We all have owned that horse-the one that sat in the field doing nothing but swishing flies, eating, and converting oxygen into carbon dioxide, for a year or more. In truth, this could be a really good horse; IF you knew where to start the handling and re-working process.
In reality, this is not too complicated. Begin by catching the horse. Sometimes, if the horse has sat in the pasture for a long time, he tends to be evasive; enough that catching him is a chore. Get some feed or his favorite treats, and try the old tricks of catching him by bribes. If that doesn’t work, see if you can lead away his pasture buddy, and get him to follow along into a small enough pen (round pen, barn, shed, or stall) that you can trap him, then catch and halter him easily. If he has not been handled in quite some time (a year or more) run through a refresher course on ground manners, tying, and grooming. Handle him like you expect nothing less than the utmost respect, but handle him gently at the same time; don’t be jumping around like you’re expecting him to freak out and run around like a crazy, but be sure you are watching his body language and seeing how he reacts to being handled again.
Most horses, once trained, remember what they have been taught. They are not magically going to forget it one day, but they still need a refresher course. After working through some basic manners, try lunging him a little and then finish for the day. The next time you work him, do the same as the first time, and maybe lunge him a little longer this time. Add on little by little to your training segments, making each session a little longer so that you do not overwhelm him by throwing everything at him at once. Another note to remember: if possible, when re-working, try some training daily, but, make sure you still give him a full day off during the week. Even if you don’t have time for a full session every day, take him out of the pasture and groom him and take him for a little walk if nothing else.
At this point, even spending time with him is equally as important as working him. If he was especially spooky or nervous when you first started working with him and still seems on edge after the first week, give him another week or two of groundwork and handling until he is back in the mindset of work and not suspicious of everything you are springing back on him. Don’t just toss the saddle on his back the second day out of the field if he has been jumpy and nervous. That’s a sure way to get yourself (or him) hurt, and frighten him to a point where, it makes your work harder. If he was particularly calm about the whole thing, after a week, feel free to saddle him up and try a few circuits around the arena, field, or round pen and see how he’s feeling about being ridden again.
Some horses don’t care, while others think it’s time to take up that career as a rodeo horse! Stay calm, and build on the riding schedule. For the first week of riding, ride him one day, and then the next; just do some lunging and general handling. The second week, do a light ride daily, and then go from there, making him work a little harder and introducing something new each week of work.
Remember to give him a day off every week, and even if you don’t have time to ride or lunge that day, just give him a quick brushing and scratch his favorite itchy spots for him!