Monthly Archives: September 2018

Putting It All Together

Now you have a vocabulary to “talk” to your horse.

You know the joke “where does a 500 pound canary sleep?”

Answer: ”anywhere he wants to!”

A horse averages over a thousand pounds, so I doubt many of us have the strength to force him to do anything. However if you teach him a “language” of pressure and release, and if you make light pressure your goal, by using light signals and reinforcing them only as necessary with something like a stick, you can direct your thousand pound canary with a feather!

So let’s ride up to that horse-eating gate again.

Using the leg signal and holding him straight with light rein signals, ask for a sideways step, just one, toward the gate.

If that gets him even slightly anxious, stop. Caress, and wait.

In a while he may either take a deep breath, or lick his lips, or even softly chew the bits. Now you may softly ask for one more step.

But only one.

Again, with the soft caress, and wait for signs of relaxation.

By approaching his first gate this way, you can avoid a fight, and he will “learn his way in” with confidence, instead of fear.

If you get near the gate, I’d suggest you dismount, lead him away and live to teach another day.

Next day, do it again.

Get so that you can side pass to the gate and sit there, then side pass three steps away, stop and side pass to the gate again.

When you can side pass to the gate, and side pass away and back three times, you are ready to begin handling the gate.

There are essentially seven separate movements in going through a gate:

  1. Approaching the gate, first you become parallel to the gate, and then side pass to the gate.
  2. You unlatch the gate, then usually you will need to back-up a couple steps while holding the gate.
  3. Next you side pass with the gate in hand to open it.
  4. Then you do a turn on the forehand while holding onto the gate to get to the other side.
  5. Now side pass the gate closed.
  6. You will sometimes, then, need to back up again to reach the latch.
  7. Now you can side pass away, or just leave the gate.

Teaching this procedure to the horse it is best to break it up into clearly defined separate movements, with a rest or “dwell” of a second or more between each movement to prevent him from hurrying to get through it.

Make him wait for you.

Otherwise he will take over and get you in a bind.

Watch videos of the pros, and practice. Remember, practice doesn’t make perfect, only “perfect practice” makes perfect.

Go slow.

Do one thing at a time.

Give your thousand pound canary time to digest each lesson, and each part of each lesson. Then repeat these basics often.

Enjoy the journey, after all, you’re riding your horse!

Both Ends Now

This turn on the forehand is an exercise that needs to be done as a part of the warm up every time you ride your horse.


Well, mainly because it’s the most difficult thing to do with a horse. The horse doesn’t like to do it, and riders don’t like to do it. That’s because it’s hard.

So to make it easy it needs lots of repetition.

If you want to look like a pro, then do what the pros do. They spend a lot of time asking their horse to move its feet sideways, both front and back feet.

Which brings us to the turn on the haunches.

The old masters used to say that if you could turn the horse’s head it was probable that you would turn the horse, but not certain. If you could turn the shoulders of the horse, it was more likely that you could turn the horse. But, if you control the haunches, you control the horse!

So we started with the haunches.

However, we started out wanting to move the horse sideways to open a gate. To do that you have to move the front and back end of the horse at the same time.

If you are moving forward, take your hand out to the side, either side, and the horse will eventually go that way.

What we want to do is make sure he does it on cue.

So if you take his head to the side, then with the opposite leg, bump his shoulder, he’s more likely to move his feet to the side.

Let’s start by riding our horse to the right in a large size circle. I want you to take your right hand out to the right side, and hold it, maybe even squeeze and release it a little, then with your left leg at the girth bump his side, once or twice.

If he steps even a little bit to the right, release hand and leg.

Let him take a few steps and ask again, the same way.

Each time insist just a little more until he steps out to the right at almost ninety degrees to the line of travel. And reward the slightest try with release and soft word and caress.

You now have a cue to move the shoulder over.

The cue for the hip is leg back, and the cue for the shoulder is leg at the girth.

Split the difference and cue the horse halfway between the girth and hindquarter, and voila!, you have a cue to move the whole horse to the side!

But wait! You’re not done yet.

Now let’s work out the bugs and get a tad more precise. Moving along the fence, turn you horse’s face into the fence about forty five degrees, with your opening rein, and while doing that, put your fence-side leg on him to move him sideways a few steps.

When he takes those few steps, let him go straight, as a reward.

Practice doing this on both sides.

Remember the leg is a “cue”, not a “force”. If he doesn’t get the cue, then is the time for “the hairbrush”, so you add the stick.

One tap. -> It’s not about kicking, and no, cha cha cha.

If you have to kick, then go all the way back to square one.

The whole point is for the horse to actually learn a cue, and make use of that learned signal to activate his brain to do a movement.

Third Time’s the Charm

Oh, by the way, that last exercise gets done on both sides also.

Not only that but you do it every day for a while.

And, remember, it’s quality, not quantity, that you are looking for.

So if he takes a couple of good lateral steps, stop there. You can go work on the other side, or do something different. Then, come back and get another step or two, of excellent quality. And stop when he’s really trying to please you.

It takes insistence, and persistence.

And it is more important to do a little bit every day than it is to grind it into the ground all in one day.

Okay, now mount up. Position your horse facing the fence or wall. Pick a direction that you want to move the hind-quarters, let’s say we are going to move his hind end from left to right. Or if you are right-left dyslexic, from the pasture side toward the barn side.

Your legs are hanging softly along the horses sides, sort of like wet towels. They are touching but not squeezing.

Move your left (pasture side) leg a little farther back than it’s normal position. This is called a Pre-cue.

Then just lightly squeeze just once with your upper calf.

More than likely absolutely nothing will happen. That’s because horse doesn’ yet grasp the connection or association between the calf squeeze and the “cue” with the finger, nor the “hairbrush”.

Release the leg, the signal should only be brief, maybe only a half second. Now squeeze again, still lightly, but when you do, slap your own lower leg with your stick. Chances are you’ll get a response this time, and it may be more than you wanted, but if he moves over at all, reward with calm low voice, “good” and caress his neck next to the withers.

Wait a second or so to break the connection and do it again.

Let’s say he doesn’t get it the third time, so now instead of your leg or boot, tap him just behind your leg, on his skin,once. Normally this will get a response. If he steps over with his hind leg, reward.

After doing this on one side, go to the other side. Then when you go back to the first side, ask for two steps.

Eventually you will do sort of a swinging door leg yielding of his hind end to the fence one way, then swinging it all the way back over the other way.

Technically this is called a turn on the forehand.

When this is pretty consistent up against the fence, try it out in the open. A helpful hint is that if you ask him with your leg to move his hindquarters over and he gets a little sticky, then bring his head toward your leg with the reins.

Because most horses are somewhat stiff, if you bring his head to the left, his rear will tend to go to the right, and vice versa.

Take heart , because we’re halfway there!

Power of Legs

We are discussing the power of the legs in riding our horse, and we have acknowledged that our horse doesn’t understand that we can ask him to move off of a light leg signal, or “cue”.

In the previous work we asked our tied horse to move over away from the touch of a finger, and we repeated it over several lessons and successive days, to the point that we can now reliably move him a step or two one way or the other with little pressure or even with pointing the finger at his side.

Now we need to “up the ante”.

In order to move toward the powerful use of the leg we need to get this same response from our horse while we are moving with him.

We saddle and bridle him as if we were going to ride. Then we position him facing the wall, let’s say, we are on his left or “near” side, with his face toward the fence on our left. Holding the left rein fairly close to his mouth with a very steady hand, ask for a step sideways with that finger.

He’s likely going to find ways to tell you it’s not the same thing.

Again, you can remind him with the stick (which we previously compared to your mother’s hairbrush that was applied to your backside).

When this gets easy to do, and if you’ve done your preliminary work it shouldn’t take long, you can “take it on the road”. To do this, walk along beside him, bridle, and stick in hand, with the fence on the horses side away from you, and reach down and back with the stick and touch the spot where you plan to use your leg.

At first it may take some coaxing and rebalancing and reorganizing, ( I call it re-combooberating) but eventually you can get a few steps of a sort of diagonal movement as you walk along.

What you are shooting for is a few steps of crossing over the hind foot closest to you in front of the hind foot away from you. If you stop asking just as he does a really nice step across and reward him, that is what he will eventually try to do.

It is important that you and he both learn to do this in motion. That is because he will like the idea of anything you ask of him that involves moving forward.

It’s kind of like you remembering things better when they are funny, or fun.

It’s really not quite as hard as patting your head with one hand while rubbing your tummy with the other, now is it?

Okay next installment we will finally get in the saddle.( get it in STALL ment) okay I won’t quit my day job.