Neu Perspectives

Riding Sloppy

Luke Neubert riding a colt and touching it's hind end

Ride a green colt in a relaxed, loose manner during the first few rides to set him up for success. It may not look pretty, but it’s effective.

I started a horse a couple of weeks ago all by myself.

This is a rare occasion, mostly because my husband and I work together day-in, day-out and end up working our own horses into the mix. This particular gelding is special, mostly because my father-in-law raised him. He’s a registered Azteca, which is an Andalusian-Quarter Horse. I call him “Benito,” and he is exceptionally gentle. I found a window of time to get him going and did so, and was able to follow up the first day with a few more rides before Luke saw him.

Now as a sidenote, keep in mind that an Azteca horse is a rather noble creature. I have grand illusions of performing Dressage moves while my Spanish horse packs his bridle with a great headset and pretty movement. It makes me want to ride even straighter and more correct than ever on this colt.

Anyway, I had Luke step on Benito for me the other day for some feedback, ideas and constructive criticism. And after his ride, I was told something I could do to improve my horse that was quite amusing: I need to be a little sloppier. Ride a little looser. I was a little too still and my horse was tight with a new rider because of it.

See, I’ve always thought it was important to try to ride “pretty.”

That’s not to say I always accomplished this feat, but I always kept it in the back of my mind when I was in the saddle. Heels down, sit up straight, shoulders back, keep a deep seat, and move with the horse, not against him.

Luke Neubert riding a colt touching it's hind end for desensitization
Luke Neubert rides a Nabisco Roan colt and pats his hind end for encouragement and desensitization.

When Luke got on Benito, he slapped his arms and slopped around in his saddle. This didn’t mean he had a poor seat or was pulling on the horse unnecessarily. It just meant that he was able to find tight spots in my colt that might come out later when someone other than me steps on him. He would reach his arms back to my gelding’s hips and lean over to the side of his neck just a little. Looking nice, tidy and controlled in the saddle doesn’t always translate to a successful ride. Bouncing around, sitting a little out of position, waving my arms and scratching my hat just for the sake of making noise can expose my horse to a lot of things in those first few rides that will better prepare him for riding outside and doing jobs later on in life.

Another thing that all this discomfort and funky riding does for a colt in the roundpen build life without having to ask him to move with your feet. It helps a tight colt learn how to move out without getting grouchy, and it also gets him gentler and more relaxed about different stimuli.

And not just green colts benefit from this. I’ve stepped on older horses that haven’t ever had a rider get offbeat in their trot, and it bothers them to have it happen. This can be an issue if someone else steps on the horse, or wants to buy the horse, or if you are a trainer riding a horse for an amateur-type rider, and then have to give it back and hope they get along.

Sometimes there might even be an unaddressed spot when a rider gets out of whack (which is generally a very poor time to introduce a horse to an uncomfortable situation for the first time!). Perfection and control is something we need to strive for and keep in mind, but in the training process, a horse needs to be okay with all different situations and learn to accept a less-than-perfect situation with its rider.

I’ll still strive to keep my heels down, keep a good seat and uphold a confident pose and a straight back when I ride. But I’ll also incorporate waving my arms a little more, moving around in my saddle and getting offbeat with a little speed in my horse’s gaits when the situation allows for it. Because we all know that a controlled and tidy horse-and-rider pair can look great, Azteca or not.

But a willing, gentle, relaxed and happy traveling horse in all situations with different types of riders is maybe the prettiest picture of all.

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