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Trainers Give Tips on How to Mesh with a New Horse

The unspoken bond between horse and rider is unparalleled. This connection takes time and patience to develop. The sacred bond that holds the team together is the key to achieving goals. Any successful horseman takes the time to learn the horse and vice versa, thoroughly. 

Working with a new horse can present a multitude of challenges. The way the trainer and rider approach difficulties will set a foundation for the team.

How does one begin to “mesh” with a new equine partner? What are the steps to take? GoHorseShow talked to knowledgeable equine professionals about their advice on the topic.

Ask questions.

Asking the seller questions about the horse is essential. The more questions, the better. Find out everything you can about your new teammate, regardless of how mundane the details may seem.

Michelle Tidwell, who is an assistant trainer at Cahill Quarter Horses and AQHA judge, comments, “I ask questions when we purchase a new horse for a client. How long do you warm him up? I ask which type of bit the horse likes and other questions you might have about the new horse. Ask what the translation buttons are or commands work best.”

Asking the right questions will allow you and your trainer to develop a better understanding of what the horse knows. 

Set realistic goals.

Setting realistic goals is a vital component of a new team coming together. This helps keep both the rider and horse on track through the process. Goal setting is beneficial only when the rider puts time in the saddle. There are no shortcuts when it comes to hard work. 

Brent Specht of Spect Show Horses, says, “Make sure you set realistic goals. You must know where you started with your new horse and where you want to be. Everything takes time. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” 

It takes time to learn and grow with a new equine partner. Setting goals, both big and small, is needed on the path to success.

Gage what both you and the horse know.

Gaging what the horse knows is a crucial element when “meshing” a new team together. This needs to be done to set goals for the rider. The best way to figure out the new horse’s knowledge is to do simple exercises and drills.

Tidwell comments, “Spend time learning what the horse knows. We also have a guiding drill that I like to do with new horses. We have several cones laid out in no certain configuration, and we have the customers start at a walk and then trot. This shows me how well the horse will guide before we go to the next step.”

Keep the beginning exercises simple to set a basis for what the horse knows. A new horse is unfamiliar to the trainer and exhibitor. Simple drills will help the new team form a solid foundation. 

Specht adds another beneficial exercise, “You can start by placing four cones in a square and having that person start at a trot doing a straight line then circling the cone right or left until the rider and horse can complete a good circle, checking in and out with their hand and foot. Then move onto the lope doing the same thing.”

Take it slow.

When working with a new horse, it is crucial not to rush anything. Trying to force a connection with the team does not allow for a solid foundation to be built. Both horses and riders need time to learn and adjust to one another. 

Wisconsin Hunter trainer Jennifer Welhouse, comments, “Take it slow, don’t overwhelm the horse or yourself. Give the horse a chance to adjust to you and your style. Your expectations of the horse may not be what the horse knows. If the horse becomes frustrated, your training window closes.”

When the horse becomes frustrated out of confusion, training efforts become futile. To fully “mesh” with your new teammate, give the bond the time it needs to grow organically. Most trainers say that it generally takes a new partnership about a year to fully “mesh.”

Tidwell says, “Generally, it is a year before you know your new horse inside and out of the arena. Spend time riding and learning how to ride your new horse. You might have success immediately, but I still think it takes time before you create a steady routine.“

Tomorrow is a new day.

When a new team starts to come together, the challenges can be overwhelming. The horse and rider must get “brain breaks,” so neither becomes too frustrated. Sometimes waiting to tackle a problem until the next day gives the two the time to hit the refresh button. 

One of the most critical aspects of “meshing” with a new horse is knowing when to quit. Always end on a positive note. Doing this sets the stage for continued learning between the exhibitor and their new horse. Welhouse advises, “End well…tomorrow is a new day. Start again and be positive.”


Meshing with a new horse is like an intricate dance. The team must learn one another’s strengths and weaknesses. They need to be in sync with the rhythm to execute the dance. It takes time to master this Tango and grow with a new horse. 

Specht concludes, “I like to think of the horse as your dancing partner. If you get in the way, it is like stepping on your dancing partner’s feet. You need to dance together. Dancing together takes a lot of practice.”

About the Author – Cat Guenther is a dedicated equestrian and a student at Michigan State University. She has been riding horses for almost eleven years and has loved every minute of it. Cat started and runs her successful show clothing business, Behind the Bit Show Clothing. She loves her beloved horse, Zippos Kat Man Do, aka Teddy, and new equine partner Zippo Hot Leaguer aka Beamer. She is currently on a Pre-Veterinary track and also hopes to study business.