Trimming Hooves

Hoof care is a very important part to maintaining your horse’s health.  You may have heard the phrase “no hoof, no horse.”  For the most part this is true.  If a horse’s hooves are not properly taken care of they may become lame.  If they become lame, it is near impossible for them to do their job, carry us.  Regular trimming of your horse’s hooves along with a proper diet can help your horse maintain healthy hooves.

Because of the economy, more and more people are resorting to trimming their horses themselves or worse not having them trimmed at all.  In this article, I’m going to cover the steps we use to trim our horses as taught to my husband by our late farrier.  If you have never trimmed a horse before, I recommend you hire a professional and watch how it is done.  If you make a mistake on your horse’s hooves you could cause them to be sore or lame.  There is a lot of science in trimming a hoof, and here I’m just covering the basics.  If your horse has special trimming needs, please, call a farrier. If you are unfamiliar with the parts of the hoof you can go to my “Hoof Parts” page.

Tools of the Trade

Hoof Pick-a curved metal instrument used to clean out hooves

Hoof Knife-a knife designed to help remove excess sole from the hoof

Nippers-tool used for cutting hoof

Rasp-file type tool used to remove excess hoof wall and smooth rough edges

Yes there are other tools out there to use on your horse, but these are the basics for a good trim.  I also recommend a pair of good gloves.  Your hoof knife should be very sharp, and a good pair of gloves may save you some blood if your knife should  happen to slip.

Clean Hooves

To start you need to clean out your horse’s hooves with a hoof pick.  To do this you pick up your horse’s foot and hold it with one hand while picking it out with the other.  Starting at the back work your way forward and out, picking out all the loose dirt and manure from around the frog and off the sole of the hoof.

Remove Excess Sole

Using your hoof knife cut away excess layers of the sole and any excess frog.  You want to clean away so you can see clean, bright tissue.  Don’t trim the frog too deep.  You just want to cut off any lose or ragged pieces.  The frog should actually almost touch the ground when a trim is done.  Also using your hoof knife cut the bars of the hoof level with the sole. 

Trimming

Now that the hoof is pretty well cleaned out, you can start to trim.  Some people will say to start your trim at the toe and move back to the heels, while others will say to start at the inside heel and move down to the toe and back up the outside.  Really just start where you are most comfortable starting.  Try to keep your nippers level with the sole and move straight around the hoof.  You don’t want to trim the hooves too short.  If you leave a little extra length, you can easily shorten the hooves up with the rasp. When you are finished check your work and make sure both sides are the same.  Also while using the nippers don’t worry too much a jagged edges the nippers may leave or slightly uneven cuts.  Your rasp will take care of those.  Rasping

Rasping is the finishing touch to your trim.  Some people may think it’s not necessary, but it is.  It helps prevent splits in the hoof.  Also hooves that are not rasped can be very sharp, which could hurt another horse.

Have your horse stand on level ground and see where his hooves may be uneven.  Start  by picking up the hoof and rasp the bottom.  Hold your rasp flat against the bottom of the hoof and work to get the hoof level.  You can use the edge of the rasp to check your progress.  Once the bottom is smooth and level. You will work on the sides and front of the hoof.  We use a stand to place our horses’ hooves on. It just makes the job a little easier, but I’ve seen people use their leg to balance the hoof.  Our stand is hand made out of an old planter packer wheel and a piece of pipe with a little flat piece of scrap iron welded on the top.  When rasping the outside of the hoof run your rasp straight down towards the ground. I like to put a nice roll on the front of my horses’ hooves to help prevent cracks and splits.  At this time you will also want rasp off any flare your horse may have on his hooves.Trimming your horses’ hooves on your own can save you big bucks if you do it correctly.  You may want to watch a farrier a couple of times to see how he trims your horse before you just go out and start nipping away.  Incorrect trimming can put your horse in pain or can make him lame.  I find if you are unsure ask for help from someone who knows what they are doing.

Safe Winter Rides

If you are like me and don’t have a heated arena to ride in, you may not get much riding done over the winter months.  But when there is a nice day, it’s great to catch a few hours in the saddle.  Winter riding can be dangerous.  Here are a few tips to keep you and your horse safe.

Check the Footing

Footing is a major problem in the winter.  A nice layer of fresh snow will provide nice footing for a bare-foot horse, provided there isn’t any ice under it.  Of coarse ice is dangerous for both the horse and rider.  A horse carrying a rider is more likely to slip.  Mud can be just a dangerous as ice.  Many times only the surface is muddy and the ground underneath is frozen, creating a very slippery surface.

Dress for the Occasion

This is important for both you and your horse.  If your horse is typically stabled or blanketed, you may consider a rump rug or quarter sheet to help keep your horse warm.  For yourself it is best to dress in layers.  Make sure to have gloves and a hat along.  Even if it seems warm, the temperatures in the winter can change suddenly.  Bulky snow boots are probably not your best choice for foot wear.  It is important to wear boots that won’t get wedged in your stirrups.

Warm the Bit

We all remember the scene from The Christmas Story where Ralphie gets his tongue stuck to the flag pole.  If you don’t warm your bit your horse is going to feel like Ralphie.  Even if your horse’s tongue doesn’t stick to the bit, it isn’t comfortable for him to have a frozen chunk of metal in his mouth.  I try to keep my bridles in the house, or warm the bit with my hands before bridling up.

Stay Close to Home

When riding in the winter, it may seem warmer than it actually is.  For that reason I like to ride close to home.  I try not to  ride far enough away that I can’t make it back to the barn in a half hour.  Usually I make several short trips out, instead of setting out for one long trip.  That way if my horse happens to pull a muscle or I get cold, we aren’t too far away.

Familiar Ground

To avoid any unforeseen riding hazards, I try to ride in an area that I am familiar with.  Snow covering can hide holes that your horse can step in and injure himself.  It is best to ride on paths that you know.

Pedicure Please

If you plan on riding often in the winter months you may consider horse shoes with pads and ice caulks.  If you are an occasional winter rider you can help prevent snowballs from forming in your horse’s hooves by coating the sole of his hooves with petroleum jelly.  Also it’s not a bad idea to take a hoof pick along and occasionally check your horse’s hooves for packed snow.

Slow and Steady

Because your horse has extra fur (and maybe some extra pounds), it’s best not to work him too hard and get him sweaty.  A sweaty horse can cool too quickly and become cold.   If it is necessary to work your horse up to a sweat, make sure to take the time to properly cool him down before turning him out.

Getting out for a winter ride can definitely help fight cabin fever. Just make sure to play it safe. Consider your horse’s health and safety when deciding when and where to ride.

Sensitize or Desensitize?

When working with your horse you actually want to do both: sensitize and desensitize him.  However, if you make the wrong move at the wrong time you may end up sensitizing him to something you want to desensitize him to or visa versa. That’s why timing is so important when working with your horse.

Sensitizing

When you cue your horse, it would be great if he would do what you want with the lightest cue.  To achieve this you must sensitize your horse.  The concept of sensitizing is simple. You apply pressure to your horse.  Your horse moves away from the pressure.  You release pressure.  However, applying this concept can be a little tricky.  At first your horse may not know what the pressure you’re applying means for him to do.  He may move the wrong direction, and if you stop applying pressure here, he will learn to do the wrong thing.  Or perhaps your horse has moved ever so slightly in the direction you are asking, but you didn’t feel the movement so you don’t release the pressure.  This can confuse your horse.

To properly sensitize a horse you must apply a cue only until your horse makes an effort to perform what is being asked.  As soon as any effort, no matter how small, is made all pressure must stop.  Then basically repeat, repeat, repeat, until your horse responds with just the slightest cue. Here’s an example.  You want your horse to move smoothly into a trot from a walk.  You bump your horse’s sides with your legs and continue to bump him until he starts to trot.  The first step he makes that is a trot, you stop bumping him.  He may only take a couple of steps at a trot and slow down into a walk.  Once he starts walking again, you need to bump him again until he starts to trot.  As soon as he breaks into a trot, stop bumping.  Eventually, he will put it together that when you bump his sides, you want him to trot.

A mistake often made is that a rider will continue to bump their horse once he is trotting.  By doing this you will desensitize your horse to the cue.  If you don’t reward him by stopping the application of pressure, he will learn to ignore the cue.  What benefit would there be for him to trot if you are just going to continue to bump him.

Desensitizing

Desensitizing should be a major part of any training program.  When desensitizing your horse, you basically repeat the same action over and over until you get no response from your horse.  When I start training my horses, I first desensitize them with a rope.  I rub a rope all over their body.  At first most horses will move around and try to get away from the rope, but I will continue to touch the horse all over with the rope until he decides  the rope won’t hurt him and stands still.  I will repeat this with a brush, then a plastic bag, a saddle blanket and whatever else I find laying around.  Then I will take and twirl a rope around and swing it onto my horse’s back.  Again, I will do this until he decides there is no threat and stands still.   I will also take a saddle pad and rhythmically pat it on my horse’s back until he stands still.  Exercises such as this help your horse become confident that you aren’t going to  hurt him and tell him that you want him to stand still.  The most important part of these exercises are that you stop when your horse stands still.

I’m always doing something to desensitize my horse.  The more your horse is desensitized the safer he will become to ride, and the less likely he will spook.  Friends that ride often with me are use to me twirling my reins around and making goofy noises in an effort to desensitize my horse even more.

The most common mistake made when desensitizing a horse is when the rider or trainer stops applying pressure when the horse moves instead of when the horse stands still.  Let’s say you are wishing to desensitize your horse to having a saddle pad thrown on his back.  You start to swing the pad and your horse moves, then you stop swinging the pad to settle your horse down.  Because you stopped when your horse moved he thinks that is what you want him to do. Now you have sensitized your horse to the swinging pad, and he will move when you swing the pad at him.  It is very important to continue with rhythmic swinging until he stands still.

You can improve your riding time with your horse by properly sensitizing and desensitizing him.  With a horse that is sensitized to cues, you won’t have to try to pull your horse where you want him to go, and riding him will become less work and more enjoyable.  By desensitizing your horse he will become safer to be around.  He won’t worry about you touching him, and he will become less likely to spook.

Dropping the Head

Whenever I bridle or halter my horse, I ask them to drop their head and flex it to the side.  This makes it much easier for me to bridle or halter my horse.  Now I could get my bridle on even if my horse wouldn’t drop his head for me, but honestly I like to make my job as easy as possible.  Why should I have to work so hard on getting the bridle on when it’s so much easier for my horse to just hold his head a little lower for me.  Pictured to the right is my daughter, Minandah, preparing to bridle Dollar.  Mirandah isn’t a real tall gal.  She’s only around 4 foot 11, but notice how Dollar has his head lowered for her.  This is how I like all  my horses to position their head when being bridled.  Getting your horse to do this begins with teaching them to drop their head.

To start with let’s talk about where to place your hands when training your horse to drop his head.  I take my right hand and place my fingers on the horse’s pole.  They will be applying pressure in the same place your halter or bridle will sit behind your horse’s ears.  My left hand will be on my horses nose with my thumb on one side and fingers on the other.  Now we have our hands in the correct position, let’s get started.  You will start by applying downward pressure with both hands.  Don’t try to pull your horse’s head down.  Just hold steady pressure downward.  At first your horse will probably try to lift his head or move away.  It is important that you do not stop applying pressure if he does this.  Just continue to hold steady pressure until your horse makes an effort to lower his head.  The second he lowers his head any amount release all downward pressure.  Let him rest a couple seconds and think about what happened.  Then resume applying downward pressure.  When he lowers his head slightly release.  Continue to repeat this until he lets you lower his head to the ground.  The time range of this exercise depends on the horse.  Some horses figure it out right away, while others take a little longer.  Just don’t try to rush it.  One day you may only get your horse to lower his head about half way down.  Just come back the next day and work on it some more.   Eventually your horse will figure out what you are wanting.

Not only do I find this head lowering exercise good for training your horse to lower his head while being bridled, but it also helps get him in the right frame of mind for more training.  Since we are applying pressure then releasing when he does what we want (moving away from pressure), we are building a base for other training that we will be doing.  Pretty much any training I do with my horse involves applying and releasing pressure.  Once your horse understands that when you apply pressure you want him to move away from it, his training will go a lot faster.

Bits for the Western Horse

For most riders, the bit is the main means of communication with their horse.   To the rider, the bit is like the steering wheel of a car.  Bits come in all different shapes and styles; however, most of the bits you would use on a western style horse will fall into two different categories: snaffle bits and curb bits.  Finding the right bit for you and your horse can be nerve wracking.   Typically I try several different bits on my horse to see which one works best.  Just because you like the way one bit works with one horse doesn’t mean you will like how that same bit works with another horse.  Likewise, you may have a bit that works great for you and your horse, but with a different rider the same bit will work differently with the same horse.

Snaffle Bits

Snaffle bits are the most common type of bit used in the horse world.  Basically they are some sort of ring with a mouth piece in the middle.  They work by applying direct pressure on the bars of your horses mouth (space between incisors and molars).  In the western world, the snaffle bit is considered a two handed bit, and when using a snaffle you should ride your horse with two hands on the reins.  Also in most western show rings it is acceptable to use a snaffle bit on a horse five years old or younger.  After that the horse should be switched to a curb bit.  Pictured are several different snaffle bits I have in my tack room.  You will notice the bit crossed out.  Many people will refer to this as a Tom Thumb Snaffle bit;  however, since it has shanks on the side it actually is not a snaffle bit, but a curb bit.  On the left of the picture from top to bottom are an eggbutt  snaffles, D-ring snaffle, and an O-ring snaffle. They are named for the shape of the rings on the side.  Most commonly a snaffle bit will have a jointed mouth piece; however, any bit with a ringed side is considered a snaffle bit.  The two bits pictured below are both O-ring snaffle bits. They just have different mouth pieces.

Curb Bits

Curb bits are bits with a shank on the side and a mouth piece in the middle.  The shank on the curb bit creates a lever action and applies pressure to places other than just the bars of the horses mouth.  When using a curb bit, a pull on the reins does a number of things.  First there is pressure on the bars of the mouth.  The curb strap is lifted and puts pressure under the horses chin.  Then the bridle itself will put pressure on the poll.  Also depending on the mouth piece, pressure can be put on the horse’s tongue or the roof of his mouth or the bars of his mouth.  The bits pictured here are type of curb bits. All have shanks, and all work with leverage.  Curb bits are normally used when riding with one hand, or neck reining.

Choosing a Bit

When I first start a colt I like to use a broken mouth snaffle bit.  They allow me to guide my horses better, and let me show them what I want them to do.  Typically I don’t transition to a curb bit until my horse is starting to neck rein and moves off of leg pressure.  Personally when I first move into a curb bit, I start with one that has shorter shanks.  The shorter shanks mean that there will be less pressure on my horse’s poll and chin.  As he progresses I move to a longer shanked bit.

Choosing a mouth piece is the trickiest part of bit selection for me.  Once I move out of a snaffle bit, I try to avoid mouth pieces with a single joint in them.  When you pull back on the reins with both hands, they have a nutcracker effect on your horse’s mouth.  I know if I was a horse I wouldn’t like this.  So I tend to select mouth pieces with at least two joints or a solid mouth piece.  The best way to select a bit is to try different bits out on your horse and use the one that works the best with you and your horse.  If you don’t have a tack room full of bits, ask some of your horse people friends if you could barrow one of their bits for a few rides before you decide to purchase one like it.  I know I have bits that have cost me over a hundred dollars, and I’ve seen bit that cost as much as $500+.  That’s a pretty big investment for something that might not work for you or your horse.

With my horses, even after I advance them up to a curb bit, I will have days that I work them in a snaffle bit to try to get them to soften up.  Really the most important thing to remember is that a bit is only as severe as the hands holding the reins.  Whether  you choose to use a snaffle bit or a curb bit, if you don’t have soft hands you can hurt your horse’s mouth.  If you want to develop a horse with a soft mouth don’t pull on your horse or use more force than necessary.

Pre-Flight Check

Any good pilot checks his aircraft to insure it is flight worthy before boarding.  Why shouldn’t a good rider check the safety of his mount before climbing aboard?  Before I even think about putting my foot in the stirrup, I have a check list of maneuvers I put my horse through on the ground to insure he’s safe to get on.  Like people, horses have good days, and they have bad days.  I like to find out what kind of day my horse is having  before I mount up.  Some days my pre-flight goes great.  My horse does everything I ask of him perfectly without hesitation.  Other days my horse may be feeling a little frisky and requires a little more ground work before we go for our ride.

To perform my pre-flight, I saddle and bridle my horse.  I don’t tighten the cinch completely. Just have it snug enough to keep it secure.  I then fasten a 15 to 20 foot long rope (I use nylon rope bought at a farm supply store) to the curb strap of my bridle using a bow-line knot.  Since the bow-line knot won’t pull tight, it will allow my rope to move to what ever side of the horse I am working on.

Flex My Horse Laterally √

First on my pre-flight check list is making sure my horse will flex when asked.  There will be several times during my ride that I will ask my  horse to flex, so I like to make sure he is flexing well.  To do this I pick up the rein on the same side that I’m standing and pull it up to the swell of my saddle.  If all goes well, my horse will tip his nose over to me as pictured.  If he doesn’t I hold pressure on the rein until he turns his nose to me.  Once he does one side well, I check the other side in the same manor.

Disengaging the Hindquarters √

After my horse is flexing well to both sides, I disengage my horse’s hindquarters.  To do this I  tip his nose slightly towards me with one hand, and using my other hand I cue him with the stirrup where my foot would be if I was riding in position three.  We go around in three circles with his legs crossing well. Stop and back.  Then go three circles the other direction. Stop and back.  If your horse is being a little stubborn, you may have to cue him a little harder.  If he is being a little naughty, make him turn three more circles to each side.  The reason I like to disengage my horse’s hindquarter is because it is part of my emergency stop.  I want to make sure my breaks are going to work.

Yielding the Front End √

Now that I have the back end of the horse moving like I want, it’s time to move the front end.  Standing by your horse’s head, start, leading him forward.  Turn and face your horse’s head and walk towards him.  I typically put my hands up, one by his face and one by his shoulder.  Start by asking for one step, where your horse crosses his front legs.  After one step, turn and walk forward again.  Take about ten steps forward then turn and step toward your horse again. If my horse is doing well, I perform five or six turns each direction, more if he is not doing well.  The first few times you perform this maneuver with your horse he may only take one crossover step.  As he progresses he should be able to take more crossover steps.  Horses that I have been working with for awhile can easily turn a half  to a full circle. Until you and your horse get the hang of this exercise it may seem a little tricky.  At first if my horse doesn’t want to turn I will take my thumb and push on my horse where his neck and shoulder connect.  I only push hard enough to get my horse to move.

Moving Hind End and Following the Rein √

This is another test I perform to get my horse’s hind quarters moving.  However, this time I’m going to use rein pressure to get him to move his hind end around.  While my horse is standing still, I take my rope and run it down his side opposite of where I’m standing.  I then bring the rope around my horse’s back legs, making sure to stay above the hocks, and stand  a couple steps away from my horse’s shoulder.

Now I gently apply pressure on the rope.  The object is for my horse to follow the pressure of the rope, turn around disengaging his hindquarters, and end up facing me.  To start you may have to pull a little harder, but after your horse gets the hang of this, it should only take a small amount of pressure.  Also the first few times you do this exercise your horse may try to turn the wrong direction and move around trying to figure out what you want.  Just hold steady pressure until your horse turns the direction you are asking him to move.   I typically run him through this two or three times on each side or until he performs the maneuver smoothly.

If you notice, when I put pressure on the rope, Dollar’s nose starts to come around, and as he’s turning he crosses his back legs, disengaging his hindquarters.  When he has finished, I reward him with a pat on the head and let him stand a few seconds.Lunging √

I finish up my pre-flight check with lunging my horse.  There are a few theories on lunging.  One is that you run your horse in circles to get him worn down.  The problem with this theory is that, much like an athlete, the more you run your horse in circles, the better shape they are in.  The first few times you longe your horse he may get tired in five minutes, but over time it takes him longer and longer to get tired.

The second theory is that you run your horse in a few circles, changing direction often, to make sure he’s paying attention and listening to you.  If the horse I’m going to ride is well broke, I only trot them in this exercise.  If it’s a green horse, I may push them up to a lope a couple times around, but loping in this small of circle can be hard on the leg joints, so I don’t lope them much.

Start with your horse facing you.  We’ll start going left.   Hold the rope in your left hand and stick your hand out to the side.  You will hold the tail end of the rope in your right hand and swing it at your horse’s left shoulder.  As your horse starts to move away from the swinging rope you  keep him going in a circle around you.  If you need him to go faster, you can swing the tail end of the rope.  I try to direct my swing around the saddle area.  If he needs more encouragement you can pop him on the rump.  I try to keep my body positioned in the drive line of the horse, which is about level with your stirrup.  If you get in front of this line your horse will stop. Behind it and your horse will end up turning  his nose toward you.  Usually, I go three circles and switch directions.  To switch directions you disengage your horse’s hindquarter by bending your body and looking at his hind end at the same time you will gently pull his nose in toward you.  He should cross his back legs, moving his hiney away from you.  As you straighten back up, reach across your body with your right hand and grab the rope out of your left. Pick up the tail end of the rope in your left hand and swing it at your horse’s right shoulder.  From here it is just repeating what you did with your horse going to the left.  I typically go three circles to the left, switch and go three to the right. I perform this exercise over and over several times until my horse is paying attention to me and moving how I want him to, when I want him to.  The most important part of this exercise is not the running of the circles, but the changing of direction.  The more changes of direction you do, the better your horse will pay attention to what you want him to do.  Also this shouldn’t be a tug-a-war with your horse.  If he is pulling on the rope don’t pull solid pressure back on him.  Instead give the rope three good tugs and see if he quits pulling.  If not give him three more tugs.  I have found over the years that little bumps or tugs work better than solid pressure.

Tack Check √

Checking your tack before you mount up is an important part of your pre-flight check.  Most horses will puff out their bellies when first being saddled.  Because of this your saddle is probably fairly loose.  Take this time to tighten your cinch and make sure all the rest of your tack is on correctly.

Now that you’ve done all this work with your horse, you should have a good idea on how your horse is going to act this ride.  Remember sometimes your horse will have bad days where his mind is on something besides you.  On these days he may require a little more ground work before you go for your ride.  Other days, your pre-flight may go smoothly without any hitches, and you can get to your ride shortly after saddling your horse.  But unless you preform a pre-flight check you won’t know what kind of day your horse is having, and you might find out the hard way that he was having a bad day.

One Rein Stop

So imagine, it’s a beautiful October day. You are riding your horse quietly down the road along a corn field.  Suddenly, without warning, a couple of deer run out of the field in front of you.  Which spooks your horse.  His spins around and takes off in a dead run.  Of coarse you want your horse to stop, but no matter how hard you pull back on the reins your horse won’t stop.  Now what are you going to do?  In an instance like this, it is important that you know how to perform an emergency stop or one rein stop with your horse.

The one rein stop is a fairly simple idea.  You use one rein to stop your horse while disengaging your horses hind quarters.  This is one of the most important maneuvers you should learn how to do with your horse for the simple reason that any horse can spook or buck, no matter how broke they are.

There are basically two parts of the one rein stop: lateral flexion and disengaging the hindquarters.

Lateral Flexion

By lateral flexion I mean, bending your horse’s head to the left or right with a single rein. By being able to do this you can control what his body does. So how do you teach your horse to flex?  First, I found it is easiest for your horse to learn to flex in a snaffle bit.  Snaffle bits work off of direct pull on the corners of your horse’s mouth making it easier for them to follow pressure.  While sitting on your horse pick up one rein, making sure the other rein will be loose enough for him to bend his head around. Pull the rein back toward your hip till there is pressure on the bit and hold. Now this is important: you don’t want to try to pull your horse’s head around.  You just want pressure on the bit.  At first your horse may move around or pull against your hand.  It is important to not release any pressure until he stops and tips his nose slightly to you.  If you do you will teach him to pulling against you will get you to release pressure.  Be patient, eventually he will quit moving and tip his nose.  When teaching your horse to flex you have to have good timing.  The second your horse tips his nose toward you, no matter how little, release all pressure.  That is his reward for doing the correct thing.  Now you pick up the rein and repeat, repeat, repeat.  As your horse figures out what you want, he will get better about not moving around or pulling against you.  After his is flexing well to one side, work on the other. If you notice in the picture, Dollars head comes around and down.  This is what you want in a good flex.  Flexing is one of the things I make my horses do ever time I ride.

Disengaging the hindquarters

The second part of  your one rein stop is the disengaging of the hindquarters or yielding the hindquarters.  This simply means your horse moves his hind end around and crosses his back legs.  Your horse’s power  to run or buck comes from its back legs. Making your horse cross his hind legs you take away that power to run or buck. To get your horse to yield his hindquarters you must first tip your horse’s nose one direction. Then with your foot on the same side as his nose is tipped, cue him in foot position three.  When you first start working on this, you only want to flex his nose over slightly, then cue with your foot hard enough to get him to move.  To start I walk my horse in a big circle. Slightly turn his nose in and cue with my foot.  As soon as he turns and crosses his hind legs once, I release him and let him walk forward.  Then repeat, repeat, repeat. After he is taking one step well, move him up to two. Then three, four, five, ect. Pretty much till you can get him to turn in a couple of circle for you without any problems.  When one side is going good, work on the other.

Now that your horse is flexing and yielding his hind quarters well we can put it together.  Walk your horse forward. Slide your hand down the rein (around 18 inches to two feet from the bit depending on the horse), and pull back to your hip while cuing your horse with your foot (remember rein and foot on same side of horse).  Hold until your horse flexes, disengages his hindquarters and stops.  Repeat at a walk till you are comfortable, then move up to a trot.  After you are comfortable at a trot, work on stopping at a lope or canter.

Practicing and mastering the one rein stop can be a life saver.  I know that there are many times I’ve been out on the trail and have had a horse spook, and the one rein stop has proven very useful and effective.  Knowing your horse has emergency brakes can give you peace of mind as you ride.  The more you practice the one rein stop, the better your horse will respond if he becomes frightened.  Also practicing will help you become familiar with the movement it takes to cue the stop.

Know Your Knots

So you hear that rope halters are suppose to be better than the nylon halters.  And it’s better to use a rope that doesn’t have snaps that could break if the horse pulls back.  So you go out and buy these items, unfortunately they weren’t equipped with an instruction manual on how to tie all the knots needed to use them. There are several knots I use practically every time I work with my horses.  I’m going to show you step by step how to tie your rope halter, your rope to your rope halter, a quick release knot, and a bow-line knot.

Rope Halter

Rope halters are all the rage with trainers.   Nylon halters are wide and lie flat on your horse, where as rope halters are more narrow so your horse learns to give to pressure more easily and quickly.  Rope halters are typically made of yachting braid or climbing rope, which is some of the strongest rope made.  Also they are made with one continuous piece of rope which increases their strength.  On nylon halters anywhere there is a seam or buckle, there is a likelihood your halter could break.  Since there are no buckles on rope halters you must learn how to tie them. First hold the eye -loop portion with your left hand, and with your right hand bring the tail end through the back of the eye and pull it to the right. 

Bring the tail end behind the eye creating a loop on the right side of the eye, and the tail end sticking out to the left.

Now take the tail end over the eye and through the loop on the right side.

With your left hand holding the bottom of the eye loop, use your right hand to pull the tail end to tighten your knot.

It is important to tie your knot around the eye as shown.  Done this way if your horse happens to pull back your knot won’t tighten so much that you can’t get your halter untied.

Rope to Halter

Everybody has their favorite lead ropes.  I like to  use plain old 1/2 inch yachting rope or nylon rope most of the time. It’s fairly inexpensive and any farm-supply store, and you can buy whatever length you want.  I typically use an eight foot piece for tying and leading my horses and a 15 to 20 foot piece for ground working my horses.  I use to always have ropes with the big bull snaps on them, but I have found that given enough pressure they will break.  I have yet to see a horse break a nylon rope with no snaps.  Some people use fancy knots to fasten their ropes to their halters; however, I found that this method works best for me.  First bring the end of your rope through the loop of the halter. (I grabbed the wrong rope and the one I’m using has a knot in the end.  Typically my ropes don’t have this knot).

Next take the tail end and go all the way around the loop.

Then tuck the tail end back into the loop.

Then pull the tail end down to tighten your knot.I try to leave about a six inch tail on the end.  I’ve had horses pull back pretty hard on these knots, and I’ve never seen one slip out, break or get so tight I couldn’t get it undone.

Quick Release Knot

The quick release knot is a great knot to use for tying up your horse.  It’s so great because it’s so easy to untie.  The first step in this knot is to put your rope around the post or whatever you happen to be tying your horse to and hold both sides of the rope in your right hand.

Holding both sides of the rope in your right, put the tail end of the rope over the top (in front of your right hand).  This will create a loop on the left side of the rope.

Place your left hand through the loop and grab the loose end right below where it crosses over the top and pull a loop through the loop you made in the previous step.

Pull on the new loop to tighten the first loop but don’t pull the end all the way through.

And that is your quick release knot.  The knot will slide down so that you can tighten it on the post.  The best part of this knot is that you can just pull the tail end and untie it.  Because it is easy to untie I like to tuck the tail end of my rope through the loop so my horses aren’t untying themselves.

This is what the finished knot will look like with the tail end tucked through the loop.

Bow-Line Knot

The bow-line knot is a knot that every horse owner should learn to tie.  The reason it is so great is that the loop you create doesn’t change size and the knot itself will never become tight.  This is a knot I use when tying up horses that have a habit of pulling back.  I also use the bow-line when I’m preforming my pre-ride check with my horse.  I simply tie the knot in a rope around my curb strap and do my ground work on with my horse.  Step one is to place the rope around the post .

Next you twist the rope and make a loop in rope on the side that is connected to your horse as shown below.

Then you bring your tail end up through the hole, or like I like to say “the rabbit comes up out of the hole.”The tail end now goes down and around the back of the rope. “The rabbit runs behind and around the tree.”The loose end then goes over the top of the rope and back through the hole. “The rabbit goes back down the hole.”You pull your ends snug, and there you have a bow-line knot.

The last two knots I showed you can be a little tricky.  Don’t get discouraged, just keep practicing, and eventually they will get easier to tie.  I also have a video of me tying these knots if you would like to see them tied in motion.