Making sure your horse accepts the bridle is crucial to backing them for the first time, whatever type of bridle you choose to use for the backing process.
The important thing is that getting it on doesn’t cause the horse to become anxious or scared – if there’s still a slight nervous response to the bridle, adding a rider will not make it better!
…and the saddle?
Of course, the saddle is a bigger test than the bridle in many ways.
It’s heavier, horses tend to be naturally cautious of anything over their backs thanks to good old evolution.
If you’re going to be sitting up there in that saddle, it’s important for both of your safety that the horse is comfortable with the sensation of the saddle and girth, as well as with the idea of some weight on his back.
Has the horse done some lunging and/or long lining?
While some people will say that this is an unnecessary step, lunging or long lining can help to prepare your horse for the backing process in a variety of ways.
The horse knowing how to lunge, for instance, means that when a rider is aboard for the first time, they can remain fairly passive while the horse is simply lunged slowly and calmly for five minutes with someone on their back.
This helps to ease them into the process.
Lunging can also help horses to understand certain body and verbal cues, as well as help them to find their own balance even with weight on their back (such as when lunging with a saddle).
The same is true of longlining, which many will say has even more benefits.
Longlining can help your horse to understand basic aids and get them starting to “work” without a rider before they’re even backed!
Another big benefit of long lining for young horses is that you have more options; you aren’t limited to small circles and can go straight, easily make turns, or even do basic lateral work.
Because of this, you can start your young horse slowly as they’re still growing by making full use of an arena or even longlining in the fields or on roads, as long as you’re confident that you have a good degree of control.
Has he seen a bit of the world?
Obviously, we don’t mean that your horse should be a well-seasoned traveller - simply that they should have had some desensitisation to outside stimulus.
This could be from hand walking around the area in lieu of trails or hacks, it could be from focused groundwork and spook-busting methods unmounted, or it could be from simply being part and parcel of a busy yard where your horse is exposed to a variety of stimuli.
You can’t prepare for everything and it’s likely that your young horse will have a spook or two during the backing process as they’re still young and learning new things. That’s fine and completely expected!
However, a horse who – through sheer lack of exposure - regularly has a total meltdown at a tree stump or takes off at the sight of someone in a bright T-shirt on the other side of the arena probably needs some more work before being ready to back.