Friday, May 7, 2010

Day One: Getting control of the feet


The first step I take in working with any horse, is to put a bit of a handle on her from the ground. If I can't control the horse's feet, I can't stop her from leaving, from crowding me, or from simply standing somewhere I don't want!

In general, I start off by getting the horse moving forward. Now, this comes with a few caveats.

  1. I don't want the horse bolting forward in a blind panic - instead, I try to limit the horse to walking and trotting in the beginning. I don't feel that a young horse is sufficiently physically developed to endure cantering on a small circle yet. Until I have decent control of the feet, however, I don't want to move to a longer line. So, at this stage, it's just walk and trot.
  2. I don't want the horse to lean on my line. I want to be able to have my horse circle me with little to no pressure on the line.
  3. I don't want the shoulders to be falling out. If the shoulders are leaving, the horse is as good as running away.
  4. I don't want the horse to make many more than three circles without making a transition. This is meant to be a learning exercise; if my horse simply walks and trots around me, then it becomes mindless busy work. I try to make some type of transition every few circles; the transition can be a change in speed, change in direction, change in size of circle, etc. I want my horse to always be checking in with me, thinking, and reading and responding to my body language.
My goal is to be consistent. Each time I ask Stevie to move off, I try to be clear in my direction, soft in my request, and persistent enough to get results.
  1. Step one: Give a pre-signal
  • By standing up straight and putting a bit of life in my body, I signal to my horse that I am getting ready to ask for something.
2. Step two: Give direction
  • My horse needs to know which way she should move her feet. By lifting my arm and pointing, I can clearly show her what I want. I keep my arm raised until I get the horse moving in the correct direction.
3. Step three: Give motivation
  • I try to be very sequential. First I ask with a voice command. Then I put pressure behind the horse, maybe ten feet behind the tail, by swinging the tail of my rope in that direction. I then move that pressure in, until it either touches the horse, or she shifts her weight to move off.
By modifying my body position, I can influence the speed of my horse. Initially, however, these changes don't mean too much, so they are reinforced with pressure cues. Basically, anything I do in front of the horse's girth is going to cause her to slow down or turn. Anything that I do in back of that line will drive her forward to yield her hips.

Yielding the hips is exactly what I work on next. When my horse is moving around me on a circle, the simplest, most effective way to change directions is to get her to move her hips away from me, and look at me with both eyes. I can then giver her a new direction and motivator.

I don't expect perfection at this point, but it will come with practice. This is an exercise I do nearly every time I pull a young horse out of the field for work. It doesn't have to be for long, just a few circles in each direction to get the colt thinking.

Please use caution and common sense.  Horses are large animals, with an exceptional amount of power and strength.  They are also concerned above all with their own personal safety, and will do whatever they feel it takes to keep themselves from harm.  Being individuals that act and react differently, the only certainty you have when working a horse is uncertainty.  I am a professional trainer with twenty plus years experience, yet even with the knowledge I possess, I still get hurt from time to time.  This blog and the accompanying media are for entertainment purposes only.  No responsibility will be assumed for injuries or damages incurred while trying to use these methods at home.  Please ride responsibly; protective gear can save your life!

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