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Green and green: not a good match

During the past year, I learned first-hand how difficult it is to train a young horse. I asked Leslie Laing, owner of Falcon Creek Farm, to write a column about how one determines when he or she is ready to handle an untrained horse. Laing is a Level 4 Certified Horsemanship Association instructor and a Level 3 Parelli Natural Horsemanship student (she has completed Level 2). – Erica WhitcombeIn my years as a riding instructor, I’ve seen many examples of mismatched horse and rider pairs. But the most common seems to be the novice rider and the untrained horse.Several years ago, I had a neighbor who owned four older, well-trained horses. Her young daughter had ridden these horses since she was very young, but she had never had lessons. When she was around 14, she decided to buy a young horse and train the horse herself. Within a couple of weeks, the horse had thrown her several times and she had completely lost her confidence. Instead of selling the horse to a more experienced rider, she turned him out to pasture and never got on him again.When I moved, the horse was still there, 10 years old and still untrained. This story is a good example of why “green plus green equals black and blue,” a common expression used in the horse world to describe what often happens when an inexperienced or “green” rider pairs up with a green horse.A rider and a horse that both know very little can’t be expected to learn from each other. It’s like expecting two elementary school students to teach each other a college course. Injuries often happen when the well-meaning owner unintentionally scares the horse and the horse spooks suddenly or loses control. An experience like this can seriously affect the confidence of both the horse and rider. The resulting emotional scars can take longer to heal than a physical injury because the experience has rattled the foundations of confidence for both horse and rider, and confidence can be difficult to replace.If you ask 100 people to define “green,” you will probably get 100 different answers. Certainly someone who has never ridden a horse before is “green.” But “green” can also refer to a novice or beginner rider who has some experience in the saddle, some ground handling skills and basic, rudimentary horsemanship knowledge. An inexperienced rider does not have a balanced seat, does not understand the nature of horses and doesn’t know how to control a horse’s behavior. An inexperienced or “green-broke” horse can be any age and has usually been trained to accept a saddle and maybe a rider as well. But a green horse is not mentally or physically proficient with any specific training concepts and does not respond readily to rider requests such as yielding to rein, leg or seat pressure.How do you know if you are ready to ride a green horse? Even a rider who has had several years of riding experience can still be green. Riding competency is affected by the number of practice hours in the saddle, the number of effective riding lessons and the rider’s natural ability. Knowing when you are ready to ride a green-broke horse may not always be accurately self-assessed. Often a rider thinks he is more experienced than he actually is. But no matter how much experience you have on well-trained horses, working with a green horse is a whole different ball of wax.Here are some tips that will help you decide if you are ready to climb on a green horse.

  • Ask a qualified trainer or instructor to assess your riding and training skills.
  • Ride horses that are more than green-broke but less experienced than the horses you are used to.
  • Attend or audit clinics that teach riding skills higher than your own or that teach colt-starting. The feedback you get from them will help you find deficiencies.
  • Watch videos or DVDs. Practice what you learn on the horse you usually ride. If you have trouble, you aren’t ready to ride a green horse.
  • Ride as many different well-broke horses as you can. Do you see the same problems in all of them? That is a reflection of your skill level.
When you get on a green horse for the first time, all the usual cues you use to direct a horse won’t work. An inexperienced rider will wind up frustrated and angry, which will in turn frustrate and upset the horse. It’s a downward spiral from there. To train a horse to respond calmly and correctly to your legs, seat, hands and weight; you need to develop timing, balance, patience, consistency and confidence; and you need to know how to use pressure, when to release it, when to push for more and when to call it a day.Training an inexperienced horse is more of an art than a science and learning any art takes time, patience and sensitivity.

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