I just finished conducting a Trail Clinic at the World Championship Chuck Wagon Racing Championship in Clinton, Arkansas. I had a wonderful, interactive group of participants. I appreciate each and everyone of them. Their attentiveness, questions, and desire to try new things made my job easy. Thank You for making my Day!
A supple and flexible equine that yields to leg and rein pressure is the basis of many different disciplines. The basic maneuvers required of a horse are backing, stopping, guiding, turns, leads, lead changes, and roll backs. All of these maneuvers are developed by being able to control a horse’s head, shoulders, rib and hip. Horsemen simply use those controls with the pressure and release technique to encourage the horse to learn all of the essential elements of handling. In addition, those same cues allows us to set up more advanced maneuvers that are easy for the horse to learn and execute without much resistance. In all of our training, we want to develop relaxation in the horse. Generally, the slower you go and the more black and white you make it for the horse, the more the horse understands it and the more relaxed the horse will be.
I have a very strong philosophical belief that recreational trail horses should be the most highly trained and responsive horses in the industry. Why? There are several reasons. 1) Safety. A safe horse is a highly trained, responsive horse. When you are riding on the trail you have little or no control of the circumstances that you may encounter. You need a horse that you can control with no resistance and little effort. 2) Enjoyment. You trail ride for recreation, relaxation and pleasure. What is fun about riding a horse that is unpredictable, uncontrollable and a nuisance to ride? 3) Comfort. Hours and miles in the saddle is physically challenging for even the most dedicated trail rider. Riding an unresponsive or belligerent horse increases the physical demands on the rider and reduces the time spent in the saddle. Thus, it cheats you out of opportunities to see or experience those once –in-a-lifetime events that can occur while on the trail. 4) Cost. What is it costing you to feed and care for those horses you are keeping that you prefer not to ride? What does it cost you each time you make a trade for a new one? The good ones may cost more on the front end, but after that the expenses are the same. 5) Time. How much valuable recreational time are you wasting because of reduced time in the saddle as the result of stress, anxiety, or physical demands from riding a horse you don’t like? Time is valuable these days. I want a horse that I can catch, trailer, saddle and ride with no effort. Like cost, it takes more (time) on the front end, but the dividends are very high after that.
Getting a horse to tune in and listen to your cues begins with getting into their minds. I start my training on the ground, and hopefully at an early age, although any horse can be re-programmed. It just takes longer. Only after I build a foundation on the ground, will I progress to the saddle. All training is based on the basic principle of pressure and release. We put pressure on the horse in some way or another and as soon as the horse responds in a positive manner, we release that pressure. The horse learns to respond and give the appropriate response by the release of pressure. So if we ask the horse to move his hip, we put pressure on his hip and as soon as he moves his hip, we release that pressure. If we fail to release that pressure, the horse will get frustrated and confused and try other avenues of escape. On the other hand, if the horse responds inappropriately to pressure and we quit applying pressure, he has learned the inappropriate response to the pressure and/or cue.
Progressive pressure is our way of asking the horse in an escalating way for a response. If we do not get the response from the cue, then we apply progressively more pressure. So we cue the horse first, then we bump the horse, and then we will apply our spur lightly and then ultimately we spur heavily or spank with the reins. As soon as the horse responds, we will release all pressure as previously discussed and the next time we ask for a response, we go back to the lightest cue. In every situation, we ask with the lightest possible cue and progressively get more demanding until we get the response that is appropriate. We can define our request of the horse as “ask, tell, demand and force system” where we always ask first before we tell them and then ultimately demand and enforce our request. Again, it is always critical to go back to the lightest pressure each time you ask for a particular maneuver again.
As the horse develops, we continually increase our expectations. Increasing expectations is what moves the horse from the average and mediocre level to the intermediate and ultimately the advance levels of performance. Ultimately all horsemen are seeking to create a partnership with the horse where you communicate with the horse with very subtle cues and the horse responds and operates with little or no pressure. When the horse is listening to very subtle cues and has learned his job well, they get the responsibility of a partner and in some cases the opportunity for independent thought.
I ride in many disciplines- from recreational trail riding to all elements of ranch versatility and cow work. I expect my trail horse(s) to work a cow. I expect my cow horse to carry me over the Rocky Mountains or compete in a trail/ranch class competition. If I plan for elite training, I get elite performance. I get to enjoy the experience and feel safe doing it.