In addition to being a serious responsibility, breaking horses is also very dangerous. There’s no guarantee how a horse will react even with proper training and preparation. No one method is an absolute guarantee that a horse won’t react violently when ridden the first time.
It goes without saying that if you’ve never broken a horse, be sure to get the help of a trainer or friend who is very experienced with breaking. An outside eye is helpful to walk you through problems and correct simple things like hand position that can make a big difference with an unbroken horse.
Keep safety foremost in your mind when breaking a horse. Wear an approved ASTM helmet to protect your head should you come off. Wear hard soled boots with a heel to prevent your foot from getting caught. Make sure you never ride alone. Also make sure you’re physically up to the challenge.
The first and foremost rule of safe first rides is if they don’t know how to do something from the ground, they won’t miraculously do it under saddle. For instance, if you haven’t taught your horse to stop on the ground your horse isn’t going to know what “Whoa” means under saddle. The problem is that you’re in a precarious position when you’re on the horse and they won’t stop. This is why it’s so important to make sure the horse is broke before you ever get on.
Before you ride your horse the first time, make sure your horse can stop, go forward, turn both ways, and back up on the ground by cues given through the halter or bridle, and given at the hip. You should be able to stop, guide, or back your horse by pressure on the reins. Simply knowing how to do these things is not enough. They need to be proficient and light. In other words, you should not have to tug or pull on your horse to get them to stop or turn. They should follow the ‘feel’ of the reins.
You also need a go forward cue. Your horse needs to learn that when you point or tap at their hip, that means to go forward with some energy. They also need to be light at this as well.
“Sacking out” or “desensitizing” is a term used for teaching horses to be comfortable carrying a saddle and rider. Your horse should be comfortable carrying the saddle with the girth tightened and not shy at objects on and around both sides of the saddle. If your horse is skittish when you go to saddle up or move the stirrup leathers, this is a strong indication that you need to spend more time sacking out your horse.
First rides should be pleasant and short. The last thing you want your horse to do is get upset during the first rides. You want them to enjoy riding as much as possible. Set your horse up for success by making sure they’re giving you signals that they’re comfortable with your getting on.
Your horse’s muscles should be relaxed and soft. Their head should be in a relaxed level position. Ears should be forward and alert. They should be standing still. If they start moving around, their body becomes tense, or they lay their ears back it’s a good indication that you need to take a step back in your training before getting on.
The act of riding should really be just a repeat of what you’ve done from the ground. The only difference is that you’re sitting on the horse. Especially on first rides, it’s a good idea of think of riding as leading from their back. When you get this impression in your mind, your hands will come forward and out which helps to send clear signals to the horse. This makes it much easier for them to follow their nose or follow the feel.
If you’ve taken the time to prepare your horse properly, your first ride will go much smoother. You want to make sure that your horse is broke before you ever get on and learning to pay attention to the signals they send will ensure your horse starts off with a great attitude to take him through life.