At the last Terry Church Clinic I attended Terry said something I have been pondering now for a few weeks. She told me that she doesn’t ride green horses like they are green. This was a bit mind blowing to me because everyone knows you have to have lower expectations and use fewer aids at a time on a green horse, right?
I realized part of the reason Terry can say this is that in some ways she teaches you to ride every horse like it’s green. So you really can ride every horse the same way without making special allowances for the green horses.
If you always start out making sure you horse is relaxed and moving forward off the leg you are on a good path. That is exactly the same thing a young horse has to master before moving on with his training. The only difference is that with a green horse it might take the whole ride to get the horse solid with this note and a more advanced horse should be able to get there quickly, depending on prior training.
Next you work on relaxation with that forward. I normally start by getting the horse soft to the rein and then progress to yielding the haunches and shoulders. Again, this is no different from a green horse. You are still using the same techniques and the same pressures on the green horse as the advanced horse, the advanced horse is just going to sort things out quicker.
If the horse, whether green or otherwise, is struggling with the suppling exercise then you might use a leading rein to help the horse get there better. The only difference between a green and more advanced horse is that you might expect the green horse to need help and the advanced horse not to. However, this is a flaw in your riding. You should always ride the horse you are sitting on in the moment, not the horse you think you have or the horse you had yesterday. If your well trained horse is a little bit extra stiff that leading rein is still a great way to get the suppleness. If either horse is sticky off the leg you might reinforce it with the tap of a whip. All of this doesn’t require you to determine if the horse is green or not or ride any differently.
As you progress through your ride and training you will start asking for steering and halts. Initially you will use your seat and leg aids to gently ask for these maneuvers. If you need some extra help you will add a leading rein to turn or a barrier with the rein to stop. Then you wait patiently for the horse to figure it out. Still no difference.
Over time you begin to ask the horse for throughness and stretching and eventually you begin to half halt the horse and load the hind end to ask for collection. On an advanced horse this whole process may take 20 minutes and be confined to your warm up period. On a green horse who is learning the cues and developing strength this process may take years. However, the ride is always the same. This prevents you from ignoring a brace as you progress through your training or developing a hole because you haven’t been diligent enough in keeping your foundation solid. Similarly, your green horse learns to move off the lightest seat and leg cues from the very beginning, making him an excellent upper level prospect in the future. You bypass that stage where you rush to get the horse “under saddle” and ignore all the quality you should be developing.
So whether you are riding a young, green, advanced, old, or new to you horse, follow the same process. Build that foundation with every ride, only moving forward when something is feeling pretty good. Riding in the moment like this helps us bypass a lot of the preconceived ideas that lead us to rush to the wrong place and gives us the ability to be aware of what we are teaching our horses.