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Horse Training: Riding a Young Horse For The First Time

Last updated: June 26, 2022

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

The anticipation is palpable as you walk up to your horse, leading it with a gentle tug on the reins. You spent many hours training your horse for what will surely be an unforgettable first ride. You’re almost there, so take one more deep breath and get in the saddle.

To ride a horse for the first time, I mount inside their stall. Start by standing on a block next to the horse, rubbing it, and talking calmly until it relaxes. Then lay across its back. Do this a few times, then step into the stirrups and swing your leg over to sit in the saddle!

New horse trainers must be alert and responsive at all times so that they can best understand every individual horse’s needs when training them for riding. And, while this is an enjoyable moment, you have to use proper safeguards when it comes to training your horse, as well as riding it.

Picture of a woman stepping into a stirrup to mount her horse.

This article is part 4 of a series I wrote on horse training. The first article is in the series is an easy-to-follow guide: Horse Training: Step by Step Guide for Beginners.

Getting started for the first ride.

Owning a horse is one of the most exciting pleasures to experience, especially when it involves training young horses. You get to build a special connection with your horse, all while having the pleasure of watching them mature as time goes on.

You want to make this just as enjoyable for your horse as it will be for you while learning when to start riding your horse. Taking the proper steps will help avoid any injuries further down the line.

So, stick around as I discuss all the steps needed to ensure a safe and proper time to ride your young horse.
You’ll know when your horse is ready for you to ride him once you have finished all the groundwork and training needed, and they are accustomed to being tied, led, and used to being girthed up.

Your horse will be calm when it comes to being touched and having equipment put on their backs. When training young horses to feel comfortable with having someone ride them, you want to have patience and be calm around the horse since they can sense when you are anxious, and this can make them just as nervous, if not more.

Usually, after three months of groundwork and training with your horse, he’ll be more than prepared to start riding. Before sitting on your horse, you have to make sure that the bond between you and your animal is strong and that a good solid foundation has formed.

You can comfort your horse by touching them gently and soothing them with a soft voice to help keep them relaxed.

How to mount a young horse.

When training your horse to ride, the primary thing to remember is to remain calm and to maintain control of the situation. You, as the rider, should have all the power when doing these steps and keep your horse calm so that they do not feel alarmed during any stage.

The first step of training your horse is to allow it to accept you as its rider by having the control and allowing your horse to acknowledge you as their leader so they can respect you and follow your lead.

A great way to keep the horse focused is to choose to train on the same schedule as you usually work with them to minimize any distractions that can arise. Once you are ready to get on the horse, this is where all the hours spent on touch exercises come into play.

While you are on the near side of the horse, reach over its back and drape your arms over its sides as you gently begin to pat and squeeze your horse. This exercise helps them feel comfortable and accustomed to your touch.

You will continue to squeeze and pet your horse and remove your arms, repeating this exercise for a few minutes as you look for signs of your animal accepting the touch without getting startled or tightening up its back.

Remember to practice sweeping your arms over its hindquarter so that the horse gets used to being touched in that area because when your leg eventually brushes against it one day, they won’t get startled.

Once you are ready to mount your horse and have the saddle blanket on, along with the saddle placed on its back, you can test out the horse’s reaction first by gently placing your stomach on the saddle and lying across it.

Don’t lay too far forward across the horse’s back; stay in a position that you can easily slide off onto your feet in case the horse acts up. I prefer to mount the horse on the left side; then, you would hold the reins on your left side as if you were asking for flexion to the inside.

Since you perform the first mounting exercise without swinging your legs over, you put your left leg on the stirrups and leave it there. Using your left leg on the stirrups frees your right leg, and it allows it to give your horse the impulse to move its hindquarters.

The horse will then turn around, as it knows these techniques from hours of practicing groundwork. And, remember, if your horse starts to move forward quickly, you can turn the animal into a small circle that allows you to control its speed.

It’s wise to have someone with the proper knowledge to accompany you on your first time riding your horse, as this will help if something happens where you need medical attention or an emergency arises. They will also help keep the horse calm and hold them as you proceed to get on its back.

Using a mounting block is an excellent option for those riding their horse for the first time because it gives you the height needed to lay across your horse and mount it easier.

Although some individuals think of mounting blocks as hazardous, your best option would be to use plastic material or a polystyrene step to avoid your horse from getting injured.

Picture of a horse we recently bought as a three-year-old.

How old should a horse be before you ride it?

In the picture above is our horse, Absolutely Mindy; she is a three-year-old Thoroughbred in training to race. She was saddle broke at two and started galloping with a jockey.

While many individuals agree that horses are ready to have someone on their backs after the groundwork and training is complete, usually around the age of two, many will disagree on whether that is an ideal age for a horse to be ridden.

Most people agree that the safest age to start introducing your horse to riding is at four. At this age, many believe that the horse is mature enough to start having someone ride on its back without causing the animal any harm to its body. But that’s not always the case.

Horses have different stages of maturity, so it is essential to be mindful when deciding if they are ready for riding. As horses grow, the cartilage around their knees develops and stabilizes the joint allowing it to bear weight without injury. It’s not just age that matters.

I check a horse’s knee joints by rubbing them. Once my fingers can’t find a gap between bones, then I know it’s time to ask our veterinarian to x-ray their knees before taking any risks with weight-bearing activities.

I find Quarter horses mature quicker than Thoroughbreds, but both can typically be trained for riding before turning three. We like to have our horses broke as two-year-olds to start training them for racing when they are three.

Having the horse spend time with other horses and spending time with you is a great way to build a bond and prepare your horse for riding. While you can start doing the groundwork and training at a young age, you need to let your horse build a strong foundation and be physically mature enough to carry a rider.

For our two-year-old horses, we often let a lightweight training jockey mount them for their first ride. I think the less weight on a young horse’s back, the better.

Horse training tip: Teaching a horse to back up for the first time.

Horse owners need to know how to teach their horses to back up; it is a fundamental skill useful in many situations. Luckily, some easy steps can help get your horse backing up without any fuss!

You established your leadership role during your groundwork exercises and moved your horse out of your personal space by making them back away from you. Now you need to take what you’ve already taught your horse on the ground to use it in the saddle.

When you did groundwork with your horse, it learned to back away from you when given a cue. They also know about pressure and release. Use these techniques while in the saddle by giving them cues to back up.

Drop back in your saddle, pull gently back on your reins, and apply leg pressure; when your horse takes a step back, release the pressure and show him appreciation. When giving the backing cue to your horse, he should tilt his down, round his neck, and lower his haunches.

Your horse will always be aware of its surroundings, but you also have to be wary of signs of your horse showing distress. If your horse shows signs of high anxiety and tension, it probably isn’t a good idea to continue the backing.

Some signs to look out for are tight, raised back, which lets you know that the horse is capable of running the moment you try to get on its back. If your horse shows signs of spinning around or backing up at a rapid pace with the weight on its back, these are signs that your horse is feeling stressed.

Additionally, if your horse’s tail is tight and clamped, it’s another sign that your horse is under a lot of stress and should be proceeded with caution.

If you get on its back and your horse starts feeling anxious and starts to panic and bolt, while it may be nerve-wracking and intimidating, you should maintain calm and try to bring them to a stop without pulling on them.

It’s best to find a day where your horse is calm and does not show any signs of nervousness to have a successful day when it comes to backing your horse, especially if it’s their first time.

Picture of a two year old thoroughbred in training

How long does it take to break a young horse?

The time it takes to break a horse will differ because each learns at their own pace. You also have to consider the total amount of groundwork and training you have done with the horse. “Absolutely Mindy” enjoyed the training and was ready to ride after two months of working with her.

Typically, it can take anywhere between four to six weeks to break a horse ready to be ridden. But keep in mind that although your horse may need more time to be broken safely, this does not mean you have to be harsher to your animal or mistreat them.

They will learn effortlessly if you are calm and kind to them; showing them you are patient will create an even stronger bond between you and your animal. While training and groundwork can be difficult when starting, it will all be worth it once you see how much your horse has matured throughout the process.