You have successfully mounted and dismounted your horse and he is comfortable with that sequence, so now you are ready to actually go somewhere!
First I am going to describe the process as used with a horse who has not been trained at all, and then I will describe the normal process whereby a green rider might get a trained horse to move off.
Your green baby has had you sitting there, but has not moved with you yet. Some babies feel very strange with this weight on their backs, and they plant their feet and refuse to move, presenting a bit of a problem. You don’t want to do anything to alarm your young charge, so you enlist the aid of a trusted helper and some treats.
Moving off straight
Because you don’t want to teach a horse something that is not needed, you are going to use the correct signal for moving off, even though the young horse does not have a clue what you are talking about. The rider will gently gather the reins so the horse can be supported, and then squeeze with both calves slightly behind the girth. Most first-timers will simply stand there. The assistant will then take the rein on the left side and ask the horse to lead while the rider repeats the signal. It may take several tries, but as soon as the baby moves forward, let him halt, and give him a treat! He will be delighted with this new trick and it can be repeated several times. With a first-timer, I quit here and wait until the next day to go forward.
Moving off to the left
When you are moving your trained horse off, you gather your reins, make sure you have even connection on both reins without them being tight, or slack, and you indicate the direction you want the horse to go in by putting slightly more feel on the rein in that direction. You then ask with your legs, and your horse should move off nicely. It is good if the rider can maintain a very light, but connected, contact with the horse’s mouth with an even feel on both sides of the mouth. The feel of the rein should be like you are stretching a thick rubber band and your horse should yield nicely to it by either slowing, turning, arching its neck, or backing depending on the amount of pressure and what your legs are doing.
Ask your horse to halt squarely and reward his efforts.
The amount of pressure put on the horse’s mouth indicates direction (at least at the beginner stages), so if you have an uneven pressure, your horse will go in the direction of the most pressure. When the horse is moving nicely, and you want to go straight, don’t put any pressure on either rein; simply hold them with a light feel. Keep in mind that the reins control the front end, and your legs control the rear, with your seat being part of both kinds of control, so you need to pay attention to legs as well.
When you want to move left, take a slightly harder pressure on your left rein, step into your left stirrup lightly, and ask for forward movement with your right leg nudging behind the girth. For moving right, the signal is the opposite. Do realize that what I am saying here is for the beginner. Obviously there are more subtle ways to turn a horse as the horse and rider progress, but I am assuming that the reader is new at training or new at riding.
The second day you mount and ask your baby horse to move off, you repeat the sequence for the first day, and you do a bit more walking.
This time you (the rider) actually signal for the halt. Use your voice, your seat, your legs, and your reins to get a nice calm halt. When your horse is walking, gently close both hands on the reins, sit up straight, and also gently close both legs on the horse’s side as you give the command, “Halt.” I like the word “halt” because it is definite and has an authority to it. There have been times when I have stopped a runaway with this command.
Be aware that turning with a rider on board is very hard for a young horse, so limit your walks and halts to straight lines, or very gentle curves. Repeat this as many days as necessary until the young horse is walking calmly from a light leg signal, and is able to halt when you gently close your hands on the reins.
The same signals will stand for the trained horse, but obviously you do not have to limit yourself to walking in straight lines. When a young horse is walking, halting, and turning nicely, I start using a series of exercises to help the horse perfect his newly learned skills. I use figure eights, serpentines, and mazes to help the horse learn the signals that I am teaching him and to help perfect his response to them.
Figures such as these are also excellent to help the green rider process the feelings of correct signaling and to help them practice and become perfect. Generally, I use the same progression on green horses and green riders.
The Figure Eight
With the figure eight, the rider gently guides the horse in a twenty meter circle at the walk making sure that the circle is round and that the horse walks in a forward manner. When you come to the point where you want to connect the other half of the eight, you gently change directions and proceed in the other directions. Walk the figure eight once or twice until the horse is smooth and calm with it, and then halt at the center point between the two circles and reward the horse for his efforts.
Change reins at the center point of the figure eight.
The Serpentine and the Maze
The serpentine is a series of loops that are actually half circles. Each half circle should begin and end on a centerline and they should be uniform in size, shape, and the rate at which they are negotiated.
Serpentines are more advanced than figure eights because they involve changing direction at the end of each half circle and can be quite confusing for a young horse. Always make sure your horse is ready for the exercise you are doing. If he gets nervous or edgy, back off and do something he is already comfortable with and retry the new exercise another day.
Both with young horses and green riders, I make sure everything is understood at the walk before proceeding to the trot.
The maze can be any kind of maze you can make up with odds and ends of board or jump poles. The point is to have the horse able to bend, proceed through, and listen to the rider in a tight figure.
This is very difficult for babies and should not be tried until the figure eight and serpentine are mastered. Through all of the exercises, it is important to routinely halt square and reward the horse for good efforts.