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New horse!! Now what?

Long time reader, first time poster here.

I’ve been riding/taking lessons for about 10 years and recently purchased my first horse. He’s a nice mover, had been doing small jumps with his previous owner, but isn’t finished in any one discipline or extremely fit (frankly, I’m not either – lol).

After having gone through the buying process – finding the right horse, trying the horse, PPE, etc – now he’s mine, and I’m having a bit of that ‘first time parent’ feeling. I have a horse. Now what??

I’m boarding at a barn with no regular trainer, which is different from what I’m used to. The farm has a decent sized indoor, beautiful outdoor, and tons of trails on the property. Now that I’m free from IHSA perfect equitation world, I’m looking for enjoyable ways to build our partnership and fitness.

So tell me, COTHers, what are some fun and effective things you do with your own horse(s) to get the most out of your rides?

I’m looking forward to responses, too. I’m almost a month into my first horse purchase.

At first I was nervous as hell. I had never felt more nervous riding a horse as I did the first few times I went out to ride my pony. And I had known and ridden him for over a year! I just forced myself to go out every day. I didn’t ride every day, sometimes it would just be a good grooming session or a bath (damn gray horses).

Also I have a trainer give me lessons twice a month with him, and I ride once per week with a friend where we take turns checking equitation. My trainer knows me well and set a goal for me to work toward and that has really helped guide my time with the pony. If you are goal-oriented, I recommend setting something to work toward.

I board at a multi-discipline barn and I’ve tried lots of different thing with my TB. I mainly do dressage and jumpers, but if the barrel racers have their barrels set up I’ll make a few runs :D. I’ve tried showmanship and spent a couple of years as a ranch hand, so my horse has worked cattle (FUNNEST THING EVER) and been roped off of (badly). Basically I get ideas and my horse puts up with me.

Honestly it’s been really good for his brain to try different things. And nothing will give you a velcro butt like sorting cattle in an English saddle when your horse figures out where the cow’s going before you do!

First, buy:
101 Dressage Exercises
101 Jumping Exercises (if jumping is your plan)
101 Western Dressage Exercises
(Ok, I know the last one sounds crazy, but it’s my new favorite! There are a ton of great exercises with poles and cones that I’ve seen real progress with.)

Second, find a trainer. This doesn’t mean you need to be in a full blown training program, but find someone who you can ride with weekly, or every other week, or even monthly depending on your experience. Not only can they help with training, but they are your resource when you have those questions that will pop up. They’ll also help nip any bad habits that may pop up, and will be your call if you do run into training problems.

I like to have a schedule for my horse. It can be as simple as “easy day, medium day, hard day, repeat” or as specific as “Tuesday dressage school, Wednesday pole work, Thursday lesson, Friday trot trails, Saturday jump school, Sunday trail ride, Monday off.” But I see a lot of first time owners get sucked into getting on for 15 minutes, w/t/c around, get off. If I have a general plan for the day, I’m much more productive. Setting up exercises from the books is even better.

I still like bareback trail rides or even just allowing my horse to graze in a halter (with reins) bareback. It’s that fun “I never got to do this on lesson horses” thing.

Finding friends in the barn is helpful too. You can set jumps for each other and go on trail rides together.

Finally, color coordinate everything!!! Something you don’t get to do with schoolies!

But just have fun! Try different things you never would have done in lessons!

Buy a ton of new horsey outfits? Saddle pads/polos/boots, fancy halter, soon enough it’ll be time for blankets!

(I’m aware that this is 100% unhelpful, but hey, who doesn’t want to buy fun new things?)


I second finding a trainer to come to you. That’s what I found most help.

Buy books, read articles, set goals, push yourself a lot, push your horse a little, try new disciplines, take lessons, learn more about vet and farrier care, etc etc.

Most of all, have fun!

Agreed on all of the books and finding a trainer that’ll come to you or if you can haul yourself finding a trainer that you can get out to twice a month.

I found that after having a horse for quite some time that I hardly ever worked in the ring. We’re lucky enough to have 60 some acres of open fields, with some trees, and TONS of hills. There’s so much to learn about your needs as a rider and your horses needs as an athlete outside of four walls. Plus, who wouldn’t want to gallop balls to the wall on an ex-racehorse :D:lol: HA!

I’m a big fan of cavalettis also. Never gets boring. Set them up down the long side, on a circle, on the diagonal, in a circle, raise 'em up, canter them, trot them, WHATEVER. The possibilities are endless, and the improvements are significant in many ways.


Do lots of riding on the trails, big walk and then trotting forward at a good working pace. And canter if you feel safe with that too! That will build fitness without the strain of corners and circles in the arena. You can practice all kinds of transitions between gaits on the trails, and also shoulder in, halt, backup, etc. Plus working on your own position, two-point, seat, no stirrups, etc. Trails keep the horse moving forward too.

Then you can add on shorter arena sessions, working on 20 metre circles, cavalletti, more lateral work, etc.

I would also say, find a visiting coach and try for weekly lessons to begin, which you could drop to twice a month or every 3 weeks, if you are getting on fine on your own.

Ask the coach for things to work on.

mostly, have fun!!

Depends on your goals… if you just want to have fun, go out and have fun! Buy pretty matching saddle pads and polo wraps, and just enjoy trail riding or whatever.

But, if you have ill-defined goals and want to improve, but aren’t sure how…

First, sit down and think about what you want to do:
Do you think you’re more interested in taking up dressage? Do you want to return to the hunter ring at some point?

WRITE DOWN your goals (long term and fairly vague are okay) Then, put down shorter, step-by-step goals that build to those longer term ones. don’t put specific timelines associated with them, you don’t want to beat yourself up for not progressing at a certain speed, just use them to keep you on track.

BIG GOAL - show in the 2’6 hunters at a local/schooling show

smaller goals (from now to eventual goal. These are not all inclusive, just an idea of what you might think about)

  • walk, trot, canter in 2-point without losing balance
  • trot a ‘course’ of poles
  • trot cross rails
  • canter ‘course’ of poles
  • canter crossrails
  • introduce gymnastics
  • canter 2’ course, simple lead changes
  • develop flying changes
  • canter 2’6 courses, work up to 2’9 singles
  • enter 2’ division at local show
  • enter 2’6 division (goal met)

Revisit the goals periodically and adjust as required.

DOCUMENT your progress. EVERY ride, take a five minutes afterwards (I use a simple day planner) to write down what you worked on and how it went
ex: 1 July 16: good warm up, very quiet and soft at w/t, but wanted to get heavy at canter. Worked on transitions at the canter between collected and medium to get Pony to lighten up. Warmed up over a 2’ X. Pony wanted to land right lead both directions, so schooled a left hand circle a few times over it to encourage him to land on the left lead. Finished with a 2’ course, trotting into the lines, cantering out doing the adds, with simple changes.

After a month or two, you’ll have so much fun going back and reading how far you’re progressing. Or if you’re not, and you see you’re struggling with the same issues every ride, that’s what you need to focus on, and maybe bring in outside help.

Periodic lessons/clinics are great, and writing down your “homework” will really help you identify if you’re making progress in the direction you’d intended.

I board on my own, and without a regular lesson or groundperson it’s easy to get stagnant, or just ride aimlessly around. By documenting my work, and reviewing it at least bi-weekly, I feel that it motivates me and keeps me on track.

In addition to practicing your regular skills you can pick a theme for the day: One day a week I try to do what I call “Yoga Day” for my horse. – just easy stretching. Lateral stretching (bending on circles, serpentines) and longitudinal stretching, down over his back. There’s also “Field Day” where we go out in a field, walk and trot up some hills and then do flat work in field. “New Skill Day” – where I push for intense bouts of a new skill for a short amount of time then rest and walk on the buckle, repeat. “Tune up Day” Those are fun days, my trainer introduced me to these types of rides. You think of crazy things and go do them, no breaks, keep him thinking, his feet moving and your brain working – lengthen, shorten, turn, halt, turn on the forehand, trot, shoulder in, circle, diagonal with lengthening, collect on short side, canter, halt, counter canter. It’s just playing and getting tuned into each other. Then there’s “Me Day” where after I do a basic warm up then basically focus on my own position, or practice 2 point, up up downs etc… and “Fun Day” which includes not much work at all, maybe a quick walk around the farm and lots of carrots.
Sometimes a ride has a little of all of this: warm up with stretching, practice new skill intensely, then let horsey go on buckle to cool down while I post without stirrups . But sometimes I like to focus on one thing. It’s easier for my brain to handle when I have a lot on my mind to say, “today we’re just going to stretch.”
Congrats on your new horse and have fun!!!

I second this recommendation. These are all things that you can work on with or without a trainer. The books are easy to follow and the exercises are engaging. Plus, the lady who wrote 101 jumping exercises is a COTHer.