Asking how long it takes to saddle and ride a young horse for the first time, is like asking how long is a piece of string.
I started training horses for a living more than forty years ago. Horses of all shapes, sizes and varieties were sent to me to be started under saddle. Many of those horses had very little handling before they arrived at my stables, and there were plenty of four and five-year-olds that hadn’t been handled at all.
My father’s idea was that every horse should be sent home after two weeks. When I look back now, I realise that many of those horses weren’t going very well when I sent them back to their owners.
Each year, I had about a hundred horses through my stables. My wife Christine helped me by feeding up and cleaning the stables. I handled and rode between eight and fifteen horses every day and didn’t employ anyone.
After about a year, I worked out that taking an extra week or two to start a horse under saddle was irrelevant in the general scheme of things. After all, we expect to ride our horses for fifteen or twenty years. And so, I made it a rule that each horse to be started under saddle stayed at my stables for at least four weeks.
If someone wanted things done quicker, I didn’t take their horse.
People often say “I do the same as you –just take my time until the horse settles down. It doesn’t matter if it takes a couple of months to ride a young horse.” Or, “My horse is frightened and I can’t catch him, so I just go to his yard and spend time with him every day. He’ll soon get used to me.”
Let me assure you, this isn’t doing the same as me, and these ideas aren’t what I advocate.
If you spend time every day in the yard with a frightened horse, without catching him, you’re actually teaching him to keep away from you and you’re also teaching him how to avoid being caught.
In every case, with every horse, you must go to him and show him you’re not going to hurt him. If you can’t catch the horse, the first thing you must do is get a rope on his neck. The rope must never be used to pull any horse around. It should only be used to show the horse what you want. Without a rope, the horse has an advantage and he can step away whenever he chooses.
Never chase a frightened horse or flap things at him and never use a long stick or a flag or anything else to stroke a frightened horse. All of these things will just frighten the horse even more than he’s already frightened.
How fast a horse progresses when being started under saddle, will depend on how much handling he’s had and how confident he is. With a well-handled, confident horse, it will be easy to sit on his back in a lesson or two.
If a horse hasn’t been handled or has been badly handled, it may take a few more lessons to gain his confidence and sit on his back.
Recently, we filmed a frightened three-year-old station/ranch bred gelding for my Starting a Horse Under Saddle Online Clinic. I demonstrated how the saddle and rider can be introduced to a horse without any bucking, chasing or sweating. The horse was given two or three twenty-minute lessons each day and in five days he was confidently carrying me and the saddle around.
Whenever I work with any horse, I don’t have a timetable but it would be unusual for me to take any longer than this to saddle and ride a young horse.
It’s not a matter of simply ‘taking your time’, it’s a matter of teaching every horse to be relaxed and confident. Some people ride their horses for twenty years, day in and day out, and still don’t have this basic relaxation and confidence.
READ MORE ON THIS SUBJECT HERE: www.fearfreehorsetraining.com/blog/too-many-horses-can-t-cope