The information presented in this article is well within the reach of everyone to achieve. All one needs is a little study, commitment, effort and time. It will be well worth it in the long run.
Most of us in our daily lives get into a routine about how we go about doing things. This also pertains to the things we do with our horses. However, from time to time it is a good thing to stop and reflect on what we are doing and how we are going about doing it. We need to evaluate what we do when we are around our horses and listen to our horses when they get frustrated and “act out” their confusion and troubles. We should have a clear picture in our minds of how we want our horses to behave both on the ground as well as when mounted. We should then develop a plan of action for how we want to approach any unwanted issue in order to have it end up the way we envisage it in our minds so we can be comfortable and confident working around and riding a safe horse. As a reminder, truly accomplished riders are those who use their excellent judgement to avoid those situations where they might have to quickly make use of all their acquired skills just to hopefully survive.
We need to work out a plan on how we are going to make improvements and eliminate any unwanted actions and improve our relationship with our horses. These behaviors come about mostly because the horse has not been correctly educated to live respectfully in the world of the human. We must replace what the horse knows or has been taught (if we don’t like it) with what we want him to learn and know. However, we must know what we are going to ask the horse, we must know how we are going to ask, and, most importantly, we must know what results we want to get. In other words, we must ask for and get a change that we want (remembering to always be looking for the slightest try and the smallest change) or we shouldn’t ask at all. Don’t worry about how long the change lasts – just get the change. It will get better over time, if we are correct, consistent , persistent, and insistent in our work.
Undesirable Horse Behavior
Here are behaviors that must not be tolerated if we want our horses to be ‘broke’ so that we can safely enjoy the experience of being around them:
* Rushes ahead, walks too closely to you when being led, runs into you with his shoulder, etc. In other words, the horse does not know how to ‘live in his own space’ rather than yours
* Difficult to catch in the pen or pasture
* Turns his hindquarters to you in his stall instead of facing you
* Pulls back when tied
* Nips or bites
* Difficult to bridle, worm or, in general, do any work around the head
* Doesn’t stand quietly for grooming
* Difficulty picking up his feet or having his tail moved around
* Difficult to saddle or is ‘cinchy’
* Chronic head tossing
* Bucks or rears for no apparent reason
*Moves off when trying to mount
* Difficulty in leaving the stable area when being ridden
* Attempts to kick out at anyone or anything near his hindquarters
* Jigs or prances on the trail
* Kicks at other horses on the trail
* Doesn’t change gaits smoothly
* Once in a gait is difficult to stop
* Only turns in one direction
* Moves sideways as an evasive tactic
* Refuses or is difficult to trailer load
* Is ‘spooky’ around plastic bags, umbrellas, slickers, saddlebags, loud noises, etc.
* The horse’s ‘GO’ button is disconnected
To correct these unwanted actions we should ensure that our horses have a solid foundation of ground work based on gymnastic exercises as well as all the fundamental mounted gymnastic movements before we advance into whatever field of equestrian specialization we might want to pursue – barrel racing, jumping, dressage, eventing, western pleasure, team penning, etc.
In building that foundation we should be constantly evaluating ourselves as well as our horse’s performance and be looking for a psychological and not just a physical change in the horse. We should always be working toward perfecting the below listed things so that the whole horse is willingly available at all times no matter what the circumstances. This is called lightness and, in its true form, it is an effortless existence between us and our horses. But it is essential that it first come from within the rider before it can come from the within the horse.
Groundwork, when done correctly, is an indispensable part of a horse’s education. When doing groundwork the horse should be saddled and bridled so that he knows that he is going to work. To work the horse with just a halter and lead/longe line is just nothing but exercise. However, this kind of longe line work could be beneficial if the horse has a high level of oxygen/fuel mix which needs to be decreased. This reduction of the oxygen/fuel mix should be done with the horse in an ‘arc’ balance rather than his natural ‘diagonal’ balance in order that he get the most benefit.
All the exercises and movements that you do with the horse on the ground can and should also be done while mounted.
Whatever ground you chose to do the work in; arena, round pen, pasture, etc., you want to outline the area (if only in your mind) as a clock face i.e., 12-3-6-9 o’clock so that you will have a specific direction to go toward and/or place to stop or go from, etc. Remember that your horse will only be as particular doing things as you are.
The value of doing ground work is that you can teach the horse without the burden of the weight of the rider as well as the handler being able to see the horse rather than try to feel what he/she is doing when mounted.
Some of the work will be done with the horse ‘in frame’ (under some form of constraint through the use of ropes or other artificial aids) which will add a degree of gymnastic value to the work greater than when the horse is ‘unframed’. However, some of the work will be done with the horse ‘unframed’ (in his natural balance form).
Equipment to be Used.
- Whips and Sticks. The whips and sticks used (by sticks I mean a piece of hollow bamboo or a piece of thin natural wood such as birch) need to be of an appropriate length for the contemplated work. The choice will depend on the personality of the individual horse. Every whip or stick has its own energy, sound, and degree of ‘whippiness’. A duller (stiffer) whip will create more elevation in a movement (more ‘bounce’) and also is better to move a structure (part) of the horse. A ‘whippier’ whip will create more forward movement. Under no circumstances should a ‘dead’ instrument such as a fiberglass pole (with or without a ‘raggy’ length of rope attached to it) be used as it has no ‘life’ to it.
- Lead Lines. The type of rope that you use for a lead line is important. It should be relatively heavy so it moves with energy with only a slight movement on your end of it to make that happen. Double-braided yacht rope is best and it should be 12 to 14 feet long.
- Halter. It is best to have a rope halter. It should be fitted so that the under part fits snugly under the horse’s jaw bones in the throat latch area before securing it. This is to ensure that it does not slip out of place during the work.
- Longe Whip. The length of the longe line should be appropriate to the work to be done. In all cases, it should be able to touch the horse, if warranted and necessary, from where you are standing without you running after the horse to do it . The horse is acutely aware of its length and knows whether it can touch him or not.
Politely Being Led on a Slack Lead Line.
Before you even get to the work area to begin the ground education of the horse, you must get him there.The principal purpose of this exercise is to have the horse respect and abide by the boundaries (distance) that you set for him to stay within when leading him. It also provides you a better safety environment to operate in. It is best to do this exercise in an alleyway or at least with a barrier on one side to provide some confinement so the horse has less of an inclination to evade.
You should have in mind a precise distance that you want between you and where you want the horse to stay while being led. It could be 2-3-5 feet behind you, it doesn’t matter. After a little time you can lead him at whatever distance you want. You may even want him to walk alongside you at your shoulder, although that position is not in your best interest, because if something were to startle the horse and he quickly moves either toward you or away from you, you could be knocked down or pulled down.
You will have a four to five foot long hollow piece of bamboo with you with a 12 to 14 foot lead line attached to a rope halter.
Start walking down the aisle carrying the stick in a vertical position in front of you and with the horse behind you. If he tries to surge ahead of you, at that moment, as you continue walking forward you will start moving the bamboo stick up and down in a horizontal fashion in front of his face, but avoid touching him. If he continues forward then let him ‘run into’ the stick with his nose. This should prompt him to back off from the stick and you should then put him at the distance that you have decided upon and continue walking forward.
Now return the stick to a vertical position in front of you as you continue walking. If he continues to challenge the distance, just repeat the process again, and again, and again until the horse gets the idea. You may have to do this for several days, but in the end it will be worth your while.
On the other hand, If the horse refuses to follow you or ‘drags’ his feet, continue to walk forward with the lead line in front of the horse and encourage him to follow the lead line by firmly making contact with the stick between his hocks and buttocks until he gets slack in the rope. Again this may have to done for several days, but the rewards will be worthwhile.
As a word of caution, it is counter-productive to circle the horse around you and bring him back to where he was every time he gets ahead of you. He will get very good at circling but will not learn to keep his distance from you.
Eventually, just the mere act of raising of your hand (without the bamboo stick) will suffice to put him back at the prescribed distance you have determined. And, as an added bonus, with a little effort you could even have the horse walking in step with you whether you walk fast or slow.
- When longing your horse on a circle ensure that its shape conforms to the diameter of the circle he is being longed on. His head should be positioned over his inside knee and the hind legs should be tracking in the foot steps of the forelegs. However, when the circle gets to be 20 feet or less then the inside hind leg should be stepping under the mass of the body with the outside hind leg stepping in the track of the outside foreleg. That way the horse will be correctly incurved to the circle and will be moving in ‘arc’ balance as opposed to being in ‘diagonal’ balance which is his natural balance.
- To begin the work, position yourself in the center of the enclosure and determine where you want 12 o’clock to be. Maintain your position. But you can rotate around the circle by holding the heel of either foot (depending on which direction you are going to ask the horse to go) and lifting the toe of that foot 90 degrees to the next number of the clock face (either 3 or 9 o’clock and so forth to the other numbers around the enclosure). That way you will be the stationary fixed figure around which the horse must circulate and that will result in a perfect circle. Start the horse on the circle by asking him to go forward and away from you. Do not step backward as that would draw the horse into you. You will maintain your position in the middle of the circle.
- You want to maintain some slack in the lead line with an even droop from your hand to the horse’s halter. If the line becomes taut then the horse is no longer on an even circle but is pulling to the outside. Just let him continue until he figures out how to relieve the pressure on his head – do not pull on him.
- If the belly of the lead line is dragging on the ground, then the horse is falling into the circle and again is not making a perfect circle. Just push his hindquarters out onto the circle while holding firm on the lead line. As his hindquarters move out it will cause his head to turn slightly inward and he will again be on a perfect circle.
- As the horse circles around you squeeze the fingers holding the lead line line as the horse’s inside front foot strikes the ground. That should remind him to keep his head over his inside knee. Do not pull the horse’s head into the circle as that would disturb his balance which we are trying to develop.
- The circle work should include having the horse change speed within gaits, and change between gaits with, over time, a minimum of effort on your part, such as raising your finger/arm or ‘clucking’ to him.
- Given that a round pen has an indirect influence on bending the horse without much influence from you, you want the horse to understand that you can create bend in his body and also let it out. This can be accomplished at an advanced level using the following procedures.
- Attach two quarter inch lines (about 9 feet long with snaps at one end) to each ring of a snaffle bit and secure each of them to either side of the saddle at a place about level with where you placed them on the bit. The lines should be taut but not in a confining manner but just so that the horse knows that there is a ‘boundary’ that must not be exceeded.
- Next, have a rope about 20’ to 24’ long and about 5/16” in diameter with a snap at one end. Place the snap end to the rigging ring of the saddle, then bring it forward and ‘run’ it through the snaffle bit (inside to outside) and then back to your hand.
- Hold the rope in the hand in which the horse is going to be moved and hold the driving whip in the other hand. Then start the horse onto a circle and use the lead line in your left hand to create bend in the horse’s body by opening and closing your fingers while continuing to drive him forward.
Enlarging and Decreasing Circles.
When having the horse do circle work, start him and have him maintain a planned distance from you (you being the fixed center point that the horse must move around and stay an equal distance from you through the entire circle – or else you will not have a true circle). Once he gets better balance at a larger distance, then you should vary the distance by enlarging and decreasing the circumference of the circle. This will cause the horse to have to balance and rebalance himself which is an important element in riding.
Circles with the Hindquarters Making a Larger Circle than the Shoulders.
While circling the horse, keep his shoulders on one track and ask him to move his hindquarters further out. Thus he will be doing a circle at a slight angle with his shoulders making one track and his hindquarters making a wider track to the outside.
Changing Direction While on a Circle.
- This is a good test to see if the horse is following ‘the feel of the lead rope’.
- Lets take the example of when the horse is circling to the left. You will initially be holding the lead line in your left hand and the whip, stick or longe whip in your right hand. When you want to change direction to the right you will switch the lead line to your right hand while, at the same time, switching the whip or stick to your left hand.
- You will hold the lead line out in front of the horse and to the right as that is the direction you want the horse to go to. As the horse feels the lead line and starts to turn to the right you want to follow his movement and keep the stick or whip with the tip of the stick pointing upward but following his head in an arcing manner near his right eye as the horse’s shoulders begin to step around.
- When the horse does this movement you want him to move his shoulders away from you by stepping his inside (right) front foot over and across his outside (left) front foot so that he will now be moving to the right on the same circle that he was on when traveling to the left. If he does not move his shoulders away from you, you want to encourage him to do so by taking a big step toward his shoulders with energy or pointing the stick at his shoulders.
Step Around Exercise.
- This exercise encourages a horse to stand in his own space as well as getting him comfortable standing next to a barrier.
- You will stand against a barrier (either in a round pen or the straight side of an arena) and with the horse standing about 10 feet in front of you. Using a longe whip you will ask him to move (either to the right or the left) in a semi-circle (keeping the same distance from you throughout the exercise and keeping his shoulder away from you) so that he ends up standing parallel to the barrier and as close to it as possible. This may take some time because, initially, he may not want to move his body close to the barrier from concern that he might bang his hips against it.
- Let him stand there for a few moments and praise him. Then have him move in a semi-circle in the opposite direction keeping the same distance from you as before.
Step Through Exercise.
- The value of this exercise is that it teaches the horse that you can move him around AND control his ‘speed’ by the energy you provide. This exercise is paramount for trailer loading. It also gets the horse to accept pressure on both sides of his body (yours and the barrier) at the same time and at whatever distance you want.
- You will want to have a ‘whippy’ whip for this work so the horse moves with energy when you want him to.
- To begin, stand about 10 feet from a barrier/fence (or more, depending on the personality of the horse) and ask the horse to pass between you and the barrier. You want him step-by ‘flat’ not ‘round’ to the barrier with his whole body. In the beginning, you can walk along with him to provide direction and pressure but do this only for three or four times until he gets the idea. After that you will maintain a stationary position.
- Then, in short order, you want to decrease the distance between you and the barrier. BUT, be careful!. The horse may, at first, react to the pressure of having pressure on both sides of himself. Stop him at the barrier when he is between you and the barrier.
- Then start him forward again NOT by leading him with the lead line, BUT by driving his hip forward with the whip.
- Later on, you can ask the horse to change direction as he is against the barrier and go back the other way. The confinement of the barrier will hold him in place and cause him to shift his weight to his hindquarters as he brings his front end around and steps his shoulders away from you. This also starts the horse down the road of learning how to mobilize his shoulders – a forgotten aspect of the horse’s training.
Getting the Horse to Stand in His Own Space.
- The multiple benefits of this exercise is that it teaches the horse to stand still, be patient, and be obedient. It also teaches the horse to ground tie. It can be helpful when the horse must be shoed or if you have to drop the rope on the ground to open or close a gate. In other words, you want the horse to learn to ‘stand in his own space’.
- It is preferred that you do this work in a round pen, but if the horse gets ‘tough’ then position him alongside a barrier or in an alleyway where it’s easier to block him from escaping from you.
- Start this exercise by positioning yourself about three to six feet in front of the horse and have him keep his body straight. Create energy in the lead rope by moving it in a side-to-side motion, starting softly and increasing the intensity of the motion until he takes a step back. The instant he steps back, stop the rope from moving and go to him and pet him. Then return to your original position. If you move backward with the horse as you are moving the lead rope you will end up being the same distance from the horse as when you started, which will cancel out the point of the exercise.
- Then ask for another step backward and so on until the horse is at the desired distance from you that you have chosen him to be. After these few steps, have him stand still. You want the horse to remain where you have put him and keep his attention on you.
- If he moves forward, correct him until he again moves backward. If he takes two steps forward, move him three steps backward. If he gets nervous and has to move, let him go backward, but not forward.
- Eventually, you can leave the rope on the ground and have the horse stand still.
Moving the Hindquarters Around the Forehand Exercise.
- This is a very important exercise and one that you want to start to develop from the first session (along with the next exercise). The reason for this is that the horse’s main seat of resistance is to plant his inside hind leg and not move it either because he does not want to or because he does not know how or where to move his feet as of yet.
- This exercise teaches the horse to both ‘engage’ his inside leg (engagement is when the inside hind foot steps under the mass of his body and forward) or ‘disengage’ it (disengagement is when the inside hind foot steps across the plane of the body rather than forward under the mass of the body). However, the latter movement teaches the horse to ‘unload’ his hindquarters in order to lessen his ‘drive ‘effort. It is the movement that is at the heart of the ‘emergency stop’. It should be taught initially and then not done again as you want the horse to always drive forward with energy.
- Once you have the disengagement steps working, then concentrate on the engagement ones. Start the exercise by having the horse walk a small circle, about 8’-10’, with his nose over his inside knee. When his inside hip is in the down position (there will be no weight on the inside foot), touch his inside hind leg at the cannon bone or the stifle joint with a stiff (structure) whip and get it to move so that the inside hind foot steps forward and under the mass of the body.
- Do this every time the hip is down. He may not do this immediately. He may step his inside hind foot next to his outside hind foot in a shuffling manner or step it behind the outside foot. In either case, the horse is bracing or tensing and his rib-cage nearest you will not be incurved to the circle. This is incorrect. Just send more energy toward his hip until he steps under his body mass and forward. The flexing of the ribs is a very important part of all the work that you will ever do with the horse.
Moving the Forehand Around the Hindquarters Exercise.
- This exercise is more difficult for the horse to do as well as for the handler to accomplish, if for no other reason than the fact that the horse carries more weight on his forehand than he does his hindquarters (it is generally about a 58% to 42% ratio) and he must shift this weight to his hindquarters to perform the exercise.
- It is preliminary work for the turnaround when mounted and also helps to increase the mobility of the horse’s shoulders which is a forgotten aspect of horsemanship. You want the horse to move his forehand away from you in a semi-circle without his head getting higher than your head and with his hindquarters remaining more or less stationary. You want his shoulder to move when his eye is about in the middle of his chest. Be satisfied with just a few steps at first and build on that.
- Start the movement by going to the right with your body facing the horse and standing between his eye and shoulder. Send energy toward his eye by using a four to five foot hollow bamboo stick held in your left hand.
- Your right hand will be holding the lead line. It should be close to his neck in the vicinity of where the withers are located. With each step of the foot nearest you as it crosses over and in front of his other foot, you want to touch his neck with the rope. This is a preliminary gesture to introduce him to the neck rein – another forgotten element of horsemanship. If the horse tries to escape from the pressure of the bamboo stick by moving forward, use the lead line as a ‘brake’ to prevent that by moving your hand slightly backward.
- Also, in time, you want the inside hind foot (the one on the opposite side from where you are standing) to become the pivot foot as the forehand moves in a semi-circle away from the pressure of your signals.
- To have the horse execute this movement correctly he must step his left front foot across and in front of his right front foot. If the foot steps next to or behind the other front foot, it indicates that he is not bending his rib-cage on the right side as he should. If that occurs, just increase the energy you are directing toward him until he crosses the leg correctly. You must move with the horse and keep your position between his eye and shoulder. If necessary, physically push the horse around to help him understand what you are requesting.
Forward to the Backup ‘Between the Sticks’ Exercise.
- The principle purpose of this exercise is to teach the horse to go forward and backward with energy and fluidness using only your body movements as cues. In the beginning, do not be concerned about ‘sequencing’ the steps, but later on you do want to have a specific number of steps executed in each direction which will really help the horse concentrate on you.
- Depending on the direction that you are going in, you will have in one hand a short (about four to five foot long) hollow bamboo stick positioned in front of the face of the horse and in the other hand a six to seven foot long driving whip positioned behind his hindquarters. The horse will have on a rope halter with a lead rope attached to it.
- It is best to begin this exercise with a fence or other type of barrier on one side of the horse so that he doesn’t attempt to evade, but if he escapes by going ahead of you and away from the barrier, just bring him around again to the barrier and start over.
- You should try to move him, at first, only about 12 feet in either direction. Your preferred position is to stay behind the horse’s eye and have him follow your body movements. At the beginning, the sequence of movement of this exercise is to first get the backup, secondly get forward movement, and then finally, the stop.
- Start by leaning backward then, almost immediately, start stepping backward.
- If the horse does not begin to also shift his weight backward (which he probably will not do), then create energy in front of his face by moving the bamboo stick up and down in a rhythmic horizontal manner.
- The whip in your other hand must be held away from the horse so he is not blocked and he feels free to move back.
- If he does not honor your request, then lightly ‘tap’ him on the nose with the stick, more or less letting him ‘run into the stick’. Repeat this procedure until the horse has traveled backward about 12 feet or so.
- Now you want him to go immediately forward. So, take the bamboo stick away from the horse’s face, lean you body forward and then commence walking forward.
- If the horse does not respond to your motion, then use the driving whip to ‘tap’ him between the hocks and the buttocks to have him move forward with energy. Go about 12 feet or so, stop your forward movement, take the driving whip away from the hindquarters and see if the horse responds to your body movement by stopping also.
- If he does not stop, bring the bamboo stick back again across the horse’s face and in a rhythmic horizontal manner begin to move it up and down until he, once again, runs into it with his nose.
- Repeat this maneuver until the horse will respond to just your leaning forward or backward with your upper body (with perhaps a small step to enhance your intentions).
Side Pass Exercise.
- Teach this movement on the ground, but limit its use when horseback as it has a tendency to have the horse disengage his hindquarters and lose his forward drive when you are mounted. A stiff (structure) whip about six feet in length or a bamboo stick of similar length is appropriate for this work.
- Position the horse’s head at the fence (round or straight) and move him sideways with all four feet moving equally. Keep the horse’s head tipped toward you a little bit and have his shoulders moving a little ahead of his hindquarters.
- Begin the exercise by holding the whip or stick horizontally and moving each end of it alternately, touching first the shoulders of the horse and then the hindquarters. In time, you will be able to move the whole horse together. And eventually, as the horse gets a better understanding of what you want, you will be able to just hold the stick horizontally, and the horse will move sideways.
Flexing the Horse’s Head Exercise.
- This exercise is a stationary one. The purpose of this exercise is to have the horse learn to relax his poll and release tension in his jaw. Any tension in the jaw or poll will create a corresponding tension or ‘brace’ in his back and can hinder the flow of saliva in his mouth. It also will make it more difficult to create bend in the horse or for him to hold his nose at a near vertical plane with the poll at the highest point when moving in a collected frame.
- To begin with, stand facing the horse’s head on either the right or left side (but you will do this exercise on both sides of the horse).
- Using the right side as an example, place your right hand over the bridge of the horse’s nose and your left hand on the large jaw muscle on the right side of his head.
- Using a light torquing action, you will try to move the jaw under the throat latch area just a slight amount, the same as if he were laterally flexed in that direction when mounted.
- At the same time you will move his face toward you using a little pressure from your right hand on the bridge of his nose. If the horse braces against your hands, just hold this slight pressure (you can use the tips of your fingers to press on the bridge of his nose) until he begins to release the tension in his atlas-axis joint which is just behind his atlanto-occipital joint in the region of the poll.
- Then release the pressure and rub his face over the eye with soft strokes to let him know that he did well. The horse will signify to you that he has released the tension in the joint by either yawning, moving his jaw, or perhaps, blinking.
- As a cautionary note, you do not want the horse to tilt his head or raise it at the poll as that would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Also remember that you are working only the horse’s head. You must keep the base of his neck straight and connected to his shoulders. In other words, you do not want him to bend at the lower part of his neck.
- When you and the horse become comfortable with this exercise, you will need only to ‘suggest’ with your hands (no pressure) and he will be able to flex his head at almost a ninety degree angle from where he stands, with his ears remaining parallel to each other and the base of his neck straight.
‘Come to the Fence’ Exercise.
- The usefulness of this exercise is that you can have the horse come to you and stand parallel to whatever you are standing on and also stand quietly while you mount, whether it is a mounting block, fence, boulder, or a higher piece of ground than the horse is standing on.
- You need to develop a kind of ‘signal’ so that you don’t have to touch the horse to have him willingly respond to it immediately and unhesitatingly.
- There are all kinds of signals you can come up with and use, but I will share with you one that I have had great success with over the years. It is also less time consuming than endlessly circling the horse around a mounting block every time he chooses to move away from it before you mount.
- You want the first session to last long enough so that the horse gets a good understanding of what you want.
- Ideally, you want to set up the horse so that he can only move 90 degrees. To do this use a corner of an arena if one is available or place some barrels or other barriers to limit the space that he can move in.
- You want to use a ‘buggy’ whip about six feet long with just the last 1/3 of the whip being ‘whippy’. The horse should be haltered with a rope halter on a 12 to 14 foot lead line.
- It is best from a safety point of view for you to stand on the outside of the fence or straddle the top rung of the fence with the horse on the inside.
- If the area has the facilities, you can take a few wraps of the lead line around a vertical post or a vertical section of the fence so that if the horse pulls (which he might do) he will pull on the fence and not you.
- To begin the work, touch the saddle one time with the whip, then raise your finger, and almost immediately make a ‘clucking sound’ to the horse. Immediately after that reach over the fence and across the horse and touch his outside hip (the one on the opposite side from you) with the last third of the whip to ask him to move sideways and stand parallel to the fence or barrier.
- When the horse comes or moves toward you (even just a little bit at first), take the pressure of the whip away and then start the process again.
- If he moves away from you, tap the saddle with the whip, ‘cluck’, raise your finger and create pressure with the whip on his outside hip until he moves toward you again.
- It is best to have someone with you so that they (NOT you) can lead the horse away from your position when he moves toward you to stand parallel and then have them bring the horse back to you so that YOU do not drive him away from you every time he stands parallel to you. This is done to relieve the horse from the intensity of the exercise and give him a break.
- When the horse has a good understanding of the process, stop for the day. But continue to do this work for five straight days to solidify the idea in the horse’s mind.
- The sequence is: first tap the saddle with the whip one time followed by raising your finger, then follow quickly with a ‘cluck’ and finally, touch the horse with the whip on his outside hip.
- Over time, you will be able to just raise your finger, ’cluck’, and the horse will come parallel the fence or barrier and wait to be mounted. He may even, when he sees you climb on a mounting block, fence, boulder, etc., on his own accord move parallel where you are.
You want your horse walking, trotting and cantering in the snaffle bit on a loose rein as well as with contact before you transition to a leverage/curb bit.
Your up and down transitions down from each gait should be smooth as well as transitions within a gait with no head tossing or tail swishing.
You should want to get started on flying changes of lead and doing some counter cantering (traveling one direction while on the opposite or “wrong” lead. This exercise strengthens the horse and balances him.
You should be able to rock your horse’s weight forward and backward without causing him to move his feet or root his head.
You should also be able to move his hindquarters from side to side without having his feet move. This exercise and exercise ‘D’ will sensitize you and your horse to each other’s weight shifts.
You should have your horse turning (pivoting) with lightness and smoothness in both directions, on the forehand as well as over the hocks.
You should want your horse to move forward quickly and with some life in his body when you ask for it.
When backing up you should be able to set the pace—from slow, to quick, to slow—and move straight back as well as in a serpentine movement or a circle or a figure-eight pattern.
You should want your horse to stand quietly (for however long) on a loose rein.
And you should want them to be gentle to handle.
Some Helpful Hints to Remember in Building the Foundation
‘Little’ trouble spots in a horse that we humans tend to overlook can then turn into ‘big’ trouble spots when the horse decides that “enough is enough”. As a renowned horseman used to say, “Fix things up before they bloom – not after they develop.”
Sometimes you will get something that you didn’t ask for, BUT you did get something – so accept it and then shape it up next time to get what you want.
A thought weighs absolutely nothing – but there is nothing heavier than a thought that the horse doesn’t want to let go of. In other words, if you haven’t got the horse’s attention then don’t try to direct it.
So, when a horse’s head comes up and his chest goes out, it means he doesn’t want to give up his thought and comply with your thoughts.i.e., his body is caught between his thought and your thought. You must do something to capture the horse’s thought and keep it so it can match yours – then inattentiveness will disappear.
One of the things that you could do if the horse’s attention wanders is to ‘disengage’ the horse’s hindquarters but only in order to break up his train of thought and ‘unstick’ his brain in order to get his attention back to you.
If a horse wants to rush home when on a trail ride, work on the other end of the problem (going out) so the horse is going with you willingly and is not mentally still back at the barn. Start out the ride at a high trot till you get to where you are going to turn around and return to the stables. Then ask the horse to walk back. He may not do this for a few days, but he will, if you stick with this strategy, eventually realize that it is you who ‘owns’ the ride and he will comply with what you ask him to do.
If your horse is not interested in where his feet are, try trotting him over some cavalettis (or ground poles, if that’s all that you have available). After he stumbles a few times he will get particular as to where he is placing his feet and ‘sharpen up’.
One way to work on collection is to trot (a good working trot, not a shuffle) and stop over and over and over again. If you will do this work for a week or so you will be pleasantly surprised at all the areas, not just collection, that you have tidied up. The first day or so you may not see much happening but don’t get mad and quit.
Our horses are willing to do all manner of things for us if we know how to ask them using the correct cues and learning how to communicate those cues in a non-forceful way and in such a manner that our horses can understand them and then do what we are suggesting. As I have often mentioned over the years: “You must own the ride and ride every stride or else the horse will take you for a ride.”