Training: How to get on a young horse for the first time

Lila Gendal shares some strategies for making that first under-saddle experience a safe and positive one.

From Lila:

One of the most vulnerable moments in a horse's life is that very first time you sit on them. As such, this is not a time to make any major mistakes. Of course there’s a great deal that goes into this process before you actually get on your horse for the first time, but when you are ready to get on, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1)      A calm environment. One of the most important things to keep in mind when starting a young horse, or any horse for that matter, is to provide a calm, safe and peaceful environment. For instance, I would never get on a young horse if a herd of horses were galloping in the pasture right next the young horse I am about to get on. Keep everything simple, quiet and relaxed. Some people get on their horse for the first time in a stall while another person holds the horse. Some get on in a round pen, others in an indoor, some get on in water, or in snow. Whatever your preference, it’s crucial to keep things calm and comfortable so your horse associates you getting on him or her as a good thing–not a scary or dangerous thing.

2)      Have a plan. I always like to have a plan of how and what I am going to do, before I actually do anything. I don’t just run and jump on an unbroken horse. I usually have been working with a horse for several weeks or months before I get on them. I like to get to know the horse prior to getting on them. Once I am ready, and have done a fair bit of ground work, I have someone I trust holding the horse while I drape myself over the saddle like a wet cloth. Once the horse gets use to my weight and is quiet and comfortable, I will then sit on them. Everyone has their own techniques and skills, so there is no right or wrong way here, but keeping a plan in mind often helps the process.

Valonia EA

3)      Ask a professional. Like I mentioned, these are vulnerable moments in the beginning. You don’t want things to go wrong. You don’t want your horse to rear, buck, spin or bolt every time you get on. If you are worried, or concerned about having a difficult horse to get on, you might consider finding a professional or someone who has experience with backing young horses. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, or hiring someone to do a very important job, such as getting on your horse for the first time.

How do you start your horses, or do you usually have someone else start your horse? Do you enjoy starting young horses, or do you dread the process? I have started a number of horses and actually do really enjoy the process because I have always had very positive experiences getting on a horse for the first time.

My name is Lila Gendal and I am 27 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 7 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I currently have a 2005 Holsteiner mare, “Valonia” (Contester X Parlona), who is currently going training level, and I am riding one of Denny Emerson’s horses, a 2005 Selle Luxemburg gelding, “Beaulieu’s Cool Skybreaker” (Beaulieu’s Coolman X Une Beaute by Heartbreaker) who will be moving up to training soon! When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media… or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.

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