I always like to start with some bonding time in a place the horse is used to, such as their paddock in our case. A good grooming along with some scratches and face rubs creates some initial trust and generates relaxation and allows the horse to feel comfortable with you working around them.
You can see from the expression on our test horse, Cupid, that she is comfortable and curious and we are able to take that as a sign to move onto the next step.
I always have the horse in the middle of the pen for the remainder of the training; a horse that knows it can walk away if it starts to feel to much pressure is a far safer and more relaxed animal than one that feels trapped in a corner.
As Cupid shows here, a good once over sniff is just enough to let them know that the saddle is simply a different version of the harness they are used to :)
After a few moments of this, you are able to move on to placing the pad and saddle on their back - always do so in stages.
It is not uncommon for the horse to show some unhappiness at this point, especially when you are doing up the cinch. They are usually remembering someone in their past who has been rough while harnessing them. Never punish them for this, instead take your time and show some love. More face rubs and scratches will let them know that you are someone who can be trusted not to hurt them while tacking up.
As you can see from Cupid's expression, she isn't overly concerned about the saddle and we are able to move on to the next step.
Next, the bridle. A lot of horses have had their ears handled roughly and are particularly sensitive in this are. It's your job to let them know that there is a spot just behind their ears that feels absolutely fantastic when it it rubbed the right way.
Take a minute now and make that pony melt!
I always use a basic snaffle, this often feels very different to what they are used to and they tend to mouth the bit frantically. This is no big deal or cause for alarm; they will get used to it in time.
Once the horse is tacked up, lead him/her out for a minute so s/he can get used to the sound and feel of the saddle.
Next, find get your mounting block or find something tall and sturdy enough to use as one. Mounting from the ground the first time is a pretty strange experience for a horse.
Let the horse check out the mounting block. A good pre-investigation saves a disaster later if it gets knocked over while you are getting on.
Stand on the mounting block letting the horse get used to the sights and sounds of you above him; lean over him, pat him all over, talk loudly, grab the far stirrup and flop it around. Combine this with scratches and words of reassurance. This part can take 2 minutes or 30. The sign to get on is when the horse is so bored with your antics he is just about asleep.
Now that your horse is genuinely bored with your behaviour, you're ready to hop on! Simply start by gently sliding your leg over and sit down in the saddle.
Once up there more whither scratching.
Wiggle your butt around and encourage the horse to turn around and check out your feet.
Talk, scratch and wiggle till your horse is totally bored again.
The final bit is to get just a couple of steps out of him.
NEVER use a whip of any sort near these horses. Whips mean racing and that is opposite of what you are trying to accomplish here. Some will move forward with just some voice coaxing and some with a bit of leg.
If you can't get him to move forward, pull your reins to the side and use your voice and you will eventually get a couple of steps to the side - they generally seem to find it easier to move to the right and left than to move forward. The trick is to simply get the momentum going.
A couple of steps are all you need for the first day. Once you have accomplished that, gently slide off and congratulate yourself! You and your horse have just had an amazing first experience together.
Many happy trails to both of you!
Don't forget those delicious treats once you hop off as well! After all - they are the best part and a great way to reward your horse :)
Plus, ending on a positive note like this will make the next time you work with them even easier. With a little more practice, you will be hitting the trails or the show ring in no time!