22nd April, 2011: This morning I worked with Michaela (Michi) and Spencer, the Haflinger gelding she rides as a horse-share. Spencer arrived at our stables in late summer last year. He is owned by a beginner rider who bought him so he could ride out with his daughter. Horse sharing or mitreiter is very popular in Austria. Michi has been sharing Spencer for almost 2 months. She has been having a riding lesson on him once a week with her instructor on our outdoor school. Spencer is reasonably well behaved there, but has developed some quite bad habits between leaving his field and arriving on the outdoor school. These are habits that are not addressed in a riding lesson.
Michi’s biggest problem with him at present is leading him, especially as the fresh spring grass is so temping for Spencer. If he wants to go and eat some grass then off he goes, dragging Michi behind him like a water skier. Unacceptable behaviour for Michi but what can she to do about it?
As with many other horse handlers, Michi has to learn to plan ahead of time and be aware of the fact that horse training starts once she walks into the field. Communication starts right away, not just when you are in the outdoor school, the indoor school or in the round pen.
Exercises like backing a horse up, moving the front or hind end are excellent teaching methods you can use from the moment you bring your horse in from the field. *
And indeed this is what I practised with Michi and Spencer this morning. In the picture to the left you can see me with Lucy, demonstrating how to back up by shaking the rope. Up until now, Michi has been trying to stop Spencer either by hanging on to him or by trying to push him backwards. As Spencer “won” more times than Michi, he learned very quickly that he could do what he wanted with her when she was trying to lead him. Especially when he was near some grass! You can see that Spencer is much more interested in the grass to his right than in concentrating on what Michi is asking him to do. And he did put his head down to eat, even though she didn’t want him to.
In the photo left, Michi has managed to get Spencer’s focus and attention on her. He is standing quietly and the rope has quite a bit of “slack” in it.
In this photo, Michi has to work on her own to maintain Spencer’s focus. Then she asks him to take a step back by shaking the rope, starting very gently with the smallest of signals and becoming progressively stronger if necessary. We are working one foot at a time step-by-step, not the whole horse. As such, it is easier for Michi to concentrate on just the one thing, rather than worrying about the whole horse. With repetition, Spencer will learn that Michi can control when and where he puts his feet. That is something a horse can respect. As soon as Spencer tries to do the right thing, i.e. move his foot back Michi stops giving the signal – this ask and release system of signals is how horses learn. **
Here, Michi has asked Spener to move his left foreleg back. You can see he is just about to lift it up. This is when Michi stops shaking the rope.
Spencer has moved his left foreleg back and is now standing quietly, waiting for Michi to decide what they should do next. Michi is looking towards me for instruction, Spencer is following her direction. Also note the distance between the two of them. Spencer is no longer pushing on Michi and her personal space.
Michi has “centred” Spencer once more and is directing his attention towards her.
Michi has to learn to lead from the right side and Spencer must learn to stop and go when she says so. The signal to stop in this case is to firstly bring her own feet (energy) to a standstil, giving Spencer chance to react to that signal to stop. If that isn’t enough then she can go to the stronger signal of the raised hand and rope lifted in an upwards direction. This is new for Michi and for Spencer. Michi is used to pulling back and down on the rope, which has encouraged Spencer to “root” his nose and throw his weight even more into the halter and leadrope, with water-skiing scenarios ensuing.
Here I demonstrate the lifting, upward movement of the rope and hands. A very clear signal for Lucy to understand on a very “slack” rope.
Michi practises with Spencer, mirroring my movements. He’s tried to push into her with his right shoulder. She has raised her left hand quite high to the area between his ear and his right eye. This has the effect of blocking his attempts to push into her, and she has succeeded on getting a semi-yield of his forehand, thereby getting him to respect her personal space. She is no longer trying to pull him to get him to stand still. If she’d have tried to pull him into a halt, he would have run her over. Here he is respecting her personal space much more. ***
Michi has asked Spencer to halt beside her. She firstly brought herself to a halt (her feet and therefore her own energy), and in this picture he did stop when she did. The rope has a lot of slack and he is definitely respecting her personal space. He is no longer pulling her towards the grass.
Well done Michi and Spencer!
*most of the exercises mentioned here can be found on Kate Farmer’s Thinking Horse video available (click here): www.horsetrainingsolutions.com
** For more information about pressure and release, what it is and why it works see Kate Farmer’s free download article pressure and release available on the downloads page (click here): www.horsetrainingsolutions.com
*** For more information about personal space, what it is and why you need it see Kate Farmer’s free download article personal space available on the downloads page (click here): www.horsetrainingsolutions.com
Always wear appropriate safety items of clothing, gloves, shoes and head protection when handling or riding your horse. There is always some risk involved in horse training for both you and the horse. Be sensible and stay within your level of training. This information illustrates the training methods and techniques I and my colleagues use. It is your responsibility to use it wisely. It is not intended to replace personal instruction from a professional instructor. Keep yourself and your horse out of trouble. if you wish to learn more about these methods contact us at: email@example.com www.horsetrainingsolutions.com