In spring 2009 I began using the Clinton Anderson methods to start all of my horses. I use groundwork first to prepare my horse, and never step into the stirrup until he is ready to walk, trot, and canter quietly on the first ride. Some people frown on cantering horses so early in their training, but you'd never ride your horse and not walk him, so why ride your horse and not lope him? We've all seen it - that young horse that crow hops or bucks every time you ask him to canter. Or that horse that trots and trots and trots and just will not break into the lope. I've certainly been there. But I've never had a problem with a horse resisting the canter or bucking at the canter since I started cantering them on the first ride.

Here you'll see pictures of the steps of the first ride on the very first horse I ever started with Clinton Anderson's methods. This is a client's horse, and I started him from scratch with an aim as a beginner safe trail horse. I've started every horse since then with these same methods and have had tremendous success.
The key to a successful first ride is the proper ground training preparation, which you can view on my groundwork page. It's absolutely important to have a solid hindquarter yield, soft flexing, and total and complete respect at all three gaits on the lunge line with the saddle. Once this is established, your horse understands you have control of his feet and he respects that. Through the sensitizing process, the horse has also been desensitized extensively, so reins and rider weight moving around should not bother him. I always do the first ride in the halter. In the beginning of the session, I spend a few minutes doing familiar groundwork, then I flex him several times both ways, mount, and dismount from both sides.
Once I've mounted and dismounted at least twice from both sides, I'll start to flex him several times each direction. Then I ask him to disengage his hindquarters, and slowly lead his front end out into a circle and soon we're walking off in a straight line.
I spend quite a bit of time letting the horse walk on a loose rein. I don't try to control his direction, as long as he's walking I leave him alone. Frequently I pick up one rein, and bring him to a stop using the disengaging hindquarters exercise. This helps establish a break so I can shut him down if he were to panick.
Now that we've established walking and stopping, we progress to a trot. I let him trot anywhere he wants. As long as he trots I leave him alone. If he's a more energetic horse, I will disengage his hindquarters and shut him down every few strides. If he's lazy and slow moving, I'll let him trot around for awhile before I shut him down.
Once the trotting is accomplished, I move into the canter. The lazier horses sometimes need a spanking for this, but the more practice I've gotten, the less I seem to need this. My last few horses moved out into the canter as easily as a good broke horse. A lazier horse may only give me two or three strides at a time. I like to quit while I'm ahead, so if I feel like he's really reluctant and I'm having to push him too much, I'll only ask him to canter once or twice, even if I only get a few strides each time. Other horses are content and more free moving and will canter laps around the arena if I let them. These horses I will let go a few strides, and shut them down, then ask them to canter again, and shut 'em down after a few strides.
I use flexing and disengaging the hindquarters to slow my horses down and whoa them on the first ride. I always flex them several times both directions when we're standing, it keeps them soft, keeps them patient, and more importantly keeps them relaxed and attentive.
I like to stop moving my horses forward as soon as they've successfully performed all three gaits. Once I've gotten them relaxed and paying attention again, flexing and being soft, I will ask them to back up.
I don't want my horses to think riding is all about work, so after all the strenuous exercise and flexing, we spend a few minutes just standing and relaxing. This gives him a chance to digest his first lesson and learn that standing still is just as important as moving his feet.
Most first rides are anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, depending how long it takes to progress the horse through his gaits. The lazier ones take longer because they spend a lot of time figuring out the trot/canter transition. After everything has been accomplished, the walk, trot, canter, whoa, and back, lots of flexing, standing and relaxing, it's time to dismount and call it a day. A nice positive experience for the horse's first ride is a must. A productive first ride will set him up for success in each ride thereafter.

By the second or third ride I introduce the snaffle. We spend the first week or so establishing solid gaits, learning to guide (steer). Then we go out on the trail, spend some time lightly trail riding occasionally over the next few weeks. In the arena I continue perfecting the gaits, work on getting a softer back up, getting the horse guiding effectively and softly, flexing softer laterally and establishing vertical flexion, and transforming the one rein stop into a two rein whoa. I work on leg yields and introduce lead cues for the clients that desire it. After the first few weeks, I begin the basics of neckreining (this is only done in a 45 day training program, not 30 days).

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