Summer is here and that means trail riding! If you are like me, I love to get out on the trails and see all the new Spring growth, the running streams and the active wildlife. Though arena work is important, my focus is to develop a solid foundation so that I can get out on the trails for those long rides that restore me. God's creation is best seen from horseback.
But my horse doesn't always see these rides the same way I do. She is not happy about being separated from her buddies, which causes her to drag her feet on the way out, trying to take every little path she thinks will lead home. Then, as soon as she crosses the half-way point and is headed back, she gets in such a hurry, I wonder who switched horses with me; and I don't have to tell you about just trying to stand still on the trail and enjoying the view. Does any of this sound familiar?
This month, I want to talk to you about the Replacement Concept. Basically, it is focusing on what you do want your horse to do, instead of what you don't. It is attaching a particular exercise and response to a negative behavior so as to keep a positive attitude when riding.
It is common for us to focus on the negative behavior and then get frustrated with the horse because she won't stop this behavior. But what if you decided to use that behavior as a signal to practice a response that you want better anyway? This will totally change your attitude towards that 'unwanted' behavior and will give you a better trained horse by the end of your ride. The only drawback is you may not be able to ride as far as you wanted in the first few days or weeks while you 'replace' the 'unwanted' behaviors with 'wanted' responses.
Let's take standing still for example. I like a horse that stands still when I mount, after I mount and every time I stop for any reason whether at a gate or just because. But teaching a horse to stand still and wait can be a challenge. Just trying to hold them back not only doesn't keep them still, it can be dangerous when the horse's emotions 'load up'. This can lead to rearing, backing, going sideways, etc. So I have 2 replacement exercises that I do to teach my horse to stand and wait.
The first is disengaging the hip. The best way to soften the horse's give to the bit and still keep the reins connected to the feet is by moving the hip off the bridle. So practicing disengaging the hip is a great replacement when a horse just has to move. It can be done in a relatively small space so the horse really is not going anywhere. It gives the horse the freedom to move if its self-control is not developed enough to control its feet. You have something positive to focus on instead of the fact that your horse is not doing what you really wanted it to do; and you have a better trained horse when you get home.
If I have a horse that is really bad about not standing still and I have worked with it some on a ride without it getting a lot better, I will just take a couple days and make that his ride. I will saddle him and get him ready to ride, both doing ground work and riding warm-up. Then I will take him to a safe area, mount up, drop some slack and wait. I have already decided to disengage his hip every time he moves until he will stand still. So when he moves, I take my cue and move his hip, being specific about softness and response. I will do one side until he stops for a couple seconds, then I will switch sides for the next set. I resist the temptation to just pull back on both reins and each time he stops I give him slack. I want him to take responsibility and stand still with the reins loose.
When he finally gives up and acts like he will stand there all day, I move him 10 feet down the road or trail and start again. I may not get more than 100 yards from home in an hour's worth of riding but, if I do this for a couple of days, I will only have to do a little touch-up every now and then to keep him solid for the rest of the time I own this horse.
The second exercise I use to teach standing still is backing and sometimes just move/counter move. The concept is the same. The horse's movement signals me to use a particular cue to get a desired response. If I feel the horse getting excited with its head out in front though, I will just go back to moving the hip. Then I will progress back to both reins. As he gets solid, I will begin taking him on the trails again and remind myself to practice often until he learns to stop and stand and wait until I cue him to move again.
The Replacement Concept can be used for all kind of trail riding areas such as eating on the trail, jigging, buddy sour, constantly trying to turn back, crossing obstacles…the list goes on and on. It also works great in the arena. Next time, I will give you more ideas for some of the above mentioned issues to help you make your trail riding season just a little more enjoyable this year.
You are invited to come join me for the Sensible Summer Fun 3-Day Clinic, June 1-3 at Kirks Mountain Ranch. I also have a 3-Day Clinic in Pullman, June 15-17. Hope I see you at one of these and have a great summer. Ann
Ann Kirk is available for Sensible Horsemanship Clinics, Workshops or Lessons in your area. She also offers her services for evaluations. For more information on Ann Kirk Sensible Horsemanship Programs go to www.annkirk.com Beginning Sensible Horsemanship is available in a DVD series with a new addition - Sensible Trailer Loading. New DVD—Sensible Trailer Loading,