The process of starting a horse: work in hand and longing
Before I start working a horse in hand or on a longe line I am happy that the horse is reasonably comfortable with the previous lessons in this series of articles. The relationship with the horse is developing through leadership, respect and trust, and is reconfirmed with each additional lesson. The horse is comfortable with the introduction of the saddle and bridle. I use the work in hand that I will explain to help the horse learn how to multi task. It should help the horse learn to deal with multiple forms of pressure and understand what each means.
I use this to teach the horse to learn how to go forward and how to accept and give to contact from the bit. I try to be careful initially to isolate my aids. The horse will often have trouble with pressure to move forward and pressure in their mouth, remember the horse has no experience to draw from. So when I start I am either asking him to go forward OR to accept contact from the bit but not both, not yet. It is very important that the horse becomes soft and relaxed when you have contact with the bit. This will help prevent fear and confusion when we start to ride. When a horse is not comfortable or does not understand bit contact he is much more likely to become upset which will get me in trouble if I get on before he can deal with it.
I have the horse saddled and bridled and I am using the round pen as the controlled environment to teach this lesson. I will start the work in hand using a longe line. I will either tie up the reins or remove them from the bridle and I will start on the horses left side. I run the longe line through the cheek piece of the bit from the outside and run it down and clip it around the girth or cinch of the saddle. I want a generous amount of slack between the girth and the bit and I will then hold the longe line in my left hand about 8 – 10 inches below the bit. I am holding the line that runs from the bit to girth as well as the line that goes from the bit to my hand. I have a whip in my right hand and I am facing the horse. If the horse gets upset and tries to get away I will let go of the side of the longe line that is nearest the horse which will leave me holding the longe line with some length between me and the horse. If I pull on the longe ling it will cause the horse to bend towards me so I can keep from totally losing control. I am careful not to get on the opposite side of the horse for the same reason, if I pull he will bend. If I am on the wrong side he will bend away and I will not be in control any more. If it does happen wait until he stops and get re organized. This is one reason I am working in the round pen and not in the arena.
I will use my whip gently on his rib to ask him to move forward. It does not matter how far he moves, only that he moves. Each time he moves and is supported by the release of the cue he should move farther. When he will walk forward I will walk with him and then take contact with the bit and ask him to walk in a circle around me. I expect him to stop or fuss with his head when I do this.
If he stops I will release and ask again for forward. If he fusses I will try not to release but to keep him bent and just let him fuss. When he stops I will release him. I will continue this back and forth, forward – contact – forward – contact until he can start to walk in a small circle with a very slight contact. I want to keep my left hand with the longe line low and in towards his shoulder to encourage the head, when I have contact, to flex towards me and down slightly. I am not trying to put him on the bit only to help him learn that he should not be afraid of contact but that he can bend and soften towards the pull. I will do this on both sides until the horse starts to understand what I want and is not trying to escape from pressure. This can take several lessons for the horse to understand how to accept forward with contact without complaint. The more comfortable he is with theses concepts the less he will worry about them when I get on for the first time. We are setting the stage for his life under saddle and establishing life habits about how he accepts pressure from the bit. I will repeat this lesson for a couple of minutes every day that I work the horse. Each day he should get softer and lighter to both moving forward and accepting pressure from the bit. As he improves then I will encourage him to perform this lesson on the bit.
© 2006 Will Clinging