Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day Three: Relax


In nature, when a horse is nervous, they take a particular stance.  We've all seen it, especially on a windy day when a bit of plastic blows by.  The head is up as high as it goes, ears pricked forward, nostrils flared, every muscle prepared to engage in case that plastic tries anything funny...  Compare this to when your horse is at his most relaxed.  Soft eyes, low head, cocked leg, and usually, he's licking and chewing, because when a horse is relaxed, he's usually eating.

In nature, the horse only grazes when he feels safe, relaxed, and comfortable.  Luckily for us, this process works both ways; if we can cause a horse to lower his head, we can make him feel more relaxed.  This process shouldn't come about as a result of force, as force will, more often than not, cause stress and anxiety in and of itself.  We simply have to cause the horse to lower his head by making it the easiest thing to do.  If you practice frequently, it will become what is termed a "conditioned response".  Every time you cue that horse to drop his head, it will happen.

There are many different ways to accomplish this, but the following is what I have found to work the best.  Place one hand on the horse's poll, the other on the bridge of his nose.  With gentle pressure, tip the head from side to side, while encouraging it to drop.  As soon as the horse lowers his head, even if it is only a tenth of a tenth of an inch, rub on him.  Stop putting pressure on his poll, and just rub him.  Do this for a few seconds, and then repeat the process.  Pretty soon, your horse should have his nose down on the ground.

I have found this method to be, by far, the simplest way to get the horse to lower his head.  I used to use a different method; it got the job done, but my horse wasn't light, showed a lot of resistance in the learning phase, and didn't learn it as quickly or ever advance as far as with my current method.  What I used to do was place my index finger and thumb on either side of the horse's poll.  I'd then push downward with my fingers, in an almost pinching motion.  I was operating on the principle "make the wrong this difficult and the right thing easy".  This phrase is often attributed to Ray Hunt, but by many accounts, what he really said was "make the right thing easy".  It may seem like just plain semantics, but there is a big difference.  Going at a problem with the intent to make the wrong this difficult often results in more opposition.

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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