Introducing Your Young Horse to the Bridge, Part 1

Learn how to get your green horse to walk easily over a competition-style bridge.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

You’ve just bought a ranch-started 2- or 3-year-old, and you’d eventually like to show him in Versatility Ranch Horse competition. But how do you introduce him to things encountered in ranch horse trail, such as a bridge in the middle of the arena, a log or a stock panel gate?

Nice and slow, according to Thomas Saunders V of the Saunders Ranch in Weatherford, Texas, and Terry Crofoot of Crofoot Ranches LLP, near Lubbock, Texas. The two men have raised and started top ranching prospects for years and often guest lecture together in the colt-starting class at Colorado State University.

Must Be in Place

“First things first, a horse needs to have good handle on him before you start exposing him to obstacles,” Thomas says. “You need to have him in your hands, so you can put him wherever it is you need to put him.”

In order to teach your horse new things, it’s very important that he trusts you and sees you as a leader. Learn how to achieve this by downloading AQHA’s Horse Training Fundamentals report.

“Because it’s all about confidence,” Terry adds. “He has to have confidence in you riding him, because he’s never seen something like a bridge before.”

In addition, your horse should be in the right frame of mind that day when you introduce something new.

“It’s important that you get your horse ridden before you offer obstacles; it’s like doing exercises to get prepared for the day’s work,” Thomas says. “The horse is going to tell me if he’s ready for something that day by how soft he is in his neck, how soft he is in his mouth and through his body.”

If his mind is quiet, he can stay relaxed easier and learn better; that’s important in the long run.

“Learning this is just one piece of the puzzle where you gain control of his mind,” Terry says. “There are certain situations you’ll run into on a ranch where you’ve got to cross something. And if you’ve already got him mentally with you to cross over something like this, it just adds to his skill set. The more willing he’ll be to accept what you present to him.”

If your horse respects you as his leader, introducing him to new challenges becomes a bit less of a challenge for you. AQHA’s Horse Training Fundamentals report shows you the keys to setting a solid foundation with your horse.

Stage 1: Exposure

“I start with just exposing him to the bridge,” Thomas says. “I’ll lope him and start making small circles around the bridge. Then I’ll let him actually go up there and smell the bridge. And I’ll let him know what my intentions are: to cross it. I let him tell me when he’s ready for me to ask him to do it.”

Stage 2: Ask and Release

“I don’t use force; I use repetition. If I ask him to go up to the bridge and he refuses, I’ll put him back to work, probably just running some circles,” Thomas says. “I want to make it easier for him to go ahead and cross the bridge and get to the other side.

“I’m going to let him go as far as he’ll let me go without making a major issue out of anything. By issue, I mean I don’t want to make this a negative thing at all by scolding or getting him worked up, anything like that."