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Growing Pains: Pairing a Green Rider with a Green Horse


At one point in time, every successful showman was coached through their first class. Every show horse was young and just learning the ropes of how to be a trustworthy partner in the arena. These early experiences are crucial pieces of the equation that is horse showing, so the maiden voyages are often left under the guidance of professionals. But what happens when you match the green horse with the green rider?

In most cases, the young rider and inexperienced horse are not paired together for fear that a collective lack of seasoning will lend itself to unfavorable and unnecessary stressors in competition. In specific scenarios, though, such a match can provide a unique learning experience for both horse and rider. GoHorseShow had the opportunity to talk to trainers Kelby Hutchinson and Brian Baker about the pros and cons of pairing a young rider with a green horse.

A Fine Line

When it comes to show horses, there is a fine line between ‘green’ and ‘started’. This distinction is often fuzzy, as many people have a different perception of what a ‘green’ horse is.

“There are different layers to a ‘green’ horse. Some might say that it is a horse that has been started under saddle but is not yet showing. Others might classify it as a horse with little show experience. I feel like a green horse is a horse that is not one-hundred-percent confident in its job, whether that job is showing the pleasure, showmanship or even trail riding,” Kelby Hutchinson (pictured right) of Hutchinson Performance Horses LLC, told us.

Brain Baker, who recently trained Syndie Ochs and No Doubting Me to a unanimous world championship in the 14-18 Western Pleasure at the AQHYA Ford Youth World Championships along with multiple other World Championships at the NSBA World, says that an understanding of this distinction is essential to successfully campaigning a young rider and green horse. “To me, a green horse is a horse that the trainer can show, but it maybe is not quite ready for the rider to show,” he said.

The horse that both Baker and Hutchinson consider to be green may still need a helping hand to get through the class, which may be a tall task to hand a novice rider.

Find the Perfect Match

Riding a green horse presents unique challenges for competitors of all levels, especially young riders. If tackled wisely, the trying nature of inexperienced horses can help develop a rider’s skillset beyond what showing an ‘old pro’ might. The right pair will be able to take most mistakes in stride and learn from them.

“For someone who has never ridden, a green horse is not an option. For somebody who has shown in any event, a green horse can be very good. They can grow and learn together, but the rider has to have some experience. You’ve got to make sure that the talent level of the horse equals that of the rider, you can’t mismatch it. I think it is a cool thing, and it’s enjoyable when everybody benefits from it.” Brian Baker (pictured left) told us.

On the contrary, if rider and horse are not a good match, these challenges will lead to a frustrating situation for everyone involved. Kelby Hutchinson told us that, “sometimes pairing an inexperienced rider and horse can lead to bad habits. Either the horse can learn bad habits from never having been taught how to show correctly, or a young rider can develop habits from continuously compensating for the horse’s inexperience.”

Such habits can, and almost certainly will, haunt a rider in the future. Kicking these bad habits can be even more difficult than initially learning to ride a green horse.

Forgiveness and Patience are Key

Both horse and rider have to share certain qualities to find success in the show pen as a team with little experience. Baker told us that, “the green horse has to be mentally forgiving, and the rider has to be forgiving as well. They both have to realize that they’re going to make mistakes.” He continued, saying that “you have to make sure that the horse can handle the rider and the rider can handle the horse.”

No horse or rider will ever be faultless, but the unpolished nature of the team will accentuate small inaccuracies. The frustration that can result from mistakes will only compound if either horse or rider tends to hold a grudge.

Kelby Hutchinson expanded on this same concept, explaining how, “for a young rider to be successful, they need to be hardworking and willing to listen and learn. There will be several ups, downs and mistakes on both sides before the pair are confident.”

The meshing of teams of this nature can be a long process and it is not one for the rider looking for the path of least resistance. The key to success is sticking with it throughout the trying times.

A Rider is Never Finished Learning

The lessons that young horses can teach may be hard to find, but they are invaluable when they surface. For riders of all ages, these inexperienced horses can serve as a genuine reminder that nobody is ever finished learning.

“When it clicks, it’s cool because the horse learns, but the rider learns more than the horse does,” Baker told us. “I’ve built my career around listening to horses and learning from the horses. Each horse is a little bit different, but they’re all a little bit the same as well, and they’re not robots. A green horse can teach even a veteran showman to do the right things,” he finished.

There is no better way to create the next great horsemen than to teach them the hardest lessons early on. So, while a green team certainly comes with its fair share of frustrations, it can be a worthwhile investment of one’s time and energy to turn the novices of today into the true horsemen of tomorrow.


Kassidy Lammers is from Ohio. She has been riding and showing American Quarter Horses for ten years and plans to study history in college.

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