HomeAboutHorse TrainingFoal HandlingWeanlings to 3 year oldsStarting Under SaddleProblem HorsesYielding to Pressure

My favourite saying is "never say never, always say maybe!"


Starting  under Saddle and Foundation Training

Many non professional people manage to get on their horse’s back and even ride them around with no problems as they have a good relationship built on trust.  But then there are horses that aren’t so lucky!  Some horses have badly fitted saddles girthed up too tightly too fast and when mounted, the picture looks like a Thelwell scene but not a happy one. Or when the horse plants his feet too frightened to move, the rider misinterprets him to be lazy and kicks the horse and then the horse often explodes!

I feel honoured to have the first ride on a horse, for at the end of the day, this beautiful flight/prey animal is allowing a predator on his back. If the initial groundwork sessions as listed above, including saddling and bridling have been done properly, one tiny step at a time, then the first day of being sat on/ridden should be just another interesting learning day for the horse.  As long as the horse has no physical problems e.g. sharp teeth, sore feet or back and the horse is mentally happy, with enough turnout time, correct feed etc, then the backing process is usually a breeze.

I nearly always start them under saddle in the roundpen as in this confined area it is easier to speed up, slow down and change  direction with minimum pressure and the horse does not need to be ‘attached’ to a person lunging him.  Often I have seen horses being ridden on the lunge with the handler having to pull the horse’s head and neck for control which causes the rider and saddle to dangerously slip to the outside(centrifugal force)and can potentially cause harm to the horse’s neck.


In a very short space of time, most horses I have worked in the roundpen  have learnt the following basics: walk and trot transitions, half halts, full halts, turn on the haunches, sideways movements(in prep for leg yielding), reinback and to come back to me, all at liberty.  This teaches them relaxation, rhythm, balance, coordination, impulsion, self carriage, the responsibility to maintain gait and direction and focus(not just listening to the voice), all without the need for side-reins or a lunge rein.   Results are often attained quicker with more response and less resistance compared to some traditional methods used in the past.

Many people use a roundpen for chasing the horse around until he gives in – this I see is a forceful way and can ‘break’ a horse instead of ‘make’ a horse.  Doing a correct Monty Roberts ‘Join-up’ or using the methods I have learnt over the 20 years from other trainers,  I have found the roundpen far more valuable than an arena for the starting process.

Once the horse is at a competent and confident level with work in the roundpen then I will proceed to the ridden stage.

When I feel I have good control and the horse is ready, I would progress to ridden work from the roundpen to the arena then as soon as possible, out onto the forest or field.  The reason for this is so I can use natural obstacles to teach the horse to handle himself and avoid boredom.  This also helps to build a stronger relationship working through any problems we may encounter e.g. negotiating gates, streams or fallen logs.



The horse’s first hack out is usually alone because  although we can often use the herd instinct to our advantage i.e. following another rider over a cross country fence, I also wish my horse to stay connected to me enough even when he is unsure of something.

The foundation training for your horse’s chosen discipline will vary somewhat. as a horse that has his future as a showjumper will not have to learn how to piaffe or perform a sliding stop.

One thing is for sure,  all horses need consistency for their confidence to learn but also variety to add a little spice to their life.  I believe a horse feels better when he can not only do a few things really well but can also do many different things at a reasonable level of competence.  If your horse has a solid foundation in the basics , when he is struggling to learn something new, you can always return to his comfort zone to get mentally and therefore physically relaxed again.

Too many of us start teaching flying changes, jumping or go out hacking on the roads before our horses are ready.  It is often difficult to slow down and stay at ‘boring’ basics when we have a talented horse but if you put the icing on the cake before the base is cooked properly, then the icing will melt.  Taking your time to do things right first time, saves time and money in the future.


Sarah successfully competing a young stallion in ridden trail