As I work with a young horse or an un-broke horse, I can't stress the importance of ground work. Often, the goal is just to hop in the saddle, but before that can happen there has to be a good foundation built from the ground up (no pun intended).
I purchased Beddy (YGW Bed o Fire) in June of this year. I bought her knowing she was not broke and had limited handling. At five years old, she was part of a broodmare band and had one foal previously. My goal with her was to break her to ride, run barrels, trail ride and also have a foal here and there.
Beddy has not had the handling that I typically do with my horses. After a foal is born I handle them - essentially loving-on and desensitizing them. I run clippers on them, not actually clipping, but rather allowing them to get use to the feeling. Picking up their legs, tapping their hooves, etc. Halter breaking, saddling (pony saddle) and getting them use to the feeling of a cinch by lightly tightening the saddle with baler twine are all part of my repertoire. Not all of this is done at the time of birth, but it's done in stages when they are young. I understand that there is wide-spread debate about imprinting, but I take on the approach of gentle handling at different stages, yet not interfering with who mom is. I have found that handling foals when they are younger makes the work that much easier when breaking them to ride.
I didn't have that luxury with Beddy. When I settled her into her stall for her first week at the homestead, she was quite and calm, but shy. When I sent her out to pasture, that was a different story. She was not a terror, but her shyness made her extremely hard to catch. She was curious about me, but was not trusting. I allowed us to take the summer and get to know one another and work on those things I would have done with her if I had foaled her out.
As the temps started to cool off and fall rolled around, we took to more exhausting work as her first ride drew closer. Rope work, leg work, flexing, backing, responsiveness on the lunge line, roll backs and tarps were all part of her training regimen. It was exciting to see her progression and how she picked up on what I was asking her to do.
The. Day. Arrived. I knew Beddy was ready, but I would be lying if I said there wasn't a slight nervousness about sitting in the saddle for the first time. Leading up to this point, we worked a few more exercises, I put weight in each stirrup, swung my legs over her and popped up and down a few times.
The moment of truth came. I sat on her, asked her to walk on and we were off!
I'm looking forward to many more rides on Beddy.