Developing a Supple Trail Horse

DSC00133A 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, 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 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 broke 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.

I am scheduling Clinics for Spring and Summer 2017-  If you are interested  in hosting a clinic, contact me for dates, cost, and  horsemanship emphasis. I customize based on your interest and goals.         (stevejoneshorsemanship.com)

  • Clinics: Building the Foundation; Fundamentals of Western Horsemanship;  Building Confidence for Horse and Rider; Building Confidence for Horse and Rider; Ranch Versatility & Stock Horse (including cow work).
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Let the Horse Participate

img_0202We as humans are the predator – we want and need to control things. And, we want it NOW. The horse is prey- he reacts to the circumstances. The horse doesn’t care when or how it happens, as long as his comfort returns. Yet, the horse has the ability to reason to some degree, if for no other reason than to seek release from pressure. In the training process, we need to allow the horse to seek the right answer. That means we may need to hold a cue a little longer or change the cue ever so slightly and allow the horse to figure it out. This is how you get quicker responses, softer feel. Your horse will be more relaxed and confident. A true partnership will start to form. This philosophy is the basis of the lessons that Tom Dorrance described and Ray Hunt taught. It’s taken me years to grasp it, but the picture is getting clearer.

Successful training results from the human understanding how to see life from the horse’s point of view.

Here is how we include the horse in the training process:

  1. Listen to him. The horse will tell you what he’s thinking. He can communicate confusion, fear, understanding, excitement, or level of effort through his body language.
  1. Build a basis for communication. Ray Hunt always said, “Reward the smallest change and the slightest try.”
  1. Always be consistent in your cues. Start from the ground and then progress to the saddle with lateral and vertical flexion, control of the feet, and control the movement of the body. This will build a supple, willing horse, and give consistency to communication.
  1. Expect and accept failure. Each cue is not going to be understood and executed. Therefore, failure becomes a “teachable moment” in which we can re-evaluate our communication. It is also an opportunity to back up and make sure the fundamental training steps have been learned.
  1. Build a foundation for success. Everything we ask a horse to do, he already knows how to do. We are just asking him to do them exactly when we want him to do it. All a horse can do is move forward, backward, sideways, left, right and stop. Everything we ask is a combination of these maneuvers or change in speed. Start slow and build momentum. Allow the horse to buy into our system.
  1. Wait on the horse. Sometimes the horse knows what we are asking him to do, but he is not confident of himself or natural instincts say there is potential danger. If we wait, let the horse try, and have success, then that builds confidence in the horse. Success will build success and give the horse confidence to try new challenges. He will also learn to trust you more in the process.
  1. Challenge you and your horse. How do you know your horse is ready for a new challenge? Ask for it, and see what happens. Make sure your insecurities are not hindering your horse’s educational progress. Progress cannot be measured by always executing the past lessons. Add challenges to your routine that causes the horse to think. Horses become bored from monotonous routines.

I am scheduling Clinics for Spring and Summer 2017-  If you are interested  in hosting a clinic, contact me for dates, cost, and  horsemanship emphasis. I customize based on your interest and goals.         (stevejoneshorsemanship.com)

Evaluate the Training Level of Your Horse

IMG_0933How do you know your horse is ready for a new challenge? Ask for it, and see what happens. Make sure your insecurities are not hindering your horse’s educational progress. Progress cannot be measured by always executing the past lessons. Add challenges to your routine that causes the horse to think. Horses become bored from monotonous routines.

What am I evaluating? This question seems to be common at my clinics. Evaluations should start from the ground for safety, especially with a horse you are not familiar with. Horses should lead, lunge, stop and back-up with calmness, confidence, obedience, and respect for the handler. You should be able to send a horse over obstacles from the ground as well. In the saddle a horse should walk, trot, and canter at controlled and comfortable speeds. Your horse should be soft to your hands, bending and giving laterally and vertically with ease at all three gates. Your horse should move their shoulders, hips, and full body off of leg pressure. Additionally your horse should stop and turn around collected and working off of their rear end with the minimal cues. Horses that pass these tests are on their way as a safe enjoyable mount. These horses are now ready for advanced training. These are also the horses that are ready for training in specific events.  All of the attributes listed above are just as important with one event as it is for the another.