Do you have the right to ride? written by Don Jessop - Mastery Horsemanship
Do you have the right to ride? written by Don Jessop

Do you have the right to ride? written by Don Jessop

June 23, 2020 4 Comments

Do you have the right to ride?

Can you read a horse well enough to determine that he/she is calm and responsive enough to keep you both safe?

Reading your horse is paramount when it comes to riding. A high headed, tightly wound horse is not the kind you want to be on. I low headed, dull horse is also not that much fun. Can you read a horse that lives in the middle? Do you know a handful of tests that can easily be implemented to determine ride ability in each gait? If not, comment below. I want to give you what you need to succeed. You need to be able to read into the psychology of the horse. Not just in general but in every specific moment. You need to be able to read the emotions and thoughts as they ebb and flow. If you can, you will know when you have a right to ride. If you can't, you're just guessing and I know where that leads. I know because I used to "think" my horse was ready, only to find out I was wrong. You have to look deeper. Learn the signs. I can show you. Comment below, ask for more.

Can you get up from the ground?

I know lots of people who ride regularly, but struggle to get up from the ground. They prefer to use a mounting block. Me too! I prefer to use a mounting block but I can get up from the ground if I must. The real reason for making this an item in the "to-do" list of riding is simply to know that if you have to get off on a trail somewhere you are practiced at looking for ways to get back on in weird places. I use hillsides, stumps, rocks, ditches, logs, and whatever I can to get on when I need a little extra support. Don't get me wrong here. If you can't get on without support, I still believe you can ride. You just better have a much better horse than most people dream of having. In other words, you don't have to ride a green horse if you can't get on and off easily. 

Also, getting on and off from the ground can be good for a horse. It's certainly not as comfortable as getting on from a mounting block but it's still a useful thing to have a horse get used to, just in case.

Can you get off quickly in an emergency?

More important than getting on is getting off. I've seen students struggle to get off their horses and I think to myself. "What are you even doing up there? What if something bad happened, suddenly? Would you survive?" If you've got a calm, well trained horse then maybe it's not a problem. But even the best horses can react without warning. I think if a person wants to ride, they should first show their abilities to climb up and down from a horse quickly and with ease. I know some people cannot get off without assistance. I have a close friend who won the Paralympic games in dressage and she lives her life in a wheelchair. She can't just get off. But she never rides horses that aren't perfectly secure. You shouldn't either unless you're an expert at getting off in an emergency.

Does your horse have a history of excellence?

If you answer yes to this one, you're living the good life. A solid, true blue, horse is exactly what everyone needs. Unfortunately, it's not what everyone has. Therefore, if you want to ride, you should be sure to ride only when things are good. Like on a calm hot day in a sandy arena or safe trail with great horse friends who also have calm horses. The good thing is, if you have a horse that doesn't have a history of excellence, you can get past it with good training. That's what Mastery Horsemanship is all about. Check it out.

Does your horse know you actually care about their experience?

This is the biggest one of all perhaps. Everything up to this point has been about your experience. But what about your horse? Does your horse know you care? How does he or she know you care? What do you do at the end of the ride? What do you do before the ride, and between all rides, day to day? Do you prove on a regular basis that you are the coolest person in the world when it comes to your horse and the way he looks at you?

Right now I've got a mule in training. He doesn't like people. So... should I ride him? NO! Of course not. Why would I ride an animal that doesn't like me? I would be asking for trouble. Even if he never bucked and never bolted, I would still be a horrible partner for that animal if all I wanted was to ride. I like to think about horses in this light. 50/50 bonding and training. That ratio keeps me moving forward and making progress and it also, always ensures the horse knows I care about his experience. I bond with treats, grooming, looking for itchy spots, rubbing all the most sensitive and reactive areas daily to build in a deeper bond, hanging out while grazing, exploring fun new places calmly, and sticking around for long enough after each ride for the sweat to dry.

4 Responses

Libby Stano
Libby Stano

June 28, 2020

Hello Don

I don’t own a horse. Rode a lot as a kid at holiday farms etc. So lots of different teachers filling my mind with their ideas.

For a brief amount of time I owned a green horse when I was in my forties and I followed Parelli. What I learnt from my horse was how little I knew about horses and I sold him mainly because he needed someone far more capable than myself.

I never got as far as riding following Parelli and quite honestly, when you talk of getting off quickly I am left thinking about my childhood and am left questioning what is the correct way to get off in calm situations, let alone scary ones.

I have been taught three methods and in no particular order they were :

Take both feet out of the stirrups and swing the right leg back over the horses rump and slide down to the ground.

Leave left foot in the stirrup until the right foot touches the ground.

Leave left foot in the stirrup, stand in saddle, swing right leg over horses rump, pause, take left foot out of stirrup, slide down to ground.

Does natural horsemanship use any of the above methods or is there yet another method.

Regards Libby


June 24, 2020

Loved your comments, especially about knowing how to get off your horse, just as necessary as knowing how to get on!


June 24, 2020

Hi Don, thank you for this wonderful article, I have a 7 year old OTT finished racing two years ago and has had two different owners before me. He is very stressed and always on edge I have only ridden him twice as the second time he bolted and I had a fall, so I have been spending all my time since bonding and playing games with him, we have also been liberty training and he loves it, he has come so far he is a different horse. I thank you for your wonderful articles that offer advice and positivity. I look forward to many more.


June 24, 2020

My husband and I adopted a 13 yr. old quarter horse/cross (best guess – sad history of probable abuse, starving). We have been “doing” horses for about 30 years. This is our 5th horse. Riding was apparently going to be difficult if not impossible (wouldn’t go to mounting block, left mounting block at a run, etc. etc.) So we went back to the beginning using natural horsemanship techniques. Way back to the beginning. We are getting very good results now by concentrating on bonding. He is sensitive to touch so we found a few spots that are ok to rub and use those – his cheek, his shoulder, his rump. Feet, withers, nose are off limits so we use treats and touch softly and retreat. It’s getting to the point now (6 months) that he will let us touch most of his body going from ok spots to sensitive spots slowly, calmly and treating when he stands quietly, head relaxed, eyes relaxed and no bracing.. Seeing his eyes half closed and his head lower, not lifted in alarm is so rewarding! He also goes into the arena for a “play” session with no hesitation. Used to be stop and start. We never punish or lose patience. Just persist calmly and praise when he’s calm. Worth the effort to know we may be showing him life can be better than it was. Thank you for your sensible and sensitive advice.

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