies, and I try to expose them to as many different
things as possible. They are led quite a bit, and are sometimes ponied from their dam's back.
I also try to acclimate them to riding in trailers.
I try to begin a youngster's saddle training when they are between 2.5 to 3 years old. I always
begin on the ground--I use a variety of techniques to desensitize the horses and get them
moving away from pressure (techiques include those used by Parelli, Clinton Anderson &
others). Once the horses are accepting of ropes and pressure, I saddle them, then free lunge
them in the round pen. Once they're comfortable with the saddle, I begin ground driving them
in a round pen (and eventually, in the arena). Since I don't want to harm their sensative
mouths, I use a web halter on the horse while I'm doing the ground driving. First, I'll allow
them to drag the ropes behind them freely. Somtimes this scares the horses a bit, but they
soon calm down and accept the ropes around their legs. A good lesson to learn that ropes
won't hurt them! As a general rule (at least with all the Rockies I've ever worked with), these
horses are FAST learners, and aren't prone to being scared about too much---their dispositions
have been molded over the years to create a relatively calm horse. Once they're used to the
ropes around their legs, I'll begin to pick them up, and begin their ground driving. They learn
about walking forward, turning, stopping, and backing up (the long reins telegraphing my
wishes through to the halter, which creates pressure on their noses). Contrary to some
trainers, I constantly talk to the horses. When teaching them to stop from the ground, I first
say the word "WHOA", give them time to respond, and if they haven't, then I go to my reins.
This thinking time helps them to connect their response to a consequence. Quite effective!
Once I feel they are comfortable with this step, I'll prepare to get on the horses. In the round
pen, I'll spend time putting my foot in a stirrup, standing in the stirrup, putting my weight
across their backs, etc. The next step is to sit in the saddle. I use a lot of horse treats at this
stage, and feed the horse a treat if it stands still when I mount. They begin to look for it when
I get on. My main problem, when we get to this stage, is getting the horses to walk around
the round pen. They become perfectly content to have me sit in the saddle! Occasionally, I
have a helper who will put a lead rope on the halter, so she can walk me around the pen a few
times. At times, I have to tap their rump softly with one end of a rope to get them walking.
During the first ride, I try to get the horse to walk, trot, and even canter around in the round
pen---and I always try to do this on a loose rein (the horse is still in a halter of some kind at
this time). When the horse becomes comfortable with me, I try to push it in a bit of speed, to
see if I can coax them to gait a bit. I can usually feel a few gait steps, but the gait won't feel
too natural until I begin to work the horse in a larger arena. When the horse is relaxed, and
able to respond to simple commands such as "Walk", "Whoa", "Easy" and "Back", I begin
taking them out into the arena. Then, it's out to the rest of the property, and finally to
mountain or desert trails. I also work the horses over man-made and natural obstacles as they
progress: here is where we practice things like backing up, sidepassing and yielding
hindquarters & forequarters. The diversity of my training really helps the horses to mature
and become aware of their surroundings, while learning to trust a rider.
When I do arena work with my horses, in preparation for refining their gait, I make sure
they can move forward freely. They are taught to walk out, then gait, and then I do work
in the canter. Saddle gaits are natural to these horses, but adding the weight of a rider to the
back of a green horse can sometimes confuse the way they move. Our job, as a rider, is to
teach a horse what gait we want. A gaited horse can do a variety of gaits, from the square
gaits (such as the trot, foxtrot) to the swingy/lateral gaits (such as the pace, stepping pace,
amble, running walk and singlefoot). A horse will usually tend towards the gait their breed
is bred for, but not always. You can have a Rocky who wants to singlefoot/amble (the
correct gait), to one that wants to trot or pace more frequently. As a rider, you must help
your young horse know what gait is more appropriate for him to travel in, and this is done
strong enough to become the engine that drives the gait. Lots of walking, especially at
faster speeds, and work up and down hills can build up a strong hindquarters and back.
trying to lock in their gait--without the support, they might tend to be lazy and trot or pace.
To accomplish this, I usually begin my young horses in a bosal, as this assures that I won't
them to yield their heads both side to side, as well as horizontally. You can do this initial
work in a snaffle as well, but it does take a bit longer to teach the horse to travel in a
collected frame. You must be consistent when asking the horse to give to pressure, then
give the horse a release when it does what you want it to. I have used a "Rubber Tom
Thumb Pelham" on my young horses with lots of success (as I graduate from a halter or
bosal), as you can have two sets of reins on the bit: one for direct pressure, and one set
for teaching the horse to respond to a small shank/curb chain. The mouthpiece is quite
thick, which distributes the pressure over more of the mouth. Since I do lots of showing, I
do tend to go to a bit with a curb chain, since horses over 5 (especially in the western
classes) must be shown in a curb bit. My favorite "advanced" bits include: Jointed Eggbutt
Pelham (English; State Line Tack); Imus Comfort Gait Bit (Western; at gaitsofgold.com);
Low Port Hinged Futurity Bit (Western; State Line Tack), and various Myler bits that don't
have a straight snaffle mouthpiece.
So, your job with a youngster is to push their speed out of a walk (but not to trot or pace).
If they go to fast, push their hip out slightly, to get them to give up the "wrong" gait...
Soon, they should do a few steps of a comfortable gait. When they do, praise them, then
ask for it again. Soon, they'll get the idea, and begin doing more correct steps in the gait.
You'll eventually build up their muscle strength and 'gait memory', so that they can sustain
gaits for progressively longer periods of time. But always remember to vary your training,
horse, and not just a gaiting machine. They are extremely versatile horses!!
|Many people are confused about this issue in our Rocky Mountain &
Kentucky Mountain horse breeds. These associations, over the years, have
wanted to maintain clear, provable records in the horse registrations. This
was to prevent fraud, but also was done to maintain the breed
characteristics: A naturally occuring gait, mellow temperment, and a horse
that resembled an "ideal" conformation (based on our breed standards).
When a foal is born, the owner of the horse must do the following to get a
1) A form is filled out by the owner with all pertinant information--this
includes having a signed copy of the original breeding certificate. (includes
a fee to be paid to the association)
2) Pictures are taken of the foal (all four sides)
3) Hairs are collected (usually from the tail), in order to get a DNA sample,
which should positively confirm proof of parentage.
Once the association checks everything, a registration certificate is issued in
the name of the foal. The foal's registration can be transferred to another
When the foal reaches under saddle age (two or older), then that horse is
required to prove that they meet all of the requirements of a Rocky Mountain
Horse. A horse must be between 14.2 - 16 H tall (fillies can be 14 H if they
haven't reached their 3rd birthday at time of certification) for the RMHA, must
have limited white on their bodies, must show proper conformation &
disposition, and (most of all) must exhibit the four-beat lateral gait (this is
what we'd consider a "singlefoot"). This means that we, as owners, must ride
this horse (under saddle & with a bit or in a hackamore), and must show that
the horse has the proper gait. This is done either in person, or on a video.
The horse is judged by three different (registered) examiners, and they all
must pass the horse in order for it to get a "Certified to Breed" designation.
When the horse passes, it will have a gold seal on it's registration papers.
Then, the horse's offspring can be registered, and the horse is eligible to take
part in sanctioned shows. It sounds like lots of work, but it's the best way to
keep our breed standards high.