Hold your horses!!!
I know everyone has heard this saying before. It means to be patient and wait. This applies to so many aspects of the horse world. The part that I want to discuss is when people think they can just jump on a horse and ride off into the unknown and everything will be great. Wrong!!! Wrong!!! Wrong!!! Never get on a horse that you are not familiar with and never get on a horse that has not been properly prepared for the type of riding that you plan to do.
Whether it is my own horse, a friend's horse, or a horse I have never seen before I always do a few simple exercises before I get on. If the horse does not perform in a safe manner, I don't get on. I will not get on a horse that doesn't have basic ground manners or does not respect me as their leader.
The first thing you need to do is introduce yourself. Approach the horse confidently but not aggressively, approach towards the shoulder of the horse. Make sure you are walking up to the horse, not the horse walking up to you. Extend your hand allowing the horse to smell you. When the horse seems to be fine with you being so close, start petting the horse. Start at the shoulder, pet the horse all over slowly. This helps the horse to relax and lets them know that you are not going to harm them.
The next thing I do is make the horse yield its hind quarters. I make sure that the horse will move its back end away from me. I should be able to stand near the horse's shoulder and get it to move its back end away without touching it. Most of a horse's power is in its back end, you need to be able to control their power. Make sure you do this from both sides. People refer to this as "hide the hiney".
The third thing I do is flex the horse. This lets me know that I can control the horse's head, the steering end of the horse. I want the horse to move their head around to their side, where my toe would be in the saddle, with very little effort. Flex the horse to both sides, repeating several times.
The final thing that I do is ask the horse to back up. I want the horse to take two or three steps back. This tells me that I can control the front end of the horse; the shoulders, neck, and head.
If we have done all four of these steps then I know that the horse trusts me and that I should be able to control it in any direction. After I mount the horse I make sure I can control it in every direction again.
When I feel like I am ready to mount the horse I yank on the saddle and slap the stirrups to see how the horse reacts. Then I slowly and gently mount the horse. Make sure the horse stands quietly while you mount. If the horse does not stand quietly I go back to my first steps and build on that until I am confident that the horse will stand still while I mount.
After mounting the horse I do a few more exercises before allowing them to walk off. I need to know that I can stop the horse and that I can turn the horse. I flex the horse to each side. I want the horse to easily give me his head and keep his feet still. I back the horse at least two steps. I will then let the horse take one or two steps forward then stop it. I repeat all of this several times to make sure the horse is listening to me and that I can control it. I frequently ask the horse to stop, and expect an immediate stop. I need to know that I can get the horse stopped no matter what happens, for the safety of the horse, me, and everyone around me.
If at any time I don't feel like I have control of the horse I will go back and repeat as many of these steps as I need to. Be safe, have fun, and enjoy your ride.