Monday, May 24, 2010

Day Thirteen: Introducing the Bridge


Being able to send my horse over a bridge is much more than just a neat parlor trick for me.  For me, a bridge is:
  • A great preparation for trailer loading
  • Prepare for trail riding
  • Prepare for putting the horse on a scale (which is a neat thing to do, if there is ever a clinic in your area!)
  • As well as testing and developing your relationship with your horse
 As I've said before, having a good foundation on your colt is essential before you do this exercise.  If you can't control your horse's feet on a circle over flat ground, what makes you think you can get your horse to lift his feet up in a controlled manner onto a scary bridge?  Take the time to get your colt solid, and this exercise will come very quickly. 

Similar to the exercise where we introduced the saddle, I start off by just sending my horse near the bridge.  I'll make circles and gradually cause the horse to be closer and closer.  I'll send the horse between myself and the bridge, or in between the fence and the bridge.  All I want is for the horse to stop worrying about the bridge, and focus on what I'm asking him to do. 

With most horses, I'll give them a chance to go up to the bridge and investigate it.  If they aren't interested, that's fine, but I still like to give the option to do so. 

When I feel the colt is ready, I'll start sending him over the bridge.  Start off by sending him over the narrowest end of the bridge first.  Here's where a lot of your ground work comes into play.  We want our colt to approach the bridge at a walk.  If he trots, he is much more likely to jump the bridge, or to possibly slip and fall if he trots up onto it. 
  • If he tries to escape out one side, it's okay.  Just disengage his hips, keep his nose towards the bridge and try again.  I'll keep moving those hips out of the way and bringing the colt back to the bridge for as long as it takes. 
  • If he tries to jump over the bridge, that's okay too.  Jumping over the bridge is a try.  That colt is trying to do what you want, but just doesn't have the confidence to put his foot on the bridge yet.  It's fine.  Let him hop over, then disengage his hips and stand there for a few moments.  Send him back across, repeating the steps if he jumps.  Decrease the amount of time you let the colt rest; remember, each time you ask, you are looking for a bigger try.  The first time your colt so much as places a single hoof on the bridge, give him a long rest, a big pat, and I would probably even move onto another exercise for a while.  Let him know that he did the right thing.  
After he starts putting his foot on that bridge, let him walk across it a few times.  Many colts are fine with putting their front hooves on the bridge, but will either just step over or off to the side with their hinds.  Don't worry about it for now, it will all fall into place later. 

Once your colt can walk across the bridge (and this can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.  Most horses seem to get it in under fifteen minutes though.), try to encourage him to stop on the bridge.  Relax your body, give your cues (I exhale, relax my body, use a voice command, "whoa", then wiggle my lead rope).  Again, if you don't get the halt on the bridge, it's fine.  Just send him back over and try again.  When you even get a hesitation, reward.  Pretty soon, you'll be able to let your horse rest on the bridge.  For a while, I'll even make it the only resting spot.  If I'm asking the colt to trot around in a few circles, I'll ask him to walk near the bridge, then let him step up and take a break.  It makes the bridge a safe spot. 

Pretty soon, most horses learn to love the bridge.  I've got horses that, if you leave the bridge out in their pasture, will step up on their own and just hang out up there.  It seems to be comfortable and enjoyable for them!

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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