Starting a 3 Year Old Horse Under Saddle

In the spring we begin the process of starting the 3 year olds under saddle.

3 year old getting ready to work.

As 2 year olds they began learning about working on a lunge line, a little bit of long lining, and free jumping.

During the winter months we did not work with them, they had a break to go outside and continue growing and just be a horse.

Now they will start coming in again to have a refresher course and then a 1 week “boot camp” of 20 – 30 minute sessions.

Each day will start on the lunge line or with long lines. On the lunge they will start going with a saddle on their back and we will start letting the stirrups loose to flap around on their sides.

They are wearing a bridle now and we will start using a “neck stretcher” to teach them about contact. This device is a long stretchy cord that goes over their poll, down thru the bit rings and back to the saddle.

It is not used to tie their head down or force them into a frame, but rather to give them the feel of a connection to their mouth that gives. They can pull without feeling trapped and learn to find a comfortable connection with the bit.

If they are being worked with long lines these are connected to the bit and then thru the stirrups with the trainer standing several feet behind holding the lines like they would hold the reins.

It is best to stand slightly to the inside of the horse so they can see you, otherwise they will get nervous about what is happening. We usually use voice commands they already learned on the lunge line and start out asking them to walk.

If they don’t move forward we then cluck and ask again, if there is still no forward movement we will touch them on the rump with a long whip and repeat the command again.

Sometimes they will go forward faster than you want, but usually if they were responding well to the voice commands on the lunge, they catch on pretty quick.

Using the long lines like reins, the trainer will take hold of the horses mouth with a light steady contact.

We begin teaching them to steer, to stop, to move sideways, and to back up with the trainer following on the ground behind them.

Once they are comfortable doing this at the walk we will ask for a little trot. This requires a very fit trainer and usually after a few minutes they will move out to the side of the horse while lengthening the outside rein to wrap around the horse’s rump. This puts the horse on a circle around the trainer with a inside rein for bending the horse and an outside rein for moving them forward into the bit.

At the end of each session the trainer starts mounting exercises. At first this would simply be putting a mounting block next to the horse, standing on it, and patting on the saddle.

If the horse is comfortable with this, the next day we would move on to a couple of seconds of the trainer laying over the horse’s back gradually building up to being led while the trainer is laying over his back. Finally, the trainer sits in the saddle.

The first time we do not usually ask the horse to move, we just want him to stand quietly a few minutes.

There is always someone on the ground holding the horse with a line. Both the trainer and handler are doing a lot of praising, scratching, and petting.

Usually by the end of the week the trainer is sitting in the saddle and the handler is leading the horse around the arena for a few minutes. That is the end of “boot camp”.

The weeks that follow will consist of 20 – 30 minute sessions 3 – 4 times a week starting with lunging or long lining and ending with the trainer in the saddle.

We slowly progress from walking under saddle to trotting and cantering.

Each horse is different, some are there in a month and others need more time to get comfortable with each new lesson.

The most important part of each stage of the young horse’s education is that he feels safe and comfortable and has learned that he can trust people.

“Many a happy colt makes a fine horse” – Proverb, Unknown Origin

Do you have experience starting young horses under saddle?

If you have any additional tips or comments you think would be helpful, please leave them in the comments below.

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