Weekend riders used to make me crazy.
I long held the opinion if you were going to own a horse you needed to ride the dang thing. As a kid I scorned my friends who didn't ride every afternoon during the school years and both days on weekends.
Once I became an instructor and started getting students with their own horses I was notorious for climbing all over them if they hadn't been on them during the week.
There was no way they could hide it either. I had taught too many students who rode only once a week, on dudes or my school horses, to not recognize a rider warming up her butt from a week off her horse.
As the years passed I began to slowly get it. Well cared for horses don't mind much if they're ridden or not and many weekend horse owners love and take excellent care of their horses.
People can love their horses, need their horses and only manage to ride at their lessons or on a weekend trail ride a couple times a month.
The key was to create lessons which covered the needs of my clients and helped them progress. If they could only succeed by riding more often then they were capable of I was setting them up for failure. Not a good trait in a riding instructor.
I didn't let them off the hook though. I would try, through example, to show my students what was possible through daily riding and be blunt about what it would take to reach the higher levels of horsemanship.
The biggest problem with a rider who can only ride once a week or so is finding a horse who will continue to be soft and compliant when he is ridden a few times a month.
I have found horses for clients in the past which were soft and easy to ride and be around. Within a few months or a year the horses would become "bad," or "difficult," sometimes it would be about being caught or getting pushy. Sometimes the horse would become broncy or start bolting.
The problem almost invariably, at least at the beginning, was the horse was fresh. He hadn't been ridden in a long time and decided he liked it that way. So he'd act a little stupid and scare his rider into backing off. This suited the horse just fine and the problem would soon escalate.
Before you know it there would be a rodeo on the weekends instead of a nice trail ride and the horse world loses yet another needed horse owner.
What started as simple fractious behavior has built up to create a frightened and/or angry horse and owner. Horses don't find fault, in themselves or the people around them, they do find trust or distrust. When he acted up he was simply goofing, now he can't find leadership and is in trouble every time he comes in to be saddled. So fight or flight steps in.
What's the answer here?
This is where ground work comes in.
Hate to say it, but I'm not talking about 44 games, advance and retreat, or the dance of the seven veils. I'm talking ground work.
I want my horse under saddle, attached to a longe line and working hard. I'm gong to have a longe whip to show direction and insist on compliance if need be.
I want the line so I can hoist his head where I need it hoisted, not wait until he chooses to be my friend. I want him saddled so he learns that when it is on we're going to work, not play. I want the whip for forward momentum and shoulder control. I want him to decide ground work is so hard he can't wait for you to knock it off so you'll get on his back and leave him alone.
My basic plan for a weekend rider with a feisty horse would be to encourage her to get out more. Even one extra fifteen minute session on the longe line can make a world of difference in a horse's attitude. Three or four would be better.
If a horse hasn't been ridden awhile and I think there's a buck or two in there I might turn them out first. If I do this I just turn them out, no input from me, no saddle or bridle. I'll give them half an hour or so, then catch him, saddle, long line and off we go.
I'm wary of turn out with a fresh horse, I worry about explosive play on an horse which hasn't been warmed up. It's a good way to blow tendons, tear muscles etc. so I'll avoid it if possible. I am all over turning a horse out after he's been worked, a good roll and slow cool down is a great way to end the day.
When I first start my fresh horse out on the line I want a trot. If I can get a walk right off then I sure don't need to be longing him. I don't want a bolting charging run either, this is about work NOT play.
So I'll ask for a trot. I don't care if I have a speedy trot, a flagged tail, whinnying or looking around, not yet anyway.
I do step in for bolting, bucking, cutting across in front of me or turning to face up.
For bolting I yank him down. I'll take a step to his hip and pull him towards me, breaking his forward momentum. When he stops I ask for the trot and send him out immediately, no "Good boy," (he's not) and no "I said WHOA you son of a goat!" (he's not). I just keep asking for the trot until I get it. Then we start working. He gets a good boy when he's completely on task, not before.
For bucking I get to spanking hard with the longe whip, speeding him up with authority and some aggressive body language, THEN I yank him down and send him out at the trot.
Cutting across in front of me gets pretty much the same treatment as bolting, except I'll slap him pretty hard with the whip across the shoulder. A shoulder coming towards me is very pushy and I'll do what it takes to push him back out.
Facing up without me asking irritates the tar out of me. This is not friendly submission, it's an evasion and I get it cleared up immediately. I slap the ground behind the horse, coming closer and closer to the shoulder until he heads out again. If he gets whapped, so be it, he had plenty of warning.
I don't have my horses face up, I like them to stay parallel and let me approach, but that's another story for another day.
Eventually we have a good trot going and I begin to transition the horse up and down, trot, extend trot, jog and eventually walk. I ask for lots of halts, lots of changes of direction.
When my boy is working well I start to transition in the lope.
Before I'm done I want a quiet horse, not whinnying, not looking around, just soft and sweet and working.
He should be sweaty too.
If the horse has an issue under saddle I'm dealing with, I'll get on, sit for five minutes or so and get down. That's it for now.
The reward for listening is me sitting quiet, with a lot of sweet talk and pats and then we're done. I add more time in the saddle and less on the line as the behavior improves.
If the only issue is freshness then I just get on and go for my ride.
If this is more training than the weekend rider is ready for than I suggest taking lessons, or trying a share/lease arrangement.
The main point I want to make here is, there is nothing personal in your horse's behavior. It's just the need to get those muscles working, a need so strong you can lose his brain completely.
A little more time and a consistent work plan can get that brain back in short order.
I'm just glad to know the weekend rider is out there, doing her best to balance a full life and keep her horse a vital part of it.