Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Today I'm thinking about green.

Well, I mean, it IS Spring now, so there's plenty of green around :)

But specifically, I'm thinking about green horses.

Everyone has their own definition of what green is.  I guess I'd define "green" as a horse that doesn't respond predictably or consistently to simple cues (ie, stop, back, turn, W/T/C, etc). 

As I've talked about before, I think "trained" and "broke" are different things.

I still maintain from 2012 that horses with limited training can be "broke".  These are the easy ones.  The usual phrase we use for these non-reactive, easy-going horses is "born broke".  They just seem to be confident in their survival abilities and inherently trust their handler.  They may have some baby moments, but they're pretty reliable.

Horses with tons of training are sometimes never broke horses.  They may be perfectly schooled to cues and execute them with the arena...but they just aren't ever as reliable.  With extreme examples, you take them out on the trail, and they absolutely fall apart.  Going to a new place may trigger a meltdown. 

Of course--the best kind of horse is both trained and broke!  I call these "finished horses".  They could do their job upside-down and blindfolded.  They might not even need you up there.  But anyway, that may be beside the point a little...

Thinking back before I got Chevy, I was afraid of green horses.

I had ridden a lot of difficult horses (of course I didn't know that at the time; it was just normal for me then).

They were all trained (some were fairly young).  Most were broke even if they were unrefined (as are most school horses--how refined can you be with kids constantly pulling and thumping you at the wrong times?).

But I had never ridden a green horse.  Not until I was in college.  I leased a sorrel mare briefly out at a huge facility on the outskirts of Eugene when I rode with the UO Equestrian Team.  My roommate and I would head out there after classes in the dark of winter in her old gold diesel Mercedes.  This night it was her time to ride.  I stood in the middle of the warm up pen, watching her and eying the other horses as they went around.

After a few minutes, a middle-aged lady rode up to me on a bug-eyed paint.

"You want to ride?"  She said.

"Ummm...Sure."  I looked at her shaggy sorrel and white colt.

"He's just 3 and he's green, but he's good.  Just needs more saddle time.  Looks at everything but he's alright.  Just get on and ride him around for me."

Ooooooh boy!  I swung up.  He was a looky-loo.  But he was good.  Just as she said.  Trucked my hiney around that pen at a fast even walk, head all over the place...but his steps were sure and rhythmic.

So this is a green horse, I thought.  That was about it.  Really.  I made sure to stay out of his way, watched my heels, calves and hands, and he was great.

[The only other thing I took away from the ride was:  This is the first truly comfortable western saddle (SIDENOTE:  I was English-only in those days) I HAVE EVER BEEN IN.  I also remember it had a wonderful, cushy natural sheepskin over the seat.  Heaven.]

It may have been the first time a little seed was planted in my head that green didn't necessarily mean...dangerous.

So maybe green is too broad a term:  On the one hand, a crazy horse backed unsuccessfully several times, who bucks and snarls at his green.  And a baby hunter at his first green.  Hmmm.

I'd categorize that shaggy paint as green but with a broke attitude.  He may not have responded predictably to all my cues--had I given him any--but his affect was willing, flexible and non-reactive.

"As long as a horse has a good stop I don't care how green it is."  is a phrase I heard recently.

I guess my problem with that is expecting that a green horse HAS any kind of real reliability.  I'm not sure a horse with a sure-fire stop can really be considered green any more.  I guess it all has to do with that definition thing again.

I think a general acceptable definition of green is:  "A horse (or rider) at the beginning of his training."

I've already defined my thoughts on the horse above.

In my opinion...a  green rider anywhere from someone brand-new to horses to someone who knows how to tack up the horse appropriately, and can ride the walk and trot.  Green riders lack balance and may frequently clutch at the reins, horn or front of the saddle or use their legs for balance.  A green rider may fall off spooky horses frequently because they lack the ability to sense when a spook is imminent. 

I don't think you really get out of green rider status until you're able to cue and ride the walk, trot, canter and halt effectively, understand the gaits, can lengthen and shorten them without verbally cuing the horse...and know which leg the canter originates from on the horse!  Ha ha!  Seriously though.  You gotta have some in-depth knowledge of how the horse works.   You begin to graduate into Intermediate status when you are able to give the horse subtle cues...and understand why you're giving the cues, in what order for what outcome.  You start to figure out how to cue best for the response you want.  You should be able to feel your correct diagonals and canter leads without looking.  You begin to develop the sensitivity you expect from the horse.

There are shades of green, of course.

Tiny, at about 4 rides, is definitely a green horse, even though she's quickly closing in on 5 years old (eeek!  Where has the time gone?).  She is easy to handle on the ground but just starting her under saddle career.  I'm really excited about her because I'm responsible for all her training so far.  And so good.  I'm sure we'll run into stickies later. :)

Chevelle on the other hand, is no longer green, but in the "trained" category.  Her responses are dialed in and she responds to them in a predictable manner.  Even though she is sensitive, I'm confident if other Intermediate/Advanced riders rode her, they'd have a good ride.  She is not suitable for green riders.  I'd say she's still at the lower levels of her training though, and that's all my fault.  But she is solid on W/T/C, knows some complex aids and certainly knows her leads.  She listens to her rider and only requires rare support.  But she doesn't do flying changes and isn't highly schooled (especially lately, with all our time off).  She is certainly nowhere near "finished".

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this.  I guess it just all comes down to expectations.  I don't know that I'd ever expect a green horse to be able to stop consistently--just like I wouldn't expect a green rider to cue the stop effectively.  That doesn't mean they can't--or won't--or that is isn't reasonable for a specific horse or rider...I just don't know if it's really fair, in general.

I think a lot of success is really just setting the horse up to succeed. 

And I guess I also feel like the stop is one of those simply elegant things to teach, that requires a lot of subtlety and timing to get right and communicate right.  The stop is a beautiful thing.  I've written about it so many times because when you have a horse that really stops, it is so super cool.  I think the only way you can really get there is to have a horse that wants to stop.  The stop is their happy place.

What do you think?  Do you know green horses with a great, consistent stop, in the arena and out on the trail?


  1. I don't really know any green horses at this point, but I totally agree about green vs. broke. My horse isn't green, but he isn't broke either. It's interesting because the trainer I'm working with is giving me the tools to make him broke and she pointed out that if I were a top level show rider, I might not want to make him broke because it can take some of the subtleties away. Which I'm totally fine with, as my first priority is a quiet horse.

    1. I completely agree with your trainer, Mona. There are even more splits to these definitions as you get into the upper levels! Something like a finished bridle horse or a top dressage on one of those would be a complete disaster. I don't know if they would even be in the "broke" category. Those horses have so many buttons it's ridiculous :) But for most of us, just riding a horse that is nice and consistent, trustworthy and honest is enough of a goal.