The goals for this week (written in sand, not stone as always with horses) were to introduce proper tack – saddle, bridle and side-reins, consolidate the week 1 work (leading and lunging), progress to long-reining and meet the farrier and the clippers. I’ll confess that I haven’t had time to work with the clippers – he’s the sort of horse that will need regular ankle-trimming so it’s an important box to tick – but I have finished pulling his mane and he certainly looks a lot more ‘sports’ and a lot less ‘cob’ now.
The actual foot-trimming went well. He was initially reluctant to go into the forge, but we made it easy for him by turning the noisy equipment off and he walked in quietly the second time. Once in he stood very calmly to have his feet trimmed and I’m very pleased with how they now look.
He had a bridle on for the first time at the beginning of the week. On day 1 I picked one of my usual ‘first bit’ choices – a fairly harmless eggbutt snaffle. I have 4 or 5 bits which I’m happy to use on a first-timer but I quite like something stable and that helps with the steering a little – either an eggbutt or a full cheek snaffle. I can’t really make my mind up whether I prefer a single joint or a lozenge. My older horses all prefer a bit with a link/lozenge but the last couple of horses I’ve broken in have used the extra play in the mouthpiece as an excuse to chew and play with the bit themselves and it’s been hard to encourage them to have a quiet mouth so I’ve gone back to starting them with a single joint. I will probably change my mind again! Unfortunately the eggbutt rubbed the side of his mouth on the first day – I find that unbroken horses have very thin delicate skin around their lip fold – so I’ve changed to a loose ring snaffle and there have been no further problems.
He lunged nicely with the bridle, loose side-reins and roller for a couple of days (see the pic for my unique way of attaching the lunge rein!) so it was time to start long-reining him. I knew from an experience when we were loading him when I first bought him that he was completely unperturbed by a lunge rein trailing around his hocks and back legs but if I thought that this might be a problem I’d have accustomed him to this individually first. However good you are at long-reining you’re going to get in a muddle at some point and it’s important to know that they’ll stand still and let you sort the lines out without panicking when you do.
I attach both lines to the bit rings and run them back through the roller rings (eventually through the stirrup irons once the roller is replaced by a saddle) and I start the long-reining from more of a lunging position near the level of the girth rather than behind the horse straightaway. The pictures will show you the positions I use. Once we’ve established walk and halt like this I move to a position diagonally behind the horse’s quarters and finally to the traditional driving position behind the horse.
The position diagonally next to its quarters (about 3ft to the inside of the horse) is a very useful one for turning and moving the horse onto a circle. Don’t forget though that when the horse turns you will need to dramatically give with your outside rein – sometimes by as much as 2-3ft – to allow for the curve round the outside of the horse’s body being much longer then the curve round the inside. Maths. Who’d have thought it would be so useful? I originally worked this out years ago when I couldn’t understand why the horse halted when I was asking it to turn – essentially I was preventing it from moving forward due to the pressure on my outside rein.
I spent two or three days long-reining round the school walking, halting and turning. It’s quite boring so I ran through most of the dressage tests I know, all in walk, to give me somewhere specific to go. It’s surprisingly difficult to hit markers accurately or make a perfect 15m circle! You can also move into trot on a circle if you move yourself into a lunging position enabling you to practice lots of transitions – first mainly with the voice then gradually depending more on rein aids. I also leave some stuff around the school – poles, fillers and wings – and practice walking over, round and through them. If your horse will quietly long-rein through a set of wings/fillers it will be a lot less of a shock when he starts jumping!
I changed the roller to a saddle over the next couple of days – firstly lunging with the stirrups up and secured, then with them down and loose. I want to horse to be happy with things bumping off his sides. He’s no use to me if he gets offended if I give a leg aid! To long-rein with stirrups you need to make sure they’re secured to the girth.
Once I was happy with my aids in the school I moved out of his comfort zone to start long-reining round the yard and one of the paddocks. I was glad I’d waited to do this as I felt he’d gone back a couple of days in his training when we first stepped out of the school. He felt quite unconfident and my aids often needed repeating before I got the desired result. There was a lot of looking around so I shortened the side reins by 6″ so that they came into play when his head went up to goggle at something. We started with walking and halting round the yard and have now reached the point where he’s pretty happy to walk up and down the drive and round the paddocks. Occasionally he has a small strop but I feel this is insecurity rather than naughtiness. I deal with it by firmly asking him to walk on and if he doesn’t comply I move up to the position next to his girth and walk with him for a few yards to give him confidence before dropping back behind him again.
The other big achievement for this week came in the leaning-over department. Once I had a saddle on I had a stirrup that I could put some weight in. This wasn’t an issue so I then moved on to putting one foot in the stirrup and raising myself up so that the other foot is off the mounting block and I’m leaning over the saddle unsupported. It’s a small step from here to actually swinging my right leg very slowly and carefully (do NOT touch the horse’s bum with it!) over the horse’s back so that I’m sitting in the saddle. I say sitting, but initially I keep my weight light and off the seat and my shoulders low so I don’t frighten him by appearing too high above his back. The muscle control required to do everything slowly and in a controlled manner is phenomenal! Getting off can actually be more scary than getting on so again, slow and controlled is the key. Reggie has been quite happy with me sitting on his back and has had lots of Polos as a reward! I prefer to do the initial getting on in a (high-roofed) stable. I’m totally on my own at the moment so there is no-one holding him. A trick I’ve learned from previous horses I’ve broken-in is to do the getting-on with the headcollar rope or lungeline fed through a bit of baler twine on the tie ring and back to my hand, keeping it very loose but ready in case he pulls back.
I’d like to emphasise again at this point that these articles are in no way intended as a ‘how to’, merely a ‘how I’. There is no definitive way to approach anything with horses and as always any thoughts or discussion on any of the above will be welcomed.
Achieved this week:
- Accepting a bridle and side reins
- Swapping the roller for a saddle
- Consolidating the lunging work
- Introducing long-reining in the school
- Starting to long-rein in the big wide world
- Sitting in the saddle
Rough plan for next week:
- Get on him each day in the stable and progress to asking him to move forwards and backwards and turn with me in the saddle so that he’s happy with the change in weight and balance.
- More long-reining in the big wide world until he’s happy to go pretty much anywhere I ask. We have a short off-road hacking track and I’d like to progress to long-reining round this circuit (about 15mins) although I don’t think he’s quite ready for it yet.
- Get on him in the school, probably with my husband at the other end of a lunge-line, and start walking around in the saddle.
Plenty to work on, but he has a good attitude and learns quickly so hopefully not too much to ask. I apologise for the pictures this week but my photographer is only home at the weekend and it was raining this weekend so he wasn’t keen to come and take photos!