Training A Draft Horse For Pleasure Riding – Clydesdale Riding

Training A Draft Horse For Pleasure Riding - Clydesdale Riding

Are you a horse riding lover? If yes, you might have ridden the normal horses until now, but have you ever thought of riding a draft horse or a Clydesdale? Isn’t it sounds cool, right? Training a Draft horse for pleasure riding will surely be a fun experience for you, but the draft horses require proper training to offer a pleasant riding experience. In this article here, we will let you know everything about the draft horses and the appropriate method of training your draught horses for a perfect horse riding experience.

Many of you might not know what draft horses are? First, we will let you know what the draft horses are and how they are different from the riding horses. And then, later on, you will get to know the proper method of training your draft horses for pleasure riding.  

What Are Draft Horses?

What Are Draft Horses

You really cannot stop yourself from falling in love with the beautiful draught horses! With massive hooves, incredible size, rippling muscles, the draft horses are among the unique breed of horses. They are characteristically known as the “Gentle Giants” of the horse world.

These large horses are bred for their strength and power and have been used by humans for centuries to help people accomplish all kinds of heavy pulling and lifting tasks. But as the time has changed, much more than the pulling horses, the draft horses are now used for riding. Among all the draft horses available, the most famous draft horses are undoubtedly the Clydesdales. They are celebrated worldwide for their surprisingly gentle personality, truly incredible size, and massive strength.

The draft horses are indeed an experience to own, but they cost a bit high, which can be somewhat expensive for an average owner. If we talk about the diet of draft horses, they often eat more than a regular horse, and you have to be extra careful about their diet as they are prone to EPSM, and along with all that, it’s also expensive to have the draft horses trimmed.

The draught horses are used for riding, but they are somewhat different from riding horses. So, let’s see in the following section about how these draft horses differ from riding horses?

Difference Between A Riding Horse and A Draft Horse  

If we talk about the draft horses, they are typically wide, heavy, and tall. These horses generally stand between 16 to 19 hands high, and naturally, they weigh between 1300 to 2000 pounds and have hooves bigger than their face. Characteristically, they are broad in the barrel, shoulder, and hindquarters and they have beautiful feathery legs with sturdy necks.

On another side, if we talk about riding horses, they are the usual breed of horses that you probably ride when you take riding lessons. The riding horses generally stand between 14 to 17 hands high, and typically they weigh between 1000 to 1300 pounds. Depending upon their breed, the riding horses usually are long-necked and long-legged with a longer back, which altogether makes it comfortable for you to sit on. They are smaller than the draft horses and are used in any discipline that involves riding.

Pros and Cons Of Riding A Draft Horse

Riding a draught horse can be a fun experience for you, but you must know the pros and cons related to draft horse riding before that. You may be able to decide whether a draft horse is for youOpens in a new tab..


  • They are sure-footed and provide a smooth and comfortable ride.
  • They have a smooth ride in walk, canter or trot and covers ground easily.
  • They can be coaxed along with gentle leg pressure.
  • They provide a comfortable and high seat to enjoy your horse riding experience.


  • The problem of unplanned dismount on trial rides.
  • Challenging to get back in the saddle.
  • Due to high stirrups, you will always need a step up to get your foot in the stirrup and remount.
  • The problem of head clearance when traveling in the woods.
  • It can be difficult to source riding equipment to fit.

The Correct Equipment

Pick the right saddle for your draft horse for pleasure riding

Draught horse saddles comes in a variety of styles.They commonly come in the western saddle style for trail or pleasure with comfortable seats. There are a huge difference in the saddle on a broad or stocky horse and a draught horse. The gullet size of a draft horse is just so much wider this is to accommodate the broad shoulders and back. You and your draught horse will have so much more benefit from the wider gullet and therefore the saddle will fit to the horses shape rather than being restricted of movement or freedom.

The same goes for bits they come in various different styles, shapes and sizes.There are really 2 types of bits they are the snaffle bits and leverage bits (also known as the curb bit). They are used for different styles of riding and uses of a horse. You must ensure you use the correct bit for the use you are intending to train or use your draught horse in.

Also the saddle seat is really well padded so this is great for providing that extra comfort for maybe that long trail ride you are going to take. Each style of saddle will be rigged differently. Also it is highly recommended that if your draught horse has very little wither and is very round, the back cinch and the breast collar are for you. Be sure you know that a saddle that slips can be very dangerous.

You need to work around your saddle style so with the likes of your stirrups, skirt, fenders etc.

Really if you own your own draft horse or Clydesdale the first thing you should buy if you are considering have her as a riding horse is a saddle.

Before The Training Of The Draft Horse

The process of training your draft horseOpens in a new tab. for pleasure riding is much the same as any horse in fact it is. Just obviously they are much bigger and stronger. Remember you are in charge so be confident and gain respect the right way. It is essential with all horses to do this, well to be honest with any animal you are learning or training.

First of all, it is primarily essential to start with groundwork and establish good ground manners into your draught horse. If you were raising draft horses from the beginning when they were born, begin handling them as soon as possible. Petting and rubbing young horses teach them to identify and accept the owner’s touch. Lowering and raising a young horse’s tail makes it ready for the day to wear a harness.

Take A Look At The First Steps In Training Your Horse Below

Basic Tips Of Training a Draft Horse – Clydesdale Training

Although, teaching a young draft horse to pick up its feet will set up a sound basis while it is still small that will carry over as it will grow more mature. Before it’s time to put your saddle or bridle or even hook to a wagon and drive, teach your draft horse how to accept the riding equipment with ease.

A big one is spending time with your horse weather it be hand walking them around your area, mucking out their stall, Bathe them, groom them, time in the paddock or in an arena braid their mane. Just spend time with them. This in turn will be the best thing you do. This way you will gain their trust and build a great bond.

Another reason to spend time with your horse is so that you can learn about them. What your draft horse likes and dislikes and how your horse communicates with you. You will in turn learn what they are scared of and this will help to create a calm and better environment for your best companion. It will also help you to help them eliminate and overcome their fears.

Place ground poles, tarps, and other obstacles in an area where you’ll be training your horse to see how it will react to new objects. You can also bring a radio out to the training area and play music to desensitize the horse to unexpected loud noises.

As we mentioned before draft horses are big, wide and muscular so its important to know that all riding equipment won’t fit. For this reason you many need to find a a specialized saddle for draught horses, actually you probably will unless you may know someone that has some.

How To Train Your Draft Horses For Pleasure Riding?

How To Train Your Draft Horses For A Pleasant And Pleasure Riding?
Image: Blair Castle International Horse Trials

Lowering Their Head and Standing Still

You should know that any horse that cannot stand still is either not listening or paying attention or they could be invading your personal space. A horse that is taught to stand still will lean to you for the next step and that’s essential.

To teach your horse to do this is to practice having a halter and lead on your horse. Stand as still as possible and face your horse with slack in the lead. Now once your horse moves from their position. Shake the rope and ask him/her to back up. If they don’t do this then just shake it a little harder and stop.

Give them the opportunity to move off and all you have to do is make them back up by moving them. So they know it is wrong you should make them step back a few step. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. Always correct the horse if they are wrong because they will keep doing it.

This will also be a suitable time to teach your draft horse to lower its head for bridling. With your palm on the horse’s poll, gently encourage your draft horse to drop its nose and head into the halter. 

The Art Of Softening

A thing to start with and useful tip is teaching your horse softening early on. This is when your horse lowers it’s head when you put pressure on the lead rope or poll.

This is quite simple. just take the lead rope, apply a bit of pressure and your horse should lower its head. Keep steady pressure until he does. If he doesn’t then keep pressure and as soon as he does do it the loosen up and release the pressure. In the future this will also help with putting on bits and bridles or halters.

Leading Your Horse

Draft Horseriding

An important thing to do early on is leading a horse. So many horses struggle with this task. Its pretty simply actually very simple but knowing how to do this correctly is essential. This will help you as it will teach you confident and will teach your draft horse that you are in charge.

Have a rope halter on, and a lead rope, also a lunge whip is great for a driving aid to help your horse on. Start by leading your horse in at the elbow on the leading side. This is the correct position. If they are slower you should definitely encourage them to keep up. Remember your in charge!

This is where the lunge whip comes in handy. Keep it behind you so if it slows down you can gently egg him on. If the horse pushes forward or tries to edge in front of you. Stop, make him back up and restart, then try again. Always stop and start and increasing and decreasing your speed throughout the training session.


Flexing is where the horse bends their neck to the right or left according to the pressure applied to the reins. This is to learn your draft horse to respond to the pressure on the reins and then when it comes to the time where your horse is ready for you to mount it knows what your asking. So therefore if you apply pressure to the left then effectively the horses head and neck will turn to the left. Your horses neck should turn so the nose touches behind its shoulder.

So to do this you need to hold the lead rope in one hand and with the other hand on the horses withers. Now apply appropriate pressure on the rope, and gently pull the rope so that you are asking the horse to bend their neck and head towards the pressure. The horse may or may not bend its neck immediately, but don’t worry it happens.

Many times the horse’s neck is bent towards you in the correct but there may still be some tension on the lead rope, This means the horse hasn’t completely given in. Continue this until the horse nose dips a little more and their is a release of pressure. Stop right away when this happens. This should be done regularly while alternating from left to right.

Getting Your Horse to Go Around You in a Circle

You can also use Long-lining, which is another valuable training tool for draught horses. It is a combination of ground driving and traditional lunging. The handler uses two long lines to work a horse in a circle to imitate and copy the cues given through lines. This exercise will teach your draft horse to move forward, turn, and to stop. And this is how you can train your draught horse for offering an excellent riding experience. This way you can see properly and control your horses movement of their feet.

Always keep the momentum going, and if needed use a lunge whip to keep them moving.

This is also one of the best ways to train them right from wrong. When your horse does the wrong thing, immediately start to move their feet around you.

Use the lunge whip at the shoulder and move forward if your horse starts to move in. Your stance should be parallel to the barrel of the horse and in a calm and confident way. When using long lining it is key that you use clear verbal communication, not just in long lining a horse but in all training aspects.

Hind Leg and Shoulder Movement

horses power hind end

Did you know that the horses power comes from their hind- end and draft horses are no different. So moving their hind-end is another great way to make them move. So when you are in control then you should be able to make the horse step over this will take the power out of the hind-end.

The horse should cross one leg in front of the other, this is to move away from pressure. Take some steps as if you are going towards the their hind-end now take the hand with the lead rope and place over towards your horses withers area making the horses neck bend towards you. Now put some pressure on the lead rope and move forward towards the hind-end of the horse. While doing this your horse should naturally step away from you and the pressure you apply.

If this doesn’t work then you can also have a lounge whip on hand to encourage this movement. Once your draft horse crosses one leg on front of the other while stepping away then immediately release the pressure.

Now for moving the shoulders, stand facing your horse a few feet away, then step confidently towards one side of the horse and place your hand up towards your horses eye. This will act as a barrier without touching them. Next in your other hand have a lunge whip and wave toward the shoulder in which you are near and move them back. Start again Repeat this step if he does not do this. The aim is to move the front legs back, one in front of the other. Once he does this then release the pressure immediately.

As you now know a few ways in which to teach your draft horse to adhere to you stepping back on command. You will have more respect from your horse and this is just so important ans so that they don’t overstep your boundaries.

Desensitizing Your Draft Horse

We talked a bit about Desensitizing your draft horse in a previous post and if your haven’t already read it then definitely go ahead and read it here. It will help you with very important small steps that will train your horse to listen and respect you in any training exercise.

Desensitizing your horse is such an important step in preparation of the saddle. Horse are prone to fleeing when they feel like they are in danger or if the are in a situation that scares them. It also builds trust and helps your horses confidence in the long run.

When doing these exercises it is critical that you are patient and have a calmness about you. Also that you have good communication skills and positive body language.

Always get your horse used to seeing, smelling and touching the saddle and all the tack, so that it makes it easier when its time for the saddle.

So in preparing for a saddle then you should have things hanging or swinging over their back, touching their stomach, legs, hind-end, and sides. Some thing that may help that you can easily get are bags, tarps, or saddle pads. These are all things that have plenty of movement as well as noise. Your can place them to the horse so they can get used to the noise and movement.

Try and hold some material up tho the body until they calm themselves and stop moving. Always repeat theses steps with different materials over the years to stay on top of your horses reactions to seemly scary thing and situations.

Desensitizing your horse is pretty simple, put on a bridle and a bit. The horse can get used to it that way which will be much easier when it comes the time to ride. Also a good tip is when the horse has the bit in its mouth practice flexing, so that the horse gets use to it.

Now for some desensitizing to pressure. This is great for getting them used to the saddle. This needs to be done before you actually get on your horse. You need to apply pressure to the side, mouth and back and so on. When the time comes this pressure will come from your legs, sitting on the saddle, the movement and your hands etc.

To start, apply some pressure to their sides by pressing your thumb into the horses side and asking them to move in the direction you want with his shoulders and/or hind-end. This will come from leg aids in the future.

In return this will learn your horse to move away from the leg pressure you apply so when you are riding this will come easier.

Getting Your Draft Horse Comfortable With The Saddle

training a horse to ride

All these steps taken so far has such an important role. You can take shortcuts in training your horse correctly but it will come back and bit you at some point. All steps taken previously have lead to this point and will be needed in order to successfully train your horse for riding.

Try to not rush and do it all at once take you time your horse will find it overwhelming if rushed. Remember your in control so when you put on the saddle, take it off a few moments later. That way your horse is not in charge, you are! Add on time with the saddle being on each time so the horse gets more comfortable with it being on longer.

So your horse is somewhat used to seeing and smelling the tack at this stage. This will make him/her a little more relaxed. Place the saddle on the horse back and then get the horse used to you pulling it off. Repeat this step often until it doesn’t even phase them.

Practice on both sides of the horse when throwing the saddleOpens in a new tab. over your horses back. Pat the saddle, lift the flaps adjust everything, this way your draft horse can feel all the movement the saddle can make.

So now for adding the girth or otherwise known as the clinch. It can be an important step to let one side of the girth hang while the other side is attached. The reasons why this is so important is that a horse can have a bit of a freak out because one side of the girth is hanging down uncontrollably. Rub the end of the girth all over the body especially leg, belly, side and all under.

Once comfortable tighten the girth to your draft horse, then untighten and let loose, then of course repeat, repeat, repeat. This way your horse wont have time to flip out. Although a lot of the time people tighten the girth and the horse bucks out or gallops arounds then tires out, and they believe this is good. This is definitely NOT a good idea as the horse then associates this as a bad experience which in turn is dangerous with you and the trainer.

So it’s saddle time now. This is all new for your horse and indeed for you. You may have trained a horse before but each is unique so it can be a lot different. Research, knowing what your doing, confidence and responsibility will help you through this.

Once they are relaxed let them stand with the saddle fully done up with the girth and all on Then Walk, jog with him, and let him canter with the saddle on and the stirrups down. This will let your horse get used to the movement, flow and noise of the saddle on their back. They may buck but they wont affiliate the feeling of the girth tightening initially. Do this as long as it takes until he is completely comfortable.

Stirrup Attachment

Stirrups on a saddle

So a great way to start is by placing the saddle and tightening the girth then adding one stirrup. Leave it to hang though and start on the side where you are standing. This way it is safer as if the horse freaks out the will do this away from you and not in towards you.

Now ask your draft horse to move around and walk with it like this so he/she gets used to it. Do it a few different ways like in circles, back and fourth, and changing direction. This way your horse is so busy that they don’t have this to think much about it and freak out.

Once your draught horse is absolutely comfortable then you can add the other stirrup on the opposite side. Attach the stirrup exactly the same way. Now repeat the process so that he is also comfortable with the other. Now your horse is relaxed and happy to have the stirrups on.

Weight In The Saddle

Now some people may think this is the hardest part of the whole thing which is sometimes correct. But remember be confident and positive. This part will completely test your courage as well as your patience. Its also worth mentioning that a horse can sense what you are feeling so make sure you are feeling completely confident.

Now that your horse is ready lets add some weight!

Here you should resemble the movement of mounting them. So place your hands and arms on your horses back. This will get them used to the process of jumping and mounting your horse.

So now having done all this, next its time to lay over your horses back. Now before you do this always pull their head and nose to their side so that you are always in control.

To do this, jump up easy and lay on their back with your stomach laying towards their back. This way you can easily get off quickly if needed.

It also is a great idea if you have a friend or a trusted person to lead while you are on your horse. Great idea for the horse to get used to the weight and the movement on their back.

Sitting On Your Draft Horse

Draft horse training

So throughout this article we have been implementing practices for these specific reasons. So with every touch, you have be desensitizing your horse for this moment. The trick is, when you first own or get your horse you should touch them, lean on their back, on their side, this is so you get them used to the feeling of some sort of weight on them and on their back.

Once then your draft horse has mastered standing calmly with the girth hanging let the move around with it. Then you can go ahead and attach the girth/clinch on the other side. Now first you should bring you horses head and nose towards you so that if the horse does get uneasy then you can remove the power from the hind-end and you are in control.

As soon as your horse is completely comfortable when you are laying on their back, then it’s time for the big one and sit on your draft horse. This will take patience and courage. Of course have your horses nose and face in towards you. This is extremely important now more than ever.

So first put your foot in the stirrup like normal. Now apply pressure but don’t swing the leg over like you would usually do. If everything goes good and your draft horse isn’t nervous or freaking out then put some weight on the stirrup by standing in the stirrup.

Once comfortable, swing the leg over easy and sit, but only for a few seconds then you can dismount. This way you are in control and the horse isn’t giving much time to consider anything or even be overwhelmed. Remember the key is repetition. Do this over and over, mount and dismount while steadily increasing your sitting time on your draft horse for this horse exercise.Opens in a new tab.

Moving While In The Saddle

It’s now time to add in some movement while sitting in the saddle. Try asking your horse to move and walk forward, backing up and turning their head. So all the training you taught your horse will come into play here and you will be introducing these now from the saddle. While applying pressure in the areas to move forward, back, left and right that you taught already is going to be the same. This means that he/she should respond correctly to your cues.

Now for some well deserved riding! Next we will ask your horse to walk, trot, canter and so on. From here on in, it will be you and your horses knowledge that will get you through.

Taking The First Step, Literally

Start by moving their head and neck from left to right, do this by lowering and pulling your rein to your hip whatever side you start on is fine. This is to one side of your body, now apply pressure now as soon as he/she respond in the correct way applaud, and reward them. This way they know and remember for the next time that they done great.

Once your horse finds this easy the next thing to start is disengaging the hind-end remember this is very important as we have discussed throughout this article. From here they will get used to the feeling of the pressure from the leg.

For moving your horse, grab your rein towards the side of your hip firmly with no slack, then leg pressure slightly behind the girth to the flexed towards side. Once your horse acknowledges this and starts to move their back legs to go then release.

Keep it nice and simple your horse will find it easier this way, than overloading him/her with different training and exercises. Always show that he/she has done a good job an reward them if they do it correctly. Plus remember this is a brand new experience so not to much at the start or you will overwhelm them and also never reward bad behavior. But reward even the smallest of milestone they overcome or new exercises they try.

Loads Of Movement In The Saddle

Steps to train a horse

So when you have your horse used to all of that it’s time to start moving, shifting and wiggling around in the saddle. Start with putting your feet in and out of the stirrup, wiggling in the saddle, leaning over to each side and standing in the saddle like you are going to trot. All these exercises will make your horse feel more at ease in the saddle.

As said before just repeat until they master it, and you will gradually get it. Remember keep the nose in towards you, that way you can easily disengage the hind-end so that above all else your in control.

If all these steps are carried out correctly then you will have a safe and trusting horse. This is the most important thing. It’s ok to have a horse that is the fastest, the strongest or even the biggest but without you or you horse feeling safe then is it really worth that. Before you even consider owning or training a horse, make sure that your end goal is to have a safe, friendly and most of all happy horse.

Now that you know all of this and done all this your future exercise are going to be much the same structure. Apply pressure and release pressure, repetition and rewarding them if done correctly is what you will need to go forward. Try and keep the training exercises on the ground and then when they are ready, do them on the saddle.


Hoping the article will help you train your draught horses correctly to have a pleasant horse riding experience full of pleasure. During the old days, the draft horses were only used as the machines to keep the agriculture industry and the armies functioning globally. But later on, the progress has put the draft horses to pasture, and people then started training the Clydesdale’s to provide a pleasant riding experience. The draft horses do not require much different training among all the other horse breeds, but they will need particular specific instructions. So, start training your Clydesdale to have a fantastic riding experience!

Read More Great Posts

Healthy Clydesdale – What to feed your Clydesdale?
History of the Clydesdale Horse (All You Need To Know


Hi there, my name is Marie and I just love horses specially Clydesdales. Such precious gentle giants, what's not to love. It's a huge passion of mine to gain as much knowledge as possible about these beauties so that's why I made this blog. Pure and Simple fun reading.

Recent Posts