Everyone wants to enjoy a safe and fun ride when they head out on horseback. Whether you've been riding for six months or sixty years, it never hurts to review the steps you take to get ready for each ride.
With a few simple “pre-flight tests” (as Pat Parelli says), all riders can become more in-tune to their horses and help ensure that the experience is as pleasant as possible for all involved (human and horse alike).
With these eight great tips, you can improve your odds of climbing into the saddle with reduced risk and the relaxation you’ll need to make the most of your riding time;
1. Learn to read your horse.
A horse that seems tense when you enter his stall or put on his halter needs to be calmed before you put him to work or embark on an adventure. Horses generally do their best to communicate with us; it's our job to put effort into understanding them.
2. Don’t second-guess yourself.
If your instincts are telling you that it’s not a good day for a ride, don’t ride. You can enjoy your horse on the ground with games or a leisurely grooming session instead. Never pressure yourself unnecessarily to do something you don't feel comfortable doing, and don't cave in to peer pressure.
3. Make sure your horse accepts physical contact.
Can you gently touch your horse’s back and hind legs with your hand as well as a crop or stick? If she flinches, kicks, or seems intolerant of contact, you have work to do before tossing tack on her back. Out on the trail there may be twigs and grasses that will touch their legs or belly. Even in the arena dirt could fly up. Your horse must be able to tolerate these things with reasonable confidence.
4. Test motion sensitivity.
Swing your lead rope near your horse and drag it on the ground nearby. If you observe agitation, you’ll need to help your horse accept this type of movement before you climb aboard. Things will move at assorted levels when you ride. Even something as simple as a flying bird could cause you to be thrown from the saddle if you're not certain that your horse isn't disturbed by movement.
5. Confirm responsiveness and respect.
Back your horse with light pressure (either on the lead line or with your hand gently touching his nose). Make sure he is responsive and respectful of your space today. A horse that exhibits disrespect and a lack of responsiveness on the ground will likely have those issues when you're on his back. (Over-responsiveness - to the point of being reactive - is equally problematic).
6. Have your horse move sideways on the ground.
In the popular ‘Safe Ride’ DVD, Pat Parelli reminds viewers that most horses will fly sideways when frightened. Your ability to thoughtfully control lateral movement could, quite literally, save your life. If you consider riding next to traffic or on a narrow trail, your tested and proven control over your horse's lateral movement is an absolute necessity.
7. Ask your horse to follow the leader.
Walk, then trot, along holding your horse’s lead rope; your horse should willingly follow at the same gait. If it feels like you’re dragging a motor home, it could be that your horse isn’t entirely confident in you as the leader. A bit if engaging playtime on the ground may be in order. A horse that cannot put his trust in you on the ground is unlikely to do so when you're on his back.
8. Banish claustrophobia.
Have your horse walk between you and a safe, stationery object (a fence, barrel, or tree) on the lead line. Can she walk through calmly without signs of panic or a rushed exit to the other side? Horses often feel uncomfortable with confinement; asking your horse to go through a gate, along a narrow pathway or into a trailer is asking a lot. There are many small and reasonable steps that you can take to help your horse feel more comfortable with this type of request.
A leading U.S. clinician, Pat Parelli [Parelli Natural Horsemanship] has made enormous strides in reshaping the thought processes of the horseback riding community in a way that has successfully impacted safety both on the ground and under saddle.
A favorite Parelli quote, “I’m not trying to scare you, just prepare you” reminds all those who aspire to earn a horse’s trust and confidence before the ride that there is preparation to be done.
Even if you need to invest an hour in preparing your horse and yourself for the best possible experience, isn’t that a far better use of time than a week (or more) in the hospital?
Keep it safe and add more fun to every ride.