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The Extension Horse Program offers any number of levels of horsemanship skill development
for youth and adults.
There a wide variety of topics available. They are hands-on in nature and will often
involve guest speakers, depending on content.
Tack (saddles, bridles, halters, etc.) represents a large investment for most horse
owners. Proper care can prolong the useful life and the appearance of tack and can
prevent injuries resulting from broken or poorly fitting tack. Dr. Cindy McCall of
Auburn University lays out some tips to follow when preparing for time away from riding:
Horsemen who ride throughout the year will not need to worry about storing their tack
for the winter. However, they still need to make routine fit and safety checks on
their tack, and they should clean and condition it periodically. A tip for busy riders
is to use a combination cleaner-conditioner for tack for frequent cleanings and then
use the traditional cleaning and conditioning procedure for major cleanups. There
are several combination leather cleanerconditioners on the market, or they are easy
to make by melting a bar of glycerin saddle soap in a saucepan over low heat on the
stove, then adding approximately one pint of a leather conditioner and one to two
tablespoons of vegetable oil. Mix these ingredients thoroughly and pour into a plastic
container with a tight fitting lid. As the mixture cools it will solidify into a soap-like
consistency. It is applied to the leather with a damp sponge or cloth like saddle
Getting your horse halter broke can and probably should be the very first type of
training you do with your horse. In reality, it can start the first week or so they
are on the ground. However, you don’t want to leave the halter on the baby all the
time due to safety concerns. With a halter on, your foal (or grown horse for that
matter) takes the risk of getting caught on objects in the pasture or paddock. If
it were to get caught on something, much damage can be done in a hurry, causing serious
injury or death.
First and foremost, most halter breaking sessions for young or older horses does not
need to last for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Here are some other considerations:
Utilizing a round pen is ideal, but not completely necessary. In fact, much of it
can be done in a stall or turnout pen, where he feels comfortable and is less like
to spook or shy away because of unfamiliar areas.
If you haven’t mastered all of these different activities, it probably isn’t time
to get on quite yet. Take your time during the process. There will always be another
day. It’s much easier to go forward without having to make up damage that was done.
It should also be noted, these aren’t listed in any particular order (with the exception
of being halter broke and putting the saddle on), just simply a list of possible activities
you can do with your horse to get him ready to ride.
The bit that we choose should be a direct reflection of the level of our horse, the
event/activity we participate in, and the level we are at as horsemen.
Unfortunately, I have found that the more we rely on the bit we are using, the more
we stray away from true harmony with our horse. Having a bit with long shanks combined
with a high port doesn’t make our horse more broke. What it can do, in turn, is add
a certain amount of polish on a “finished” horse. A smooth snaffle bit can cause just
as much damage as a correction bit if in the wrong hands. Likewise, a correction bit
can be just as mild as smooth snaffle when used correctly. That being said, when riding
at home, most of my time is spent riding in a snaffle bit.
The advantages of using a snaffle bit are many. But before we advance to the snaffle
bit, the horse should flexing in the halter. One of the first things I teach a horse
before I even throw a leg over him is to give to pressure. This can be done as early
as their yearling year. Stand at either side of your horse (horse should be haltered)
with lead rope in hand. Slowly pull his head to the side you are standing. As soon
as he gives to the pressure, give back. Repeat 5 or 6 more times on each side of the
horse. Once the horse gets closer to being two years old, or has passed his two year
old year and has mastered flexing with the halter only, you can now begin to think
about putting a smooth snaffle bit in his mouth and flexing him with that. It is a
good idea to let him stand tied in 15 minute increments with the bit in his mouth.
This will require very little from him the first time you put the bridle on him and
will allow him to see that there is breaks. In doing so, I am giving him a chance
to carry the bit and get used to it without me ever pulling on it. Once he has carried
the bit for awhile, you can begin to flex him in the same manner you did with the
halter. The best benefit of this exercise is that he can get more and more used to
the bit without having to be saddled, thus avoiding any added stress. If you ride
with me long enough, you will find that one of my goals around horses is to keep their
stress level down as much as possible.
One of the main advantages of having this head start with your horse will be that
you will have much more control over him when you decide to begin the breaking process.
I tell many of my students that they will have much more control of their horse when
they begin to break their horse if they have spent some time flexing him first. After
you get on for the first time and your horse acts as though he’s going to pitch a
fit, having the option of pulling his head to one side and walk or trot in a small
circle will settle him down. However, it can’t be done if his neck isn’t soft and
bending properly. I will typically keep a horse in a smooth snaffle bit his entire
2 year old year. In any bit that you use, it is acceptable to use both hands. However,
when riding with a snaffle it isn’t just acceptable, it is recommended. Depending
on the level of the horse after his 2 year old year, I may use a snaffle bit that
has a slow twist to the mouth piece.
The intended purpose of a bit with a twisted mouth piece is strictly for training
purposes only. It serves as a tool to “soften up” our horse’s mouth and make them
more responsive…..if used responsibly and carefully. The larger the mouth piece and
slower the twist, the more mild the bit will be. In turn, the smaller the mouth piece
and faster/harder twist, the more severe it can quickly become. Every time I lift
on my reins, no matter the type of bit, I preface with a squeeze from my legs. This
is my cue to the horse that something is coming. I never want to sneak up on my horse
and pull on the reins without giving a warning first. But what are some the other
benefits of using legs first? When we use our legs first, we are training our horses
to rely on our legs as our means of communication. We can also keep them more collected
and prevent them from breaking gait. Maintain forward motion is extremely important
when training horses. Horses tend to understand things when we combine our training
methods with forward motion. Before we know it, our horse is dropping his head and
rounding up his back, based solely on a squeeze from our legs and with very little
or no contact with the bit. When we squeeze with our legs and lift with our hands,
our horse should give his face and pick his back up. Some horses do it better at the
walk. Some do it better at the trot or jog. Each horse has his own personality and
it is up to us to figure out what that personality is, and how we can adapt our training
program to that particular personality.
If we rely completely on our hands to guide our horses through a pattern or down the
trail, we take a great chance of making our horses hard mouthed. The ultimate goal
for everything we do on our horses should start with a soft mouth. This starts with
soft and slow contact with the bit. Most people have heard of being soft with our
hands, but what about being slow? What exactly do I mean by using slow contact with
our hands? Being slow with our hands will slow everything down with our horse. It
teaches them to be more patient and trust us much more. Horses will react to every
amount of pressure we put on their reins. Depending on how much they react is entirely
up to the horse. I like to do everything I can to ensure my horse remains soft; and
being slow with my hands gives me more confidence that he will be soft. Horses are
very much like humans, if something sneaks up on us, we are more likely to have a
negative reaction. It’s the same with horses, if we sneak up to them with our hands,
the reaction will be negative almost all the time.
It’s only natural to want to rely on our hands to steer our horse the direction we
wish to go. The biggest aid for making a soft mouth is a horse that moves away from
leg pressure. If I squeeze with my right leg, I want my horse to move to the left.
Likewise, if I push with my left leg, I want my horse to move to the right. If I pull
my horse to the left, I complement it with a squeeze from my right leg. When squeezing
with my leg, I use my calf to do the majority of the squeezing. If using my calf isn’t
enough, I will use my heel. I ride in spurs about 99% of the time, so I try to be
light with my spur as much as I can. Being slow with my leg is as important as anything
I do with my horse. Most of the time when I see a rider who wants to slow their horse
down, it can be achieved by slowing his/her leg down. It’s amazing at how much we
can make our ride more enjoyable just by slowing our legs and hands.
When turning our horse any direction, it’s important to keep the outside rein loose
as much as possible. If we keep or outside rein too tight, it will cause the horse
to not understand which direction to go and will ultimately cause our horse to lose
any softness and suppleness it may have. Just because a horse starts off really soft,
doesn’t mean he will stay that way forever. It is up the rider to maintain it.
When I’m breaking a 2 year old, I start softening them up before I get on them. This
can be done by line driving. Once I’m on the colt, I will start asking them to move
away from leg pressure immediately. Every little bit of effort is rewarded. One step
in the correct direction is all I ask for. If I get that one step, I pat them on the
neck and walk around for a minute or so, then do it again. If we reward them for each
little bit of effort they put in, it will be amazing at how quick they will learn
to move away from pressure. Lastly, it is equally important to look up and look the
direction we wish to go. If we look down and drop our shoulder, the horse is going
to drop his shoulder and knock down a barrel or cut into a circle and cheat us out
of a correct maneuver. Our body will follow where our eyes take us.
One of the most important things we can teach a young horse is “whoa.” The younger
we begin to teach them, the easier and less stressful it will be.
When I’m riding a young horse, one of the first things I want them to know is how
to stop. There are four separate methods I use to stop a horse and to train them to
stop. When all four are used together, the result is usually really good. However,
this method of teaching a horse to stop reaches beyond teaching safety; it also is
applicable to performance horses and extremely helpful in the working events such
as reining, working cowhorse, and ranch horse events.
As mentioned earlier, everything we do should be perfected at the walk, then trot,
and then finally the lope. If you’re loping circles and your horse isn’t stopping
very well, the best thing you can do is rewind in your training and work on stopping
at the walk and progress forward. These exercises should be repeated several times
before we can really expect our horse to do it exactly the way it needs to be done.
If you feel like you can do it at the trot but are having a difficult time at the
lope, try these techniques at the extended trot. With the extended trot you have added
speed, but haven’t necessary exceeded the level of difficulty your horse is capable
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