Green Horses: The Best Teachers



No matter how long you have been riding or how many horses you have ridden, a green horse always has something new to teach you. While working with green horses you will inevitably run into some circumstance you have not dealt with before. But, most importantly, never underestimate the influence you have on a green horse’s education, even if you are only riding them one time. This goes for your education as well; what you can learn from one ride on a green horse is more than you can learn from riding a push button horse everyday for a year!

Citizen Horse Manifesto Issue #3: Ride Green to Get Better

It is unfortunate, however, that many riders shy away from a green horse. This goes for purchasing and riding. The average rider, especially in the Hunter/Jumper world, has little to no experience riding a “difficult” or “green” horse. Learning to ride, initially, on a school horse, then moving to a horse of their own that already has miles may help build confidence, but the rider isn’t REALLY learning how to ride. A green horse looks for direction from the rider and for the most part, the rider can’t just sit there.

Of course, you can do a light hack with a green horse, and depending on their balance, response to cues, and overall confidence, you can actually just sit there. But, where is the fun in that? The opportunity to help a horse understand the fundamentals of their job is exciting for the rider and the horse. Why, though, do so many people just want to do the light hack without even trying to RIDE the horse? The uniqueness of horseback riding comes from the enormous vocabulary between horse and rider with using cues from the hand, leg, seat, voice, and often (don’t freak out people, this isn’t meant as a beat-the-crap-out-of-the-horse) the whip. Yet, so many people don’t take advantage of this amazing communication, nor do they try to expand their vocabulary!

The opportunity to help a horse understand their job fundamentals is exciting for both horse and rider.

Unless a rider is a beginner or a very nervous intermediate rider, you don’t have to be a trainer to ride a green horse. Sure, a trainer is essential, depending on your level of riding, for a green horse to reach their potential. But, for a few rides a week, even having an intermediate rider take lessons will help both the horse AND the rider. People are always worried that they will ruin the green horse. Well, if the green horse ONLY ever has professionals ride them, they are going to have a hard time figuring out what it’s like to have an amateur make a bigger mistake. The horse will never understand how sometimes, they have to make decisions.

Green horses come in different “shades” of green. Not every green horse is a good candidate for the amateur rider. It doesn’t have as much to do with their “level” of greenness, more of the green horse’s history, breed, temperament, and personality. Here is a good table referencing the different shades and levels of green:

    Army Green:
    The horse that loves to work, uncomplicated, always looking for direction from their rider and/or handler. A great horse for any level rider to learn from no matter how long the horse has been under saddle. These are the horses everyone is looking for; totally honest, no baggage, all with a great work ethic.

    Bright Green:
    The horse that is excitable, but level headed. Lots of energy but not looking to be bad; this horse needs extra guidance and gets bored easily. A plain boring hack will offer too much brain time to come up with ways to expend their energy. A good horse for a rider looking to really focus on their flat work skills; take a lesson first or get some good exercises to work on from the trainer. Then, have fun because you can learn a lot from these green horses.

    Camouflage Green:
    The horse that isn’t what they seem. Sometimes it’s the horse that looks like a psycho, or acts like a chicken on the ground, but tack ‘em up and you have a true work horse under you. Then there is the stoic, quiet looking horse that just looks like a reasonable, happy-go lucky, uncomplicated, kind horse, then you get on them and they want to fight, they don’t want to listen, they might be spooky (not genuinely spooky) and most importantly, they don’t care who is on their back they are going to do everything in their power to find something OTHER than the rider to pay attention to. Not a horse for the amateur, this is a horse that needs to be pretty close to finishing before the amateur gets on. Even then, these are the horses that can have the talent to be great horses, but need a very good, consistent rider.

    Emerald Green:
    The emerald green horse is another one the amateur should be wary of. Mares are more often seen as the shade of emerald than geldings. Usually very sensitive, defensive, and domineering, they can often be very smart which makes all their downfalls even harder to deal with. But, with the right rider and trainer, their downfalls can often be turned into great assets. These greenies aren’t for the amateur until they are a little further along. Though, they don’t need to be finished, they do need a solid foundation. Once they understand the aids, the more different riders they have the better.

While there are many other shades of green horses, the above four groups are the most common. But, every horse has a different background from which they started their path with human interaction. No matter a horse’s history, their underlying personality and temperament (and often breed) will determine their shade of green.

While some horses, especially ex-racehorses, tend to be the emerald green, that is more inherent of their breed than their baggage from the track. I have met quite a few off the track Thoroughbreds that also fall under the army green color even if they didn’t have a great start on the track.

Surprisingly, I have worked with many horses that had the perfect upbringing. No abuse, no excessive force, started gently with a great amount of handling as youngsters, yet, they would still be unpredictable. I’m talking Warmbloods who had a good upbringing and great ground work but were still are somewhat explosive under saddle. This has more to do with their individual nature and sensitivity.

Fact: riding green horses will improve your riding skills.

No matter what your level of riding is, the green horse can improve your riding skills far beyond any school horse or fine tuned, push button schoolmaster. If you are a hunter, jumper, eventer, or dressage rider and you feel as though you are stagnant in your riding; find a green horse to ride; even if it’s just once a week. Even if you are just a pleasure rider but want to feel a sense of accomplishment and better understand OR appreciate your horse, getting on a green horse will not only help hone your communication skills, it will also make your horse seem like a dream!

How many times have you been frustrated because you couldn’t get your horse to do something? Do you think that was your horses fault? Sure, horses can be difficult and often times they can have selective hearing just like people. But, for the majority of problems involving horses not listening, it is because the person isn’t asking correctly. The question you ask your horse needs to be clear, and once the question is asked clearly, you will get the correct answer or response (of course only if the horse has already learned the answer).

The green horse will teach you effective communication. Especially the green horse that knows the basics and you are just refining those basics. Of course, much of this goes into a trainer’s role, but every time you ride a horse you are doing some level of training.

This is a responsibility as a rider that you must own, respect, and never take for granted. Riding a horse is a privilege and the more informed, educated, and experienced you are the better off each horse is that you ride. Rider errors happen and these errors are great learning tools for both horse and rider. But, the green horse that needs your guidance should keep you aware of every subtle cue you give that horse. The awareness you gain from riding a green horse will only amplify your communication skills and more importantly your awareness of different horse’s responses.

How To Find a Green Horse
Finding a green horse to ride might prove difficult. Your best bet is to get involved with a barn, and more accurately, a trainer. A trainer that has a whole string of either sale horses, or horses in training is always going to be happy to pass a hack off to someone else. Especially if you are looking for a project, one could take lessons on a green horse, the trainer can continually evaluate the horse’s progress from the ground, and the horse can gaining valuable experience by having a non-professional ride them.

You most likely aren’t going to just walk into a barn and tell a trainer you are looking to get some rides in; there is a long list of people looking to ride additional horses. Establish a relationship with a trainer, work with them, and prove you aren’t just some dumb girl “looking to ride horsies”.

Just remember, a green horse is a horse looking for answers. Your job, as the rider, is to provide clear questions and help guide the horse to the correct answer. The more questions you ask and the more guiding you do, the better rider you become.