Before you swing your leg over the back of that strange horse, Carla Lake has a few words of advice.
Okay, okay. I am the queen of misleading titles. I am nowhere near good enough to be a show catch rider, much less a champion one. However…I do have a lot of experience in riding horses I knew next to nothing about from my days as a horse rescue volunteer, and I figured I’d share some words of advice when it comes to riding a brand-new horse—whether you’re at a show or just riding a horse that’s new to you.
Ask Questions: If possible, ask about the horse’s history. Does it have any training issues or odd quirks? Does the owner want you to achieve something in particular in this ride? Sometimes it’s not always possible to get all the answers, but at least you can get a general sense of how the owner feels about the horse by speaking with him or her.
Check Your Tack! This should be a given any time you ride, but especially so on a horse you don’t know, or one that you didn’t tack up personally. Make sure the girth is tight and take note of any special tack—a martingale may mean he carries his head high, for example, or a curb shank bit may mean you’re SOL if you take up rein contact.
Whoa and Go: From past experience…find out if the horse has brakes before you hop on. It’s just a good idea. One way you can do this is by longeing briefly, or by just noticing how the horse reacts to rein pressure from the ground.
As for “go,” I always like to get the horse to move around a bit to make sure they move away from pressure. I push their hindquarters out, make them back up—all little things you probably need to do to get situated by the mounting block anyway.
And They’re Off: Seriously, that’s about all I can help you with—at this point I hand you back to your trainer/your own experience/luck/your supernatural being of choice. Horses can act very differently on the ground versus under saddle, as I am painfully aware with my own Grumpy Gus on the ground…but these three tips are important ones to remember for safety and success in your next catch ride.
Do you have any tips I missed? Share them in the comments below!
Carla Lake is a financial media editor and a recent convert to dressage from hunterland. She leases an OTTB named Midnight who is an excellent teacher. You can follow their adventures at the Collegial Equestrian blog.