Confidently Assessing Walk on a Different or New Horse

Confidently Assessing Walk on a Different or New Horse

Confidently Assessing Walk on a Different or New Horse

Whether you’ve just purchased a new horse, or the opportunity to regularly ride a different horse, the first few rides can feel a little daunting. Especially if you are coming back to riding after a break or you’re used to riding another horse. One of the best things you can do is to begin assessing where you are both at in terms of training and communication. This episode is the first in a week of 5 lessons called ‘First Rides for Confidence on Your New Horse’ which are available now inside of Daily Strides Premium

Those first few rides have to happen and if done right, can set a positive tone for both of you as you work together going forward.

And these rides are the perfect time to really pay attention, assess where you both are in your training together and then build your relationship together.  In this episode, I will walk you through an exercise you can do while in the saddle to begin figuring out where you both are in your training.

Finding & Stacking Wins

Wins are not just for the competitive riders in the world.  All riders can find and ‘stack’ wins when working with their horses.  The key is to really notice them. So often we take the little things for granted.  However, it’s these little things, when accumulated and put together; that make the partnership great.

Each time you have a set expectation of your horse, and your horse meets it; that’s a win! Especially true when it’s a new horse that you’re not really sure of or familiar with.

The more ‘correct answers’ your horse gives you, the stronger the understanding between both of you becomes.  See it like a list of boxes that your horse must check.  Anything he doesn’t understand must be worked on – and will be.  But it’s also important to appreciate all of the ‘checks’ he did get. This will build both of your confidence in yourselves and in the partnership as a whole.

1. Assessing the Shoulders

Begin in walk with your new horse and pay attention to your horse’s shoulders.  How well are they moving?  Are they covering the ground or are they a little ‘choppy’ or ‘short’? It’s important not to lean down or over to do this.  Just ‘glance’ down with your eyes. You may have to move or plait/braid your horse’s mane if it is hiding or covering the shoulders.

The shoulders are something you can ‘see’ when you are riding. And you are going to use this to assess what you can’t see.  The hind quarters.  

Once you can identify the shoulders moving, begin to tie that into the feeling in your seat.  The movement of the shoulders will coordinate with the swing of your seat as your horse walks. You’ll notice both a backward and forward swing to your seat. And also a ‘left to right’.  The left to right is created by your horse’s barrel or rib cage moving as the horse walks.  And this will correlate with his back legs…

2. Engaging the Hind Quarters

The reason your horse’s barrel is swinging left to right is simple; it must move to create room for your horse’s back leg to come and step in underneath it.  So, if you’re not feeling that left-to-right swing through the barrel, there’s a good chance your horse is not using his hind quarters.

Think of ‘engagement’ as being a committed relationship between your horse’s back end and the front end. No committed relationship; no engagement!

If your horse has training and development under his belt, you will also see that the distribution of his weight has changed slightly so the front end is not so heavy.  However, even if your horse is very green or unfit, the ‘engagement’ we are talking about is a connection or relationship.  The energy is flowing through from the back to the front.  And all horses can do this, regardless of where they are in their training journey.

3. Balance Through Corners

A great way to assess this with your new horse is to pretend you’re a marble, ball, or egg! If your horse’s back is a tray and you are on the tray, what would happen while you’re riding on the straight? So down the long side of your arena. Is the tray tipping slightly to one side of the other?  Or is it perhaps tilted to favour the back or the front?

Ideally,  you (the egg or ball) will remain nicely balanced in the centre of the ‘tray’, both on the straight and as you ride through corners and bends. 

Often we don’t feel when our horses is tilting or tipping.  Especially through corners and bends.  However, play this game the next time you’re in the saddle.  Close your eyes if you can (and it’s safe to do so). And feel if you are ‘tipping’ somewhere you shouldn’t be!

4. Noticing Relaxation / Tension

Building from the previous exercise, you can then begin to add your use of the half halt before and during the corner into your assessment.  Does your horse respond to your half halt? And if so, does this have an impact on any of the previous elements of the ride?  How his shoulders are moving, the swing of the hindquarters, or you ‘rolling off’ the tray that is his back?!

When riding a new horse, moments of incorrect tension will be pretty frequent and normal initially.  You are both getting used to each other…

The important takeaway is to notice and begin refining so that the smoothness is maintained more easily.  I also suggest riding a 20m square when doing this work, as it will allow the corners to ‘come more quickly’ for you and your horse. And you will get more opportunities to work on improving it the next time.

5. The Ears of Your New Horse

My final idea for assessing the walk with a new horse is to watch his ears.  I realise this seems like a strange one, but bear with me! As you are riding the square or the rectangle in walk, and doing the above exercise with half halt and corners, do the ears change?  Do they get higher, indicating that he may be ‘hollowing out’ through is back? Or maybe they are dropping lower; possibly bracing against you? Or are they tilting (one higher than the other), showing a lack of straightness?

When you are riding a different or new horse, the best thing you can do early on is to assess exactly where he is right now in his training. Then use this to create a plan to improve. 

As the rider of the new horse, your job is to see how you are both getting along from the beginning.  And it is often so much easier to do this using what you can actually ‘see’.  Such as the shoulders and ears. Couple this with what you can feel, you’ll get a pretty good idea of how the ride is going.

First Rides for Confidence on Your New Horse

If this is something you would like more step-by-step help with, I am encouraging you to join us inside of Daily Strides Premium. You will get 5 episodes of audio horse riding lessons to use that will help you and your horse from the very first ride.  And they are not only for ‘new horses’.

These lessons are also great for riders and horses who want to figure out what to work on next in their training and work together. Especially if working alone without a trainer or coach.

So if you have your new horse, or you are getting to know a different horse to the one you are used to, let me help you both.  Those first few rides are really important ones; for both you and your horse… In this group of lessons you will steadily move through the different gaits with your horse, in a way that will build your confidence; and allow your horse to get used to you as well.

Happy Riding

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