Now that I have a few rides on my horse the lessons get a bit easier to teach. The horse has already dealt with many different forms of stress in the first few weeks of the training process. These multiple forms of stress like the saddle, bridle, rider, etc are going to be constants in his riding career. The process I described in previous articles will help give the horse the skills he needs to deal with more and different forms of stress as his training progresses. The major stresses for him now will not come from new things like equipment and rider. The newness of having equipment and carrying a rider has become more routine therefore less stressful. The stress will now come from various combinations of physical pressure from the equipment and the rider as we ask for some specific movement or maneuver. He will not worry about me as a rider but he will worry about what I, as his rider, am asking him to do.
There will be a great deal of confusion on his part, he needs to figure out what form of pressure I am using and what it means and then how he should respond to it. I need to figure out how to manipulate his body into performing a maneuver without him really understanding it in order to show him where to look for release. This can be a slow and frustrating process, and it is important to remember that it is more important to teach slowly and allow the horse to learn with confidence than it is to actually accomplish the maneuver I am asking for. Correctness is inevitable when the horse can learn comfortably and confidently.
He is at the point where I can ride him without him worrying too much about me but I also haven’t asked him to do much for me while riding. Each ride will now become a bit more challenging as I ask him to respond to different aids in a specific way. I want to make sure that I do not ask for too many different things in any one lesson. I prioritize what the horse needs to know to keep me safe and him out of trouble. For example if I am riding a horse that is very forward that horse is likely to build too much speed and scare himself so he needs to know how to slow down and stop. Or a horse that is not inclined to go forward needs to become more comfortable moving his feet so teaching him to stop at this point would be counterproductive.
Steering is generally more important than brakes, if I can steer I can turn him into the fence and the fence can stop him. When I start steering I want to make it as simple as possible, direct reining, pull right = turn right, pull left = turn left. This also keeps me from pulling on his mouth with both hands, which could still scare him. If I do want him to stop I will turn him into a smaller circle or into the fence until he stops his feet.
The few rides that I have had on this horse I have basically just been a passenger. I let the horse decide where he went and I gave him a cue after he was already committed to going that way anyway. Now when he wants to turn left I will ask him to go to the right. If he wants to stop I will say go, I will challenge any decision he makes and ask him to comply with my request. If he significantly complains about my request I will not cause so much conflict that he starts to fight with me and I will let him go the way he needs to. The next time I ask him to do the same thing I will try to prepare him better so he can perform what I ask. For example if we are circling to the right on the rail it would be easier for me to steer right away from the rail than left into the rail. So initially I will ask him to go right. As he gets more confident steering in a specific direction I will ask him to steer into the rail. The preparation for this is to be several feet away from the fence so he actually has room to turn. If I am too close to the fence He will have a difficult time making the turn. I don’t want to set him up to fail so if I don’t think he can do what I ask I will not ask. Once I do ask I would like him to feel good about trying to work with me so he may need some time to figure out what I want. I’m watching for him to make a commitment, either the commitment to try or the commitment to escape. If I see no commitment he is thinking so I let him think until he makes up his mind. If he tries then I will release to reward, if he is resisting to the point that he needs to escape I am probably asking too much of him and I will try to back off before he loses it. Feel and timing are important factors that will either keep me safe or get me hurt so I am always aware of how and what I am asking for. Knowing when to hold on and wait or when to give in is an important skill that can sometimes be painful to learn.
A few lessons on steering and he will become much more comfortable and predictable to control. Often during the steering lessons he will develop brakes and a gas pedal. Partly this is because I am less worried about trouble and I start to ride him in a more relaxed way. This means that although I am specifically working on steering I will probably be asking him to stop and go without really focusing on it. These will be specific lessons later on so he can improve those basic skills.
I am still trying to keep lessons short and not too stressful with each lesson getting slightly more challenging for the horse. By that I mean I will want quicker responses, more movement, and he will have to work for longer periods of time. The pressure I am using should decrease as his skills develop. My goal is to start light and work on getting lighter. Speed and correctness are not yet important. Every day he should become slightly more responsive and a little more correct.
© 2007 Will Clinging