Watching riders engage obstacles in an ease of handling phase of working equitation, I noticed that a common, and familiar, problem kept cropping up.
It’s the same problem that I see demonstrated when we are riding out on the ranch and my grandkids are faced with opening a gate or side passing up to an object.
In order to get the required sideways movement I see them repeatedly kicking or nudging the horse with a leg but getting no response.
This is because the horse does not understand that the leg is giving a signal that he needs to obey. If your mother once told you to move over and you didn’t respond, and she was anything like my mom, you got moved over unceremoniously, possibly with the aid of a hand or even a hairbrush or wooden spoon.
These actions are called a “signal” or a “cue” followed by a “reinforcer” (the hair brush). The horse learns by consistent repetition, and once he learns something, he almost never forgets it.
To build a leg signal to move sideways we start from the ground.
I will use a series of blogs to explain the method we use.
After a horse has been gentled enough to stand tied, perhaps in the barn or to a tie ring, position him so the he faces a wall or fence. Now, at the point on the horse’s rib cage where your upper calf would rest, point your finger and smoothly move it into his side at at that point.
If he moves away from pressure, immediately remove your finger pressure, and reward him. This reward can be anything from doing nothing, to a soft soothing kind word.
Let’s assume that he doesn’t move away. The reinforcer is the next thing you do to reinforce the “cue” given by the finger. I will tap the rib cage with a stick with steadily increasing intensity until he steps one step away from me. Like mom’s hairbrush! Then I reward.
After a brief break, maybe a couple seconds, I again give the “cue” with the finger.
If he moves, I reward.
This gets repeated on both sides until, during that session, you can reliably ask him for a step away with only a finger “cue” on both sides, with the same intensity.
Then you stop for that session.
Through repeated sessions, over time he will improve as long as you are consistent and insistent. Soon you won’t need the hair brush!
It is like a Japanese lacquered box, the sheen comes from many very thin layers of shellac.
Tune in next time for continued work on leg control of lateral movement, the power of Leggs!