Educating a horse – part 1

We are in the process of starting Aliyana, a rising 5 year old mare (3/4 Andalusian, 1/4 Paso Fino). She appears to have a suitable temperament for the kind of activities that the King’s Horses group enjoys, and we plan to include her in our display team when she is ready.

In late June, we started with the basics: an introduction to lungeing, a saddle pad and a girth to get her used to something on her back and around her belly. Through July, we did some groundwork: walked her from on both sides, introduced the concept of yielding the nose on request to both sides to flex the neck, back up, move the shoulders and hindquarters on request and line up at the small portable mounting block. As she was fine with the girth, we progressed to a saddle quickly, ensuring she was ok with the feel and the noises, and the stirrups hanging down. Next step was leaning over the saddle to get her a chance to feel a person’s weight. As she was fine, we got on in the next session and walked a few steps before finishing. The following session was a repeat with a little bit more walking.

For variety, she was taught how to lead off another horse, which she figured out quite quickly, and she went out for a short trail ride saddled up and ponied off Phoebus. This also gave her a chance to see some of the trails for the first time while accompanied by other horses but without the stress of coping with a rider as well. In about the 8th session, we had progressed to getting on from the big mounting block near the wall and she did her first few trot steps under saddle in the arena. By session 10, she went on her first little ride out in a group, which was a nice laid back affair. She then had a couple of weeks off, followed by another little trail ride in the group, and her first time being ridden by another rider briefly.

Since then, she has had a few more brief ridden sessions, most of them during our normal KH training days. Due to the weather, these were all indoors. She quickly got used to sharing the small riding arena with multiple other horses, some moving at speed, and she learned to listen to two different riders.

We use a lot of “toys” in our horse training sessions to keep it fun and engaging for the horses (and the riders), and it gives the horses a good foundation and plenty of exposure to things they may encounter during displays or just out on trail rides. This can be bollards to practice bends and turns, cardboard boxes or cardboard sheets for walking on, big pieces of cloth, flags, orange man (a stuffed orange overall), umbrellas, tarps, drums or empty milk bottles. Aliyana showed us that she is quite happy to walk over cardboard and other objects. The flag she thought was a bit more weird, but she did a good job for a very green horse.

Our goal is to continue with these types of fun activities to broaden her experiences. In addition there will the some schooling to improve her self carriage and suppleness. This will include introduction of lateral gaits. She already knows how to do forequarter and hindquarter turns, and how to make circles smaller or larger. And of course there will be trail rides as well.

She is currently being ridden in a headstall with heavy reins, set up like a bosal. This relies on fast releases, which teaches her to listen to small signals, as our goal is signal riding from the body, with the reins being there to help if need be. Down the track, we will be transitioning her into a curb bit via a period of using four reins, but this will happen when she is good and ready, that is when she is working well in walk, trot and canter and has the basics of lateral movements. At that time we will be riding one handed and we can start using weapons, but of course we will be introducing some of the safe training weapons well before then.

We will be writing more posts about Aliyana and document her ongoing journey.