Building My Horse From the Ground Up–Part 2

Even though this section is about starting colts any older horse can benefit from these exercises.  Especially if you have a horse that is pushy or bossy or shows little respect.

At this point your horse should be able to stand quietly while tied and being groomed and lead nicely without crowding you or rushing past you.  We also have worked on desensitizing our colt (which up to this point has been ground work, but desensitizing can also be done in the saddle).  Now we are going to start asking our colts to do some more advanced moves.

When teaching a colt anything new, I start with a small cue. Then make it bigger and bigger until I get the desired result.  Then once the colt starts to figure out what I want I refine them and make them smaller and smaller until the colt moves with just the slightest suggestion of what I want.  Also when first asking a colt to do something new, timing is very important.  You want to reward your colt for the slightest attempt at doing the right thing.  This will help develop him into a problem solver.  He will learn that when you are giving him a cue, he needs to do something to get you to stop, and it is his job to figure out what you want.  Most importantly you must not stop cuing your horse until he makes and effort in the right direction.  If your horse goes the wrong way and you stop cuing him, you’ve just trained him to go the wrong way when you cue him that certain way.

Lateral Flexion

Lateral flexion, to me, is one of the most important things to teach your horse.  It helps build softness in your horses.  It helps them relax.  And it is the key to a one rein stop.  Honestly  I’m a little nervous riding horses that don’t know how to flex their heads to the side.

To teach my horse to flex laterally, I simply stand beside my horse at the shoulder, facing the same direction as the horse.  I place my right arm over my horses withers, and with my left hand I grasp the side of the nose band of the halter and apply pressure towards my hip.  At first your horse will probably move around in circles.  Just stay with him and continue to apply pressure.  The second he quits moving his feet and tips his head slightly towards you release pressure.  Then repeat, repeat, repeat.  Eventually he will get so he will tip his nose all the way around to you.  Once he will reach his nose around towards you, you can hold his head over here for a couple seconds at a time.  Repeat with the other side.

Moving the Hind Quarters

This may seam like a pretty easy task to teach your horse, but it is very important that he learns it and learns it correctly.  We can easily move our horse’s rear end by pulling his head around and swinging the rope at his rear end, but we want to refine this so that when we are in the saddle we can disengage his hind quarters in and emergency.

The goal here is to be able to slightly tip our colt’s nose towards us and touch his side slightly behind where your leg would hang while riding (what I call foot position three) this will result in you horse crossing his back legs as he moves his hind end away from you.

To start I give my horse the cue as if he already knows what I want.  I tip his nose slightly toward me and gently touch his side.  Most likely he hasn’t a clue what I want and will just stand there, but if he happens to make an effort to move his rear end away from me, I release pressure, rub his neck and let him stand for a couple of seconds before asking him again.  If he doesn’t move I will apply more pressure with my hand on his side.  I progress from pressure to tapping his side, to swinging the rope at his rear end, to popping the rope on his butt.  I only up the pressure until I get movement in the correct direction.  Once I get movement the colt gets to rest a couple of seconds.  Then I repeat, repeat, repeat.  Always starting with the smallest cue and working up to only as big as necessary.

Once the colt is starting to understand what I want I ask for more steps.  Then I ask for him to do the same thing the other direction.  It is important to work both sides of your horse.  With a horse just because you do something on one side doesn’t mean he will understand what you want on the other side.  Also I don’t spend a lot of time working on this each session.  This is something your colt should pick up quickly and working on it a few minutes everyday should be plenty.  After my colts understand what I want from them, I move them a full circle each direction three times and call it good (Circle left, circle right, circle left, circle right, circle left, circle right).

In the first picture I show how I hold my rope, second picture is where I apply pressure, picture three is Cobain moving his hind end, pictures four and five are me moving him with just moving my hand and not actually touching him or you could say I’m driving his hind end around.

Moving the Front End

Getting your horse to walk around on his front end can be a little more tricky than moving his hind end.  I like to teach my horses to pivot on their hind ends (walking around with their front legs) for a couple different reasons.  One, if they are used in halter classes they need to know how to pivot. Two, it’s a lot easier to lead a horse that you don’t have to push around but will move nicely away from you when you step towards them. Three, it is easier to teach a horse to pivot under saddle if they were taught to pivot from the ground.

The most important thing to remember here is that a pivot on the hind is still a forward movement.  Your horse will still have 3 legs walking around one that is standing still.  Keeping that in mind, I start to teach my colts to pivot by walking them forward, then turning into them and ask them to step away from me.  What we are looking for is that the colt moves away from me and that he front leg closest to me steps over the other front leg.  To start we get one step and walk the horse forward.  So the pattern will go like this:  walk forward, get one cross over step, walk forward, get a cross over step, walk forward.  You want to make sure you are always walking your colt out of his pivots otherwise he will start backing his hind end around  Once he is doing one step well ask for two and build from there.  Don’t forget to repeat on the other side.

If you have problems getting your horse to step away from you, you can try a couple different techniques to get him to move.  To start I will pump my hand towards his nose.  Then I will push my thumb into the little groove between his shoulder and neck (see picture).  If he still don’t move I will twirl my rope at his shoulder.

Picture one, walking forward. Two, pumping my hand towards his nose. Three, where to push if he doesn’t move. Four, swinging my rope at his shoulder.  Five, he’s crossing his front legs over. Six, he moves with just implied pressure.

These ground work maneuvers are so important.  They are exercises that I go over and over till they are near perfect.  They are a great way to build a bond with your horse.  And they also help create respect towards you.  Even if you are riding an older, already broke horse, if he can’t do these simple maneuvers, go back and teach them to him.  I promise he will seem like a new horse.

 

 

 

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.