We don’t take a lot of outside horses to train, but in the times that we do, we often find ourselves starting the horse over.
Why would you take the time to do that, you might ask, if it’s a horse that is already riding around?
There’s several reasons, the first one being that it’s the best way for us to be safe and see what the horse knows. It’s all related- how your horse acts on the ground, is a great way to see how he’ll act when you’re on his back.
I’m sure many of you have heard the phrase “the horse moves away from pressure.” And while that is true, the better way to say that same thing is “Teach the horse to search for the release”.
Horses simply want to be comfortable. And they’d do whatever we asked them if they knew what we wanted the first time, so we must become more proficient at speaking “horse”. We need to be consistent with our release so our horse learns to search for it. When we become consistent, our horse will try even harder for us. We also have to believe that the horse will try, that the horse is seeking comfort and that he is seeking to please us.
One of the best places to teach the horse to search for the release is from the ground- yet another reason we “restart” the horses we get in to ride. In essence, we can ride our horse from the ground. We can teach him to disengage his hips, bring his shoulders through, leg yield and move his hips all while going forward. He can also learn to go back, come forward, and be soft and relaxed in the process. All of which are things we’re going to want him to do when we ride him.
One time I was riding a client horse who had learned to rear up and had even flipped over backward a time or two. We’d spent some time in the arena, and doing groundwork, getting him soft in his face and reminding him that he can move his feet. But at some point, it’s time to get out in the open and see the country. So we did just that.
All was going well, and we were having a lot of fun, crossing creeks, and riding through the cows, and I figured he was at a great place to quit him. So we headed back to the barn. And that is when the horse of old appeared again. When I’d ask him to disengage his hips to the left, by picking up my right rein, he’d try to take his head back to the left, and his feet would lock up. It’s an interesting, often scary feeling, when your horse locks up and he feels like backwards or up is the only option. But instead of releasing him to go back to the barn, which is where he wanted to go, I sat, quietly, patiently, and asked for his face again. Once his face got soft, his feet followed. We did that several times, until I felt him “turn loose” to me, at which time I released him to go back to the barn.
This horse was a good opportunity for me to remind myself that he’s only seeking comfort and consistency. And if I ask for his face and feet, and release when it gets right, then he gets just that- comfort. Over time, with each ride, he got better and better and continued to turn loose. I believe that anyone can teach their horse to search for comfort if they have a plan before they begin and they do their best to release when it gets “right”.
Smile and Ride!