It has been about 15 years since I broke a horse to ride myself. I never had a “job” during high school, instead I would break the 2 year olds my parents were raising to ride in preparation to be sold later on. Breaking a warmblood is a bit different from breaking Quarter Horses, but the fundamentals are the same. The. Hardest. Part. is knowing when to push them and when to just let them be a mess. I’ve got about 20 rides on Coco and she is very much at that precipice of needing to be pushed, but also not needing to be fried. She has a reasonable amount of steering and a decent “whoa”, but she often forgets where her feet are and gets pretty dang determined to go where SHE wants to go (which is always towards Jaguar).
I took her to my horsey bestie’s to ride off the farm for the first time last weekend and she was a dream. I was skeptical when we first arrived because she was a bit of a fire-breathing dragon, but once she was under tack and I was in the irons she was really really good. My horsey bestie rode her OTTB around while we mostly just walked and trotted. I couldn’t have been prouder of Miss Coco Chanel!
Last night she bucked for the first time. Not hard, but she was MAD! I like that she doesn’t want to run around the property like a hooligan, but she’s rather lazy about cantering and that was our disagreement. I kicked to canter and she said “heck no!” I didn’t come off and she didn’t buck very hard. In retrospect it was mostly funny, but I did get kind of mad at her attitude. Mares! I’m hoping to take her to a couple trail rides while the weather is still pretty warm. I find the horrible heat of Texas can be great for riding young, fresh horses. It takes off a bit of the edge so more progress is made and when the weather gets cooler she will have well over 45 rides.
Pats after a good ride, even if it did include her first buck!
On my first ride on Coco I failed to secure resources for photographic evidence of the event. I did not have this failure on the second event! I’ve spent the past month and a half gradually working her up to the big event of her first ride. Jaguar was the first ever horse I broke to ride all by myself. The method I used with him was based on a series of videos done by Roy Yates, an old cowboy. He did copious amounts of ground work with his young horses so by the time he rode them it was no big deal. I believe his methods to be sound, humane and effective and continue to weave them into my own.
I start by teaching the young horse to lunge, then add a surcingle which teaches them to accept the girth, then a bridle, then side reins, then a saddle with the bridle, and finally I ride them. You can tell a lot about a youngster by how they respond to the first time you tighten the surcingle. A highly sensitive horse will have a much stronger reaction than a more laid back animal. Sterling was very sensitive. Jaguar was kind of in the middle. Coco was VERY laid back. She has jumped up a little bit with the surcingle on and the saddle, but she’s never full on bucked. I hope this is a good thing!
Happy girl under saddle
The first time getting on a horse is always the scariest part for me. You have NO idea if they are going to jump out from under you, run away, start bucking, or just stand there. Never before had I done the first ride with an English saddle, either. Both of the western saddles I have are huge and it just didn’t feel right to ride her western. She was a perfect princess. She didn’t bat an eye lash when I put weight in the left stirrup and swung my right leg over. I had to sit for a minute and take deep breaths because I was so nervous. She, on the other hand, just stood chewing the bit.
When I work with the youngsters on the lunge line I teach them verbal commands to walk, trot, canter and stop. This helps them to make sense of what I want them to do on the first few rides when they have no idea what my legs are telling them. I clucked Coco forward on our second ride and just just walked on. I use my legs, too to teach them that pressure from my legs means go forward or faster. By the first few rides she will have figured out that leg pressure means go forward. A few more after that and she will trot from my leg instead of clucking. Cantering usually takes a bit longer, but it depends on the horse.
Learning to go forward among the goat menagerie
During our second ride we trotted in addition to walking. She was a bit confused and the pen I rode her in has a lot of trees so the lack of steering was kind of an issue! I have to be mindful to reward her every time she gives to the pressure of the bit to turn or stop, but not getting knocked off by a tree limb was important also!
All in all I’m absolutely tickled with how well our first two rides have gone. One can’t get overly complacent that the young horse is going to be easy peasy during every ride. I’m sure the first time we canter will be interesting, but I’m so grateful it is going as well as it is so far. It is exciting to have something to look forward to with Coco after the bad news about Jaguar. She won’t be ready to fox hunt for at least a year, but I hope to take her on some trail rides before the summer is over.
Awkward baby horse steering