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What Is a Green Horse? Does It Need a Green Rider?

Last updated: May 2, 2021

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

My granddaughter and I tried a horse advertised as a kid’s prospect. She rode the filly, but I decided against bringing it home and told her the horse is too green for kids. She said that horse isn’t green; it’s sorrel; what are you talking about.

Green horses and green riders have minimum training and knowledge. A green horse is unfinished, but likely introduced to a saddle and has a few weeks of riding. Because the phrase is subjective, some green horses may have many months of training, but not enough to be deemed a finished horse.

The term “green” is open to interpretation when used to describe a horse or rider, and has wide-ranging meaning. If you’re unfamiliar with horse lingo, then read on to learn how horseman uses the word “green.”

A green horse?

There are green horses; these are broke but not finished for novice or intermediate horse riders. The term is also applied to horses that aren’t finished for a particular use.

picture of a green horse bucking in a paddock wearing a saddle,

For example, most racehorses have extensive training and time under a saddle, but they are green horses when it comes to trail riding, or any discipline other than racing.

I have a friend that typically has about seven horses in training, and he calls them all green. It doesn’t matter if they are broke with two hundred hours of riding. He doesn’t consider them out of their green stage until they can complete a series of tasks.

Because the term is subjective, its essential that you talk to the owner and have them describe precisely how far along the horse is in its training. If you’re still interested in it, observe the owner riding the horse and pay keen attention to how the horse reacts to cues.

Don’t get on the horses back of a “green horse” until you’ve watched someone else ride it. The horse may be a perfect fit for you. I ride some of my friends’ “green horses” and find that many are finished in my book.

Why is the term green used to describe young horses?

I believe green is used in context with young and inexperienced because some fruits and vegetables are green when before they mature and change colors, a tomato is a perfect example. 

What is a finished horse?

Finished in horse vernacular means the animal has successfully completed training in a specific equine discipline. A “finished” dressage horse is different than a “finished” roping horse.

The basics all finished horse should do:

  • stay calm when tied and groomed
  • tack up without issues
  • stands still when mounting
  • lift its feet and is easy to shoe
  • works well on the lunge line and moves between cadences
  • doesn’t buck or bolt when riding
  • transitions with leg cues

In addition to the above, my acquaintance believes a finished horse should have a good handle, is sufficiently trained to load and haul in a trailer, ground tie, change leads, and work cattle.

What does having a “handle” on a horse mean?

My grandson is very familiar with a “good handle” on a horse and enjoys displaying his horse’s skill set. But when talking to people outside the horse community, many don’t know what’s meant by the term.

Having a “good handle” means the horse has solid training and a sound mind in its most basic form. In other words, he has good manners, is educated, and follows directions without fuss.

Various equine activities have nuances, but basically, a horse with a handle follows his riders leads with ease. He understands leg cues, hand gestures, and rein directions without exaggerated motion.

A horse needs to pick up their speed, stop, change leads, and backup when cued by its rider. A horse with a good handle does all this consistently and without effort.

When you watch a well-trained horse, you don’t even notice the cues given by the rider. Defining a horse with a “good handle” is subjective and can mean different things, especially to people in various equine activities.

A cutting horse with a good handle has different skills than a dressage horse with a good handle. Horses are huge; most weigh over 1,000 pounds and can easily hurt a person.

picture of a horse trotting in a pasture,

Having a horse with a handle reduces the risk of injury to a rider and make riding more enjoyable. My grandson, who weighs less than 50 lbs, stays in control of his horse; they spin, back-up, come to sliding stops, and do flying lead changes with ease.

He can do this because the horse has a “good handle.””

What does “ground tying” mean?

Recently I was tying hobbles on a young horse to teach him to ground tie. A man stopped by and asked about the hobbles. I explained that this is the first step I use to teach a horse to ground tie. This drew a blank stare; he wanted to know what I meant by ground tying a horse.

A horse that ground ties stands still when not secured or tied to anything. Drop your reins or lead rope, and the horse stands and waits for your next instructions. Ground tying was initially used in the Western U.S. by horseman that dismounted to tend cattle but had no place to tie their horses.

Horses that “ground tie” typically have good manners, intelligence, and are all-round better mounts—a horse that ground ties, stands still for mounting, and moves when asked.

Gound tying has useful applications in everyday riding. Our customary route takes us through a few enclosed pastures with gates. When we stop, one of us dismounts, drops the reins, and opens the gate for the other riders to pass.

Here’s another real-world example, Once we were at a rodeo, and a rider got bucked off and was stunned, I jumped from my mount, dropped the reins, and rushed over.

Once the man sat up and was stable, I walked back confidently that my horse would be standing where I dismounted. If he didn’t ground tie, I either would have wasted time searching for a spot to secure him or left him untied, and he could have run onto a roadway or into a crowd.

YouTube video

A green rider?

A green rider is a person without much experience riding horses. If you’re a green rider, you don’t want a green horse; the two don’t work well together.

However, I see inexperienced riders buy green horses often. I think it’s because they get the horses cheaper than finished horses and expect the two to learn together. This is a mistake; an inexperienced rider needs an experienced horse.

A green rider should ride a horse with experience and preferably be bomb-proof. By bomb-proof, I don’t mean desensitized but rather well-trained, calm, and not easily spooked.

You want a green rider to enjoy their horse riding experience and learn to grow as an equestrian. One of the worst things to do is have an inexperienced rider on a horse that bolts at the slightest noise.

Green riders on green horses are dangerous and unnecessary. Sometimes having a green rider on a highly trained horse doesn’t work well either. If a rider doesn’t understand basic cues, a well-trained horse often becomes confused and frustrated.

The best horse for a green rider is an older one with lots of miles under saddle. You want a horse that is willing to work, comfortable to ride, and has a calm demeanor and preferably accustomed to beginner riders.


Horses are fun, but they can be dangerous when mishandled. Be respectful and lean on experienced horseman to help you choose the right horse for you.

If you’re an inexperienced rider, don’t ride a green horse. I know young riders that had frightful experiences on horses and never got on a horse again. A child missing out on a trail ride with their friends is sad to see, so avoid green horses.

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