There are Three Foundations that every horse must learn to be safer with me. These foundations teach the horse that I am a compassionate, trustworthy herd leader they can count on and relax with thereby making our relationship a safer one. When a new horse comes into my training program they must learn the Three Foundations first so we can be safer together.
Since horses are genetically wired to require a herd leader at all times it is up to me to communicate to my horse that I am the herd leader to avoid injury to myself and to my horse. Therefore, I must invoke my horse's instinct to recognize me as their herd leader and how do I do that, by simply controlling their feet. The old saying goes he who moves the other's feet first is in control, therefore I must control my horse's feet. This is a communication that the horse understands, so by controlling my horse's feet my horse recognizes me as their herd leader.
The first of Three Foundations is teaching my horse to back up. Backing up is a way of controlling my horse's feet and getting them out of my space for safety. As the horse learns to back up it reinforces my status in the herd as the herd leader since I'm controlling his feet. I teach a horse to back up by first standing in front of him and lightly snaking the lead rope back and forth. Typically the horse doesn't do anything at first, so I AMP (applied measure of the pressure) the snaking/jiggling of the lead rope, stiffen my body with squared shoulders and a stern look in my eye. Still if the horse is just standing there I will then begin to jerk on the lead rope with enough AMP that the lead rope will tap the horse under the chin which ultimately gets the horse to back up. As soon as the horse takes the slightest step back I immediately stop jiggling or jerking on the lead rope and drop my bodily pressure by bowing at the waist and looking at the ground. Horses learn from the release of pressure, not the pressure itself so dropping my pressure instantly tells the horse they got the right answer.
Now to reinforce the right answer I will praise verbally and then walk up to my horse with my eyes lowered, one shoulder to them with an outstretched hand and stroke their neck. Research has found there is a chemical response to stroking the neck that relaxes the horse which I believe accelerates learning. The first thing mamma did when baby hit the ground was to clean and lick the baby. When baby got scared mamma was by baby's side lick it's neck. There is a natural response from birth to stroking the neck so I use this to accelerate learning and relax my horse.
The key is to horse training is to drop your pressure instantly for the right answer horses learn from the release of pressure, not the pressure itself so use your body dramatically to release your pressure by bowing, or dropping your countenance looking down.
Once you have your horse backing up, the next is Pressure and Release with Bonding. Pressure and Release with Bonding is the beginning step to the set up of a one rein stop which is my horse's emergency handbrake under saddle. I start this on the ground making nose to girth the safe and loving place we go when we are in trouble. I will ask the horse to flex his neck bringing his nose close to his girth area while my body language is relaxed and there I exchange breath nose to nose. Horses greet one another exchanging breath through their noses so why wouldn't I do that? I am the herd leader therefore I need to act like a horse with my human body so exchanging breath is a way of greeting and relaxing with one another and it's something I can actually do like a horse. I will put my hand over the nose guiding it towards the girth while I stroke the girth area with my other hand; like tapping someone on the shoulder they will turn their head to look, the same is for your horse. Some horses are a little stiff or scared to do this so if your horse starts to move his feet stay with him while you gently hold onto his nose stroking his girth area cooing and staying relaxed. You may only get your horse to flex his head slightly, but as soon as the horse is soft in your hand RELEASE. Your release is everything; remember horses learn from the release of pressure not the pressure itself. Each time you bring your horse's nose around to his side wait for the slightest softness or your horse touching his nose closer to the girth and then RELEASE.
Stroke the horse's neck telling him/her "good girl, good boy". Repeat the flexing on both sides of your horse and keep in mind if the horse is real resistant and moving a lot on one side, stop and try it on the other. It's a myth that you have to get it good on one side before you go to the other.
If it's not working very well don't take it to the point of the horse melting down or you getting mad, just stop and try it on the other side and then go back to the more difficult side. I promise you will not ruin your horse, that's another myth. When learning something new there are no mistakes, just learning.......
Once you've got your horse bringing his nose to his girth willingly and softly you can add disengagement of the hind feet. This is when a horse crosses his inside hind foot in front of his outside hind foot. Inside means the side you are standing on, so flex your horse's nose with the lead rope and with your other hand place your thumb where your heel would be in the saddle and press gently holding the pressure. Keep in mind that where you apply pressure on your horse's body must translate under saddle with your foot so be very aware where you are applying pressure. Increase your pressure if your horse isn't moving, but as soon as your horse moves his hind feet release your pressure instantly rubbing the spot where you were just applying the pressure which will communicate to your horse to stop moving his feet. Don't release the nose until your horse's feet stop moving and then wait until your horse is soft on the lead rope or dips his nose towards his girth, and then RELEASE the lead rope verbalizing your appreciation and stroking the neck. The inside hind foot doesn't have to cross the outside the first few tries, that will come eventually. Just getting the horse to move his hind feet is your starting point and refine as you go. You are now teaching the basics of a one rein stop on the ground which will translate under saddle as your horse's emergency handbrake.
And the last Foundation is Leading. I want the horse a half horse length behind me or more as a safe distance, and when observing a herd you will never see a horse pass the herd leader or hang out at their shoulder without being invited and getting reprimanded otherwise. As my horse's herd leader I must portray these disciplines to build confidence and trust in my leadership and to keep me safer. When leading my horse I use my peripheral vision to keep track of where my horse is and jiggling of the lead rope to keep him back as I taught in backing up. If my horse is creeping up within reach of my shoulder I'll jiggle the lead rope while I'm still walking and tell him "BACK".
If the horse is still creeping into my space I'll put my hand up while I'm walking and pat the air in front of his face telling him "BACK". If I've got a horse that is really pushing into my space, not listening to the jiggle of the rope or hand in his face I'll take the end of the lead rope and twirl it in front of me like a helicopter so the horse then makes the choice of stepping into the rope or getting back. The point is, keep your horse a half a horse length behind you as a matter of respect for your leadership and safety.
Missy Wryn is the founder of WHolistic Horsemanship Training the Whole Horse®, IRON FREE Riding, and HorseMAREshipTM plus inventor of the ALL-IN-ONE Training Halter Bitless Bridle. Specializing in problem and dangerous horses Missy has developed a unique approach to training horses and riding Iron Free. Training the Whole Horse® is the foundation to Missy's innovative and simpler approach to training your horse using effective communication that your horse will understand, honor and respect while having fun and being safer riding Iron Free (no bits - no spurs). Check Missy's schedule for appearances and lectures in your area at http://www.WHolisticHorsemanship.com
, or schedule an Intensive for you and your horse by calling 866-821-0374.
Missy Wryn is also CEO and founder of Nature's Balance Care, LLC. Nature's Balance Care is the manufacturer of organic approved (OMRI) fly & insect control and skin care products for dogs, horses, organic livestock and people too - Kid Safe Organic Insect Repellent is now available. Visit http://www.NaturesBalanceCare.com
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/safer-horse-02-09.html">Three Foundations for a Safer Horse</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com