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Preparing for a Ride After Time Out of the Saddle, by Richard Winters



Richard home page.jpgI train horses in southern California.   That  means I have more riding days available to me  than probably anywhere else in the United States.   I was recently presenting at an expo in Wisconsin  and realized that many of the attendees are not  able to ride for up to five months during Winter!   While I was at the  expo, I spoke to many folks about the importance  of properly preparing their horses to be ridden  after a lengthy time off.   If  they assumed that their horse  would feel like he did when  they turned them out last month, they might be in  for a big (bucking) surprise.   That’s why an equine  pre-flight checklist is so  important.   A pilot always takes time  to check out his aircraft inside  and out before he taxies  down the runway.   The longer  the plane has been sitting  dormant, the more thorough  the pre-flight check will be. I know that most  of those horses that have been sitting for 5 months will be pretty  fresh for the first couple  rides.   It’s even that way here  at home.   My young horses  in training feel fresh on  Monday morning, after only two days off! I can’t  remove every variable, nor eliminate every risk.   I can, however,  prepare my horse  physically and  mentally before  I step on and  thus, increase  my chances for  a successful ride.

Following are a few  ideas to get you  started with your  pre-flight checklist.   Begin With  Ground Work  – If you catch your  horse and he seems  distracted and full  of himself, get him dialed in through ground  work.   Send him in some circles each way.   Get  his feet busy doing something productive.   This  can be done with a halter and lead (12′ long) or  free in a round pen.   Remember, you’re not just  trying to chase him around until he’s sweaty and  tired.   You’re trying to exercise his mind.   As you  engage him mentally and get his feet busy, you’ll  automatically exercise and warm up his body as  well.

Saddle Your Horse Untied –  If your horse has not been saddled for a  while he could be cinchy and buck when you  first tighten the girth.   If he’s tied to a hitching  post, this could turn into a big wreck.   You can  drape the lead rope over your arm (never wrap it  around your arm), or you can have a helper hold  the horse while you saddle him.   The important  thing is that you are aware of how your horse  is reacting to the procedure and that you are  adjusting accordingly.   It’s always a good practice  to make your cinching up process a two or three  step procedure.   Don’t tighten the cinch too snug  all at once.   Draw it up incrementally after you  walk your horse out a few yards.   Politely cinching  your hose up in this manner will help prevent him  from getting resentful being saddled.   This will  also possibly keep him from bucking if he tends  to be cinchy or cold backed.

Send Your Horse Through The Full Range Of  Motion While Saddled –  I’m not going to get on a fresh horse that  I don’t know until I have the opportunity to  move him around at the trot and lope (in both  directions), while saddled.   You can saddle a  horse and lead him around for an hour, then step on and promptly get bucked off.   Until I see that  horse travel through the full range of motion with  the saddle on, I really don’t know if he’s prepared  or not.   The saddle feels different at the trot than  it does at the walk and different still at the lope.   It also feels different when the horse turns and  pushes off in a new direction.   Again this can all  be done on the end of a lead rope or you can  work him at liberty in a round pen.

What Am I Looking For?   I want to see the horse traveling around  relaxed and in an efficient manner.   In other  words, if it takes twenty pounds of energy to lope  around this circle and the horse is putting forty  pounds of energy into it, then I’m not interested in  getting on yet.   I’m looking for smooth transitions  and a level top line in my horse’s profile.   Whether  this part of the pre-flight takes five minutes or  twenty-five minutes, I’m going to continue until  my horse is mentally and physically warmed up  and in a receptive frame of mind.

Don’t Wait Around ““ Get On!   After my horse is warmed up and moving  out relaxed with the saddle, I’m going to get on.   Waiting too long to mount, after the groundwork,  might put you back where you were before you  warmed your horse up.   This is especially true  with green horses and those just being started.   When you give them too much down time before  mounting, they’ll forget what everything felt like  when moving around the pen and buck you off  when you do ask them to move out.

Remember, your horse is an animal.   Not a  machine.   He’s not like a golf cart that can sit in a  garage for weeks and then have you jump in and  take off.   Your horse is simply an attitude with four  feet!   Don’t be the one that emails me this spring  saying:   “I don’t know what happened.   I saddled  him up and got on.   Everything was fine and all of  a sudden, for no reason”¦” What they are really  saying is “All of a sudden, for a reason that I was  oblivious to, he”¦.”  With proper preparation, you won’t have  to be one of these folks.   Knowing what to look  for in a pre-flight checklist can go a long way in  keeping you and your horse out of trouble and  ready to fly.   (I mean ride!)

About Richard –  For nearly three decades  Richard has honed his horsemanship skills  and passed this knowledge onto others.   He has  won the World Championship title in the NRCHA  along with being an A rated judge.   In 2007 he  was named champion of the West Coast Equine  Experience “$10,000 Colt Starting Challenge”,  was named Champion in the 2009 Road to the  Horse – Colt Starting Challenge in Nashville,  TN and was 2009 winner of the Super Cow  Horse competition in Santa Ynez, CA.   He does  numerous Horsemanship Clinics and Expo’s  around the country  Richard and his wife Cheryl reside in Ojai,  California, at the historic Thacher School where  he serves as Artist-in-Residence.   For more  information about Richard Winters Horsemanship  please go to

yle=”text-align: justify;”>[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 6.]

We are rapidly approaching that time of year (Winter) … Tell us what you do during the ‘off season’ from riding!

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