“Hey Stacy, I work with 4-H kids in upper MN. A lot of us are just getting back in to riding after a very cold and long winter off. I am constantly thinking of these kids and praying for their safety. I was curious if there are any tips or guidance you could send our way as to how to prepare for the first ride. I would love to share it with them. Thank you so much! ~Tanya M.”

Tanya- Many people face this same issue as spring rolls around. I know when I was a kid that the last thing I wanted to do in the spring was GROUNDWORK! I wanted to RIDE! In fact, I felt safer on top of an out of control horse than on the ground beside one so I would just climb on without a plan.

If they break gait have them start over...then this simple exercise becomes more serious.

If they break gait have them start over…then this simple exercise becomes more serious.

Usually the horses are pretty fresh but out of shape after the winter. One of the first things I would do if I were to work with a group of these kids would be to set up a challenge. A test of some kind with groundwork they had to complete before they were allowed to ride.

It could be something as simple as the warm up test listed here of lunging nice round circles or as complex as an in-hand trail class. The key is to tell the kids what will be required, show the kids how to have success and then hold them accountable by not letting them ride until they can complete it.

I have been to many early spring ‘warm-ups’ where horses are unloaded, tacked up and the kids are boosted on to very fresh horses. Doing that is the opposite of yesterdays blog on prevent, prevent, prevent.

When you put the horse and the child in a situation where there is a high risk of bucking, running off, or failure to guide there are not only consequences TODAY but seeds are planted in both the horse and the child; sometimes the seeds of fear are born in the rider and other times the seeds of defiance are born in the horse.

Not everyone sees the value of groundwork and prevention….at least not before a problem occurs.

P.S.-Even on a simple pattern like the one shown here you can set rules. For example, if the horse trots three times and then breaks to the lope they have to start again. Or if the horse breaks from the lope to the trot on the second lope circle…they have to start again. Having to start over becomes a big incentive to get it right the first time…and practice at home.