By: Ann Kirk
Last article, we began the process of connecting the steering of the bridle. Our starting place was to connect the reins to the hind feet to gain control over the hips. The right rein should step the right hip to the left and the left rein should step the left hip to the right. When the horse is doing this immediately upon your request and without pulling on the bit, then you can improve it by teaching the “go forward cue” and practicing the rein-hip connection from a walk.
I would like to take a little time here to explain the “go forward” cue in more detail. This lesson is one of the most important lessons you can teach your horse as it will be used repeatedly in the years you own him. It is essential for loading in a trailer, teaching to cross obstacles, going through gates or stall doors, etc. It also is used to do all the bridle work from the ground correctly so you are not leading the horse but driving him forward from behind as if you were in the saddle. The biggest challenge in teaching this cue is to mentally be in the saddle even though you are actually on the ground.
When I teach this lesson, I want a verbal sound to be the cue, not the whip. For me, that sound is the kissing sound. That way, when I don’t have the whip, I can still request and achieve forward motion. But to do this takes some concentration and practice. If you simplify the steps and repeat them to yourself as you teach, it will help.
Stand on the left side near the shoulder. The left hand has hold of the left rein about 18 inches from the bit. The right hand holds the whip as it rests on your right shoulder in a neutral position. Kiss to the horse. If the horse does not move forward, continue kissing as you move the whip at a medium speed towards the point of the hip. If the horse still does not move forward, start tapping the hip lightly in time with the kiss cue, increasing the strength of the tap slightly each time until the horse begins to move a front foot forward, then immediately stop the kiss and the tap at the same time. Return the whip to your shoulder and praise him. Wait a few seconds and ask again.
Don’t move until the horse moves. Don’t walk off as you cue the horse or lead him forward with your hand on the rein. Remember, you are in the saddle so you cannot move until the horse moves. When the horse moves, you go with him but if he stops, you must stop also and cue him to go forward again. Don’t get in a hurry or you may overexcite him. Be sure he is walking forward, not sideways when you release. If you have to tap fairly hard to get him to respond and he starts moving off to the side instead of forward, soften the taps after his feet have started moving but don’t stop cueing until he takes a step forward. The same is true if he backs up. Don’t stop cueing and try to lead him back forward. Go with him as he “carries” you in the saddle. Don’t increase the strength of the taps as he is already moving his feet. Just wait until he moves them in the right direction before giving him a release and praising him.
Like I said, it takes some real focus to remember to give the verbal cue first without moving the whip or yourself. And remember to put the whip back on your shoulder as soon as you can each time. If you hold it out or down, one of two things will happen. Either your horse will get excited thinking you are still cueing him to go faster or he will become desensitized to the whip as a motivator and you will have to stay strong with it to keep its effect. So try to train yourself to return it to the neutral position and only use it to reinforce the verbal cue.
When the horse will walk forward, walk along side as if in the saddle for 3-8 steps. Then turn towards the horse’s hip and ask him to stop the front and step the left hip to the right with the left rein by moving your left hand towards where your bellybutton would be if you were in the saddle. Be sure he comes to a complete stop. If he moves off when you release, pick up on the left rein again and move his hip. Repeat until he will stand still when you release the rein. Switch to the right side and repeat the complete “go forward” lesson from that side. By switching sides every time, you will give him a complete release and he will stop easier. Also, be sure he waits for your cue to go forward before starting off. If he moves before you cue him, just disengage his hip until he will stand and wait for the go forward cue.
It does not take long for the horse to figure it out and then you can practice connecting the rein to the hips from both sides. It’s also great for getting your horse used to being controlled while you are not in a leading position. Some horses get a little worried about having you along their side when they are walking but it is a great step to get them used to having you control them from the saddle. You can progress to putting you hand on his back, laying your arm over him and squeezing and applying weight as he walks forward. If he gets too excited, just disengage his hip and bring him to a stop. You will use the hip for your emergency stop when you are in the saddle so practicing it from the ground is good. This will condition your horse to respond even when scared and to stop when in doubt.
So, practice your go and your stop. You may even be able to progress it into a trot. As your horse gets softer, you may find it hard to keep him going straight so don’t try to go straight. Let him work in a circle around you, (more on that next time). Have fun with this lesson and we will add more next article. These lessons give you some great, safe exercises to work with on your horses of all ages, even your weanlings, during the winter months. With short consistent sessions, you can keep them tuned up for a fresh start in the spring. Until next time, stay safe and enjoy your horse……Ann
These lessons are available on the Sensible Horsemanship DVDs. Ann is also available for private lessons or clinics in your area. She can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org