Winter Workouts – Ride Right With Julie Goodnight

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The Trail Rider ~ January/February 2015

 

RIDE RIGHT WITH JULIE GOODNIGHT

Winter Workouts

Hone your horse’s manners and your leadership skills now for a better ride in the spring with these tips from top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

By Heidi Melocco with Julie Goodnight ~ Photos by Heidi Melocco

 

Unless you’re in the sunbelt, winter may mean less ride time and more turnout for your horse. Until the ground thaws and is safe for riding, what can you do to keep your horse focused on you?

When horses are turned out for the winter—they may quickly revert to a herd mentality. In that mode, horses follow the herd’s cues and aren’t tuned in to your leadership. Make sure to spend quality time with your horse this winter so that you won’t have to start over in the spring.

“If, in the winter, you only see your horse at feeding time –or when you step in to rub on him and bring him treats— and he’s otherwise turned out with buddies, you may be undermining instead of boosting your leadership,” says top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. “It’s not that you’re never going to hug on your horse or love on him, but respect has to come first and you need think about how you’re interacting with your horse every time you’re near him.”

How long does it take a horse to be turned out and become part of the big herd instead of part of your horse-and-human herd of two? Goodnight says that as horses approach middle age, they may become more herd-bound, but individual horses react differently with more or less time away from work.

Groundwork done well all year long can help you keep your horse looking to you for leadership. Your horse will continue (or become) a respectful partner who is looking for your leadership and permission.

You can do groundwork in a small space—in your barnyard or even inside the barn. You only need a small area that isn’t slippery and that is fairly level. Outfit your horse in a rope halter and a long training lead with a rope-to-rope connection at the halter.

You can always do groundwork and you and your horse will never outgrow it—just progress to more challenging skills. Over the winter, do these exercises as often as possible. Once a day is ideal, but once a week or once a month is much better than not working with your horse in the cold season.

Here, Goodnight gives you three exercises to work on throughout the winter. Plus, she’ll provide a rope-halter tying tip that kids can practice inside.

 

Step 1. Body Awareness

Help your horse tune in to your body cues and sign language and begin to have more deference for your leadership—and your personal space. A horse’s spatial awareness is acute—he has a greater appreciation for sign language and body language than humans do. It’s your job to mind your position and body language and make sure that you’re aware of your posture and consistent cues.

Define your personal space every time you are near your horse. Stretch your arms out around you in all directions. That is your space and space your horse should not enter without permission.  Free yourself of the need to be in your horse’s space all the time. That’s beneficial for you but not helpful for your relationship with your horse. If you enter your horse’s space all the time—kissing and hugging—your horse will not have a clear idea about your personal boundaries. While you sometimes want to love on your horse, start with a clear boundary and only allow that closeness after you have set up a clear expectation of his space and yours.

Practice your body postures. Away from your horse and in front of a mirror, practice your submissive and more aggressive postures. If your shoulders are rounded and your toes are pointed away, you’ll appear unthreatening to your horse. If your shoulders are up, your chest is puffed and your chin is high, and you look straight at your horse, he will take that as an aggressive or admonishing posture.

Think about when you’ll use each posture with your horse. If you want your horse to have a break and not be reactive to your every move, you want your posture to be less threatening. Roll your shoulders forward and divert your eyes to take the pressure off your horse—or to help your horse know that you’re not an aggressor if you are trying to catch him in the pasture. When you get ready to move with your horse, you’ll want to appear active and confident.

No matter what posture you adopt, know when and how you are moving.

 

Step 2. Stand Still

When you ride in the spring, you want to know that your horse will stand still for mounting, you also want your horse to stand still if you need to hop off and help another rider. Standing still is beneficial for many trail applications and learning to stand still reminds your horse to focus on you.

Your horse needs to be focused on you. Your horse should get in the habit of reacting to your cues—instead of looking for something to spook at or focus attention upon. Your horse needs to look at you and think before making a move. That mindset taught now on the ground, will apply to your saddle time in the spring. If your horse knows he needs to look to you first, you’re training him to listen and obey whether you are on the ground or in the saddle. You don’t want a trail horse to look around and react to external stimuli. You want him focused on you and the trail ahead of him. Teaching him to stand still and ground tie will help him stay tuned in to you.

As a bonus, adding in the command to “whoa,” will teach your horse to stop and focus on you—no matter where you are. When you’re on the trail next season, you’ll solidify your horse’s ability to focus on you. If he does spook when you’re riding, you will have a horse that knows that whoa means stop now. You’ll program in a command that may keep him from running off on the trail—and instead he’ll focus on you.

If your horse has been cooped up and confined, you might start with an exercise that allows the horse to move around, but if your horse has been turned out for the day and has moved a bit on his own, this is a great place to start.

This is an exercise you can do most anywhere. You’ll ask your horse to stand still like a statue and not move a hoof. Place your horse where you’d like him to stand then turn and face him—make sure you’re not standing too close. You don’t want to hold your horse still, you want him to know that he must listen and choose to stand still. Stand about 6 feet away and point your toes toward his left shoulder. Make sure you’re not standing directly in front of him, but just off to the left side of his body.

If he moves a hoof or turns his head so that his nose passes his shoulders, issue an immediate correction by sending a wave through the lead line so that it puts pressure on the rope halter. Use the amount of pressure needed to get his attention. Some horses need only a small movement of the rope to remind him to listen.

Your horse will quickly learn that every time he moves a foot without your authorization, he’ll get in trouble. That lesson happens quickly, in the very first session.

When your horse obeys, heighten the challenge. Step farther away and eventually lay the middle of the rope on the ground while you hold the end. When your horse is listening well, you can lay the rope down and teach your horse to ground tie. That’s an invaluable skill on the trail and something that will easily apply to your summer rides when your horse is saddled up.

Want more of a challenge? Ask your horse to stand still when he doesn’t want to—before it’s time for turnout or when other horses are moving into the barn to eat. Your horse needs to listen to you no matter what the horse herd is doing around him. Once your horse knows the lesson, it doesn’t matter how much energy he has-he should stand still when asked.

Even if you only ask him to stand for 30 seconds, you’ll strengthen your relationship as your horse looks to you to know what to do and how to act. Work up to 10-15 minutes of practice a day and you’ll have a horse who can successfully ground tie before spring.

 

Step 3. Leading Manners

Ground manners are paramount on the trail. You might be riding in an uncontrollable environment. If you one day need to pony a horse, lead line lessons will translate to being able to ride next to another horse. There are also many times when it may be safer to get off and lead your horse across difficult terrain. If your horse knows how to follow you well when you’re leading, it may help you both stay safe on a narrow or cliff-lined trail.

Sequence your cues so that you always do the same thing in the same order. Break down your cues into step 1, step 2, step 3. First you’ll look up and lean your shoulders forward then you’ll move your feet, then he’ll get a pull on the lead if he doesn’t move.

This is an important lesson for you as the handler to practice. If you can understand how to break down your cues and sequence every cue you give your horse, you can apply that skill to any lesson you’d like to teach your horse. When you learn to sequence your aids, your horse will learn and respond very quickly. You’ll build your relationship with your horse over the winter so that you’re ready to teach your horse anything new when you’re back in the saddle. Let’s apply that sequencing to teaching your horse how to maintain a respectful position as you lead him.

Get your horse to focus on your movements and maintain a position by your side—no matter how fast or slow you move and no matter what direction you turn. This is similar to teaching a dog to heal—there is a correct position where he should be and a line that he shouldn’t cross. You don’t want your horse to move into your space or move ahead of you.

Move deliberately and be consistent with your body language. When you start to walk, lean your shoulders forward and use a verbal cue to tell him to walk on. That movement comes before you pull on the lead. Don’t hold constant pressure on the lead, but hold the lead loosely so that your horse learns to follow your body language without expecting a pull. You want to teach him to move with you—not depend on a tight lead line.

Your horse’s nose shouldn’t move past your lead hand and his shoulder definitely shouldn’t move past yours. If your horse crosses the boundary, snap back hard on the rope, turn around and face him, stomp your feet and cause him to back up; admonish with your voice.

Use the amount of pressure that causes the horse to think “what did I do and what can I do so that doesn’t happen again?” Some horses may only need you to turn and look at him with a stern look, other horses may need more pressure and need you to stop, turn and back him up a few steps with authority. If you’re using enough pressure and good timing, your horse will learn the precise place he should be very quickly. If you find yourself constantly pulling or initiating a correction multiple times, check to make sure your corrections are consistent and escalate the pressure slightly and add a verbal admonishment.

Note: Make sure you aren’t pulling back on the lead line to hold the horse back. If you pull on the lead all the time, the horse will forever rely on that pressure to tell him where to be. You’ll constantly have to hold him back. You need to give him the responsibility to keep himself in the proper place.

If your horse doesn’t want to move forward enough and lags behind, you’ll also need to change your body language. When you move your shoulders forward (telling the horse that you’re about to move) then move your feet, your horse should step with you. If you have to also pull on the rope, bring your arms in close to your body and lean forward hard on the rope. Make sure your are not too close to your horse. If you lean forward quickly as a correction (and not as a constant pull) you’ll teach your horse to pay attention to the body language that came first instead of waiting for the pull.

Some people turn and swat the horse with the end of a lead if they don’t move forward. This can be confusing for the horse because you’re actually turning around and changing your direction. If your horse doesn’t move forward, spend more time asking your horse to move forward (especially into the trot) and make sure to lean your shoulders first, start to move, then lean forward into the rope to make the correction. Praise the horse when he moves into the trot then ask him again. Soon he’ll learn that when you first lean forward, he better move or he’ll soon feel much more pressure on the halter.

Escalate the challenge by changing speeds, turning (always moving the horse away from you and out of your space instead of pulling him toward you), then turning at different speeds and degrees. To turn, simply walk toward the direction you want to go. If your horse doesn’t move, pick up your hands and defend your space—waving your hands just behind your horse’s eye without touching him will help him know to move away from you.

Soon you’ll be able to walk in all directions with little to no pressure on the rope and only with your body language. You may even choose to work with a neck rope instead of a halter and lead to test your horse’s obedience while maintaining a way to correct him if needed.

The more you work with your horse over the winter, the more he’ll be focused on you when it’s time for more saddle time in the spring. Plus, you’ll keep up your own horsemanship skills and learn to be aware of how your body position and sequencing of cues helps your horse to learn quickly and easily. With that lesson learned, you’ll be able to teach your horse most anything you’d like to for great trail rides.

For more training tips from Julie Goodnight and to access her free online library, go to www.juliegoodnight.com.

For more information on equine behavior, see Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with bonus DVD, available from HorseBooksEtc.com.

Tying a rope halter can be a challenge. Goodnight says she often sees rope halters tied with an incorrect knot and the excess “tail” aimed toward the horse’s eye instead of his tail. It’s time to practice tying so that you’ll always tie the rope halter correctly.

Take your horse’s rope halter inside and practice haltering a stuffed horse or have your parents hold the halter as if it were on a horse’s head.

Tie the halter knot by bringing the crown piece down through the halter’s loop. Then tie around the bottom part of the loop, making a figure eight appearance and ensuring that the excess strap is pointed toward the horse’s tail.

Need more help? Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPYy-3A8s8k

To Spur Or Not To Spur

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Ask Julie Goodnight:
When and how should I use spurs to prompt my lazy horse?

Question: Dear Julie, I’ve seen your show on RFD-TV about how to lower your horse’s head. In the episode you mentioned something about spurs, how to use the spurs at the right time and it’s not always a good idea to use on a lazy horse. My question is when I get ready to ride my horse, how do I make it go forward? Do I need spurs? I kick and pull but it won’t move forward. Does my horse need more training? I need advice. –Bryant

Answer: Hi Bryant,
Thanks for watching the show. We get lots of feedback from people on how much they learn in each episode and often they say they watch the show again and again and pick up something new each time. The truth is, there is a lot of info packed into a half-hour show and there are always things I wish I had more time to address. You touch on several really good issues in your question and I need to make a clarification about when to use spurs and when not to.

When talking about getting your horse to lower his head and round his frame, I always talk about using a lot of leg (not spur) and that you always increase leg pressure when you increase rein pressure. There are many articles in my Training Library that address the horse’s frame, lowering the head and collection and volume 5 in my riding DVD series, Refinement and Collection gives extensive instruction as well.

Before you ask for any horse to lower his head and round his frame, he must be moving freely and willingly forward in all gaits. This is a much more basic and fundamental stage of training which far precedes collection and rounding of the frame. Forward motion is one of the most fundamental tenets of classical horsemanship. Anyone who has ever started colts knows this—you cannot teach them anything (stop, go, turn) until they are moving freely forward. Free and forward movement is the basis of all training.
If your horse is not moving freely forward on command in all gaits, you must address this fundamental problem before you can ask a horse to lower its head or anything else. As with all training problems, you must first and foremost consider a physical cause. You’d be surprised how often people pour thousands of dollars and hours into training when the horse was acting that way because he was in pain—an ill-fitting saddle, a painful bit, a sore joint, a rib out of place that only hurts when you ask him to canter (right before he bucks you off). With a horse that is not moving willingly forward, it could be any of these and dozens of other physical causes. Best to have your horse assessed by a vet to rule out any issues.

Once a physical problem is ruled out as a possible cause of the horse’s refusal to move forward, then you can look to the horse’s training. First off, does he have any clue of what you are asking him to do? You’d be surprised how many horses are being ridden regularly but have very little actual training. When it comes to responding to the bit and cues, it has to be taught by someone. Often I see horses that just simply are untrained even though they are packing a rider down the trail with no problems. A horse must be taught how to respond to rein pressure; it does not come naturally to a horse. If your horse is lacking basic training, watch my video on Bit Basics and you can easily learn to train your horse for a light response and low head carriage.
The next thing to consider is whether this is learned behavior by your horse? In other words, does the horse know better (to move off your leg) but is acting this way now because it has worked so well for him in the past? It doesn’t take much of a perceived gain for a horse to learn that his refusal gets him what he wants—many insensitive horses will gladly endure the kicking and spurring from a rider if it means he doesn’t have to lope circles or do any work. Again, there are articles in my training library that may help if this is the case.

However, as is often the case, and the topic of an episode of Horse Master we just taped (it will air in May ‘11), in some cases the problem is that the rider is giving the horse conflicting signals by pulling back on the reins when she wants the horse to go forward. If you are riding a lazy horse or one that is reluctant to move forward in some situations (like when approaching a giant mud puddle—as in the case of the episode we just taped), and you pull back on the reins, the horse will choose to take that as permission to stop. Any backward pull on the reins inhibits forward motion; that is a fundamental truth that you should always remember. In some cases, we do want to inhibit forward motion, like when asking the horse to stop or collect his frame (but he has to be moving freely forward first). But in many cases, riders are pulling on the reins, inhibiting forward motion when they don’t really mean to, like when the horse spooks, balks, backs or is just plain being lazy.

Remember that forward motion precedes all other training concerns and when you need the horse to move more forward, you must reach forward with your hands towards the horse’s ears. If you pull back on the reins when the horse is not moving freely forward or even just keep your hands in a neutral position, the horse is unlikely to move forward. Actively pulling back on the reins of a lazy horse or one that is not moving forward for any other reason will always make the problem worse.

As to your question about spurs, let me clarify what I said on the show and how I feel about this artificial aid. I said that, to me, the use of spurs is not a good choice on a lazy horse. It is not an aid to make a slow horse faster; it is an advanced-level aid for advanced riders to use on advanced horses to motivate them to a higher level of performance and do more difficult maneuvers. If the problem with your horse not moving forward is simply because he is lazy and has learned to ignore a polite request from your legs, then he needs to be reminded to respond to a light leg.
I prefer the use of the crop to reinforce your leg aid, rather than the spur, in the instance of the horse not moving forward off a light leg cue. A spur will often make the lazy horse even duller to your leg and make him sull up and balk even more. Kicking harder on a lazy horse also does not work well because the lazy horse will tolerate the pressure and just wait for you to quit kicking from exhaustion (which doesn’t take long).

To use the crop as a reinforcement to your light leg aid, in a horse that is trained but not responding, ask once lightly for forward movement with a shift of your weight forward and a gentle bump with your calves (and a dramatic forward reach with your hands). If he ignores your polite initial request, immediately reinforce your leg cue with a sharp spank with the crop right where your leg cued him (make sure you keep reaching forward with your hands—a lot!). If done right, this will undoubtedly send him expeditiously forward, but do not contradict yourself as most riders do by then pulling back on the reins (and punishing him for doing what you asked him to do). Let him move forward freely and only stop him when he is voluntarily moving forward, without any pedaling from you.

Then ask your horse again lightly to move off your legs, prepared to reinforce with the crop again if needed, but always giving him the opportunity to respond to your light aids first. If your timing was good the first time and you used adequate pressure to motivate the horse, the second time you ask with your legs, he should step right off. But you may need more than one spanking before the horse begins to take your leg cues seriously again. With good timing and the right skill level of the rider, the horse will be moving freely forward in minutes. Again, this is a tip for refreshing a trained horse that has become unresponsive– you would train a young horse that didn’t know better a little differently.

I did a “Quick Tip” for Horse Master recently, which may be airing soon, about the use of spurs. Basically it said that spurs are neither a piece of apparel nor a fashion statement, they are an artificial aid. And like many artificial aids, they have a propensity to be used incorrectly, even abusively and they can become a crutch to good riding. I believe that spurs should only be used by an advanced rider that has excellent control over their balance and leg position; inadvertent/indescriminant use of the spur will confuse a horse and can be downright dangerous on some horses. I also believe that with an advanced rider, training a horse to do advanced maneuvers (like collection, lateral movements or other maneuvers that require more effort from the horse), the spur can be a useful tool to motivate the horse to try a little harder. I have written a lot about “finding the amount of pressure that motivates change,” so I’ll let you read up more on this concept by visiting my Training Library (http://juliegoodnight.com).

I think that covers your questions and answers to a few you didn’t ask too! Thanks for watching Horse Master and keep learning!
Enjoy the ride,

–Julie Goodnight Trainer and Clinician
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If you liked this article, Julie suggests the following products to help you continue the work with your horse (http://shop.juliegoodnight.com or call 800-225-8827 for ordering help):
The Goodnight’s Principles of Riding 5-Part DVD Series

My Horse Won’t Stand Still For Mounting

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Common Complaints

My horse won’t stand still for mounting.

Follow Julie Goodnight’s advice to teach your horse to stand still while you mount up.

Does your horse begin the ride before you do? When you put your foot in the stirrup to mount, are you hopping and scrambling, reaching for a handhold on the saddle, or dangling from your horse’s side while he heads down the trail? Or does he take off the instant you skim the leather—leaving you grabbing for the reins as you struggle to get your foot in the stirrups before he reaches full speed?

If you’re nodding your head, knowing the scenario describes you and your horse, it’s time to make a change. Here, we’ll discuss why your horse may act out this annoying and dangerous behavior then give you steps to take to teach your horse to stand quietly and relaxed for mounting. Soon you’ll have a horse that stands like a statue on a loose rein as you mount.

The Reason
Many horses have never been taught or required to stand still on any occasion, let alone for mounting. Until you can control your horse’s feet (both moving and not moving), you don’t really have control of the horse; this is as true on the ground as it is for riding.

Horses are very impulsive when it comes to moving—remember they are flight animals. To get a horse to think before he acts—and not move impulsively—takes good training and strong leadership skills. A horse must not only learn what rules to follow, but also that there are ramifications if he breaks a rule—that’s where your leadership comes into play.

For young horses, it’s important to learn good ground manners, including standing still when asked. A good trainer will start with lots of ground work to gain control over the horse’s feet. When the youngster is started under saddle, from the first time he’s mounted, he learns to stand quietly and wait for a cue before walking off.

Many older horses that do not stand still for mounting have been inadvertently trained to act this way. I call it “anti-training.” Generally the rider has been condoning the horse’s impulsive movement for months, if not years before realizing there’s a problem. It starts with little infractions—small but unauthorized actions– and gradually it snowballs until your horse hardly listens to you at all.

Often the horse has gotten into this habit from an eager-beaver rider that mounts and takes off. Soon the horse expects it and he makes an association with mounting and moving his feet—this the action of mounting becomes his cue.

Instead of correcting the unauthorized actions of the horse, many riders cave in to the horse’s actions, thus condoning it. This is often rationalized by the rider as being okay because “I was going to ask him to walk anyway,” but the horse sees it for what it’s: he’s making the decisions therefore he’s the leader.

In short order, you have trained your horse to walk off as you mount. Since he thinks he’s doing the right thing, he’ll begin to walk off sooner each time you mount until you won’t even have a foot in the stirrup before he’s headed down the road.

Whether your horse has never learned proper ground manners or has inadvertently learned to walk off through inaction or a lack of authority on your part, there are some simple steps you can take to fix this common complaint.

The Solution
First, take assessment of your horse’s general ground manners and respect for authority. Is he always respectful of your space? Does he lead with good manners, matching you step for step, stopping when you do and going as fast as you ask? Will he stand patiently and wait for you whenever you stop and does he stand quietly for the vet and farrier?

If you have complete authority over your horse, you can control his feet entirely, both moving and standing still. If this is not the case for you and your horse, you probably need to start doing groundwork to develop this critical connection with your horse. There are numerous articles on my website on how and why you do groundwork. I also have DVDs that will explain horse behavior and training techniques; the videos and all the equipment you’ll need are available packages at Shopping.JulieGoodnight.com.

I teach my horse that he can’t move a single foot unless I authorize the move. I practice this stand-like-a-statue game a lot, especially at times when I know my horse does not want to stand (like when all the other horses are headed back to the barn). These exercises are thoroughly explained on my website and in my DVD called Lead Line Leadership.

Once your horse is obedient and mannerly from the ground, you can start retraining him to stand still for mounting. The first step is to realize that whatever you have been doing, hasn’t worked. You have probably condoned the behavior many times or not given adequate corrections or insisting on obedience. You’ll have to make a commitment to change that—to be the captain of the ship.

It may have been your impatience that has led to this problem, so you’ll need to get in the habit of standing for a moment after you mount and never letting your horse walk off without waiting for a cue. If he just walks off because you’re mounting, he’s making an unauthorized action and it needs to be met with a swift and certain correction. Pick up on the reins, back him up and say “whoa!”. Be adamant about not letting the horse walk off until you cue him and you should only cue him when he’s standing still (just a momentary pause will do).

If your horse is walking off before you even get a foot in the stirrup, there’s a simple exercise you can do to change his associations. It’s a classic case of making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard for the horse. Like all horse training, this exercise requires an excellent sense of timing and consistent reinforcement.

Outfit your horse in his normal riding gear, with the reins secured to the saddle and a 25’ longe line clipped in the left ring of the bit. Approach your horse in slow motion, as if to mount; it’s important that you move slowly so that the timing of your corrections is precise. Keep the reins and line loose and do not make any effort to prevent the horse from moving off—let him make that decision—through this exercise, you’ll make him rethink that choice.

As you go through the motions of mounting, your horse will begin to move—you’ll have to concentrate hard to find the right instant. At that time, step back (well out of the kick zone) and get after your horse; send him out on the longe circle, making him trot long and hard until he’s eager for a stop cue. Then ask him to stop and repeat, approaching in slow motion to mount.

Each time he walks off without authorization from you, longe the pants off of him—give him a reason to think about how he can get out of this dilemma. You may need a training flag or whip to keep a safe distance from his flying hooves and to motivate him to action.

Each time you start the mounting process over, look for an opportunity to reward him. As you go slowly through the motions, if you reach a milestone—say, you put your foot in the stirrup and he holds still, reward him by turning and walking away from him and leave him in peace and comfort for a moment.

In the process, while he’s thinking and holding still, pet him and tell him he’s a great horse when he’s doing the right thing and hiss and spit at him when he’s not. Put him to work when he decides to move on his own.

When he begins to understand that you’re asking him to do something really easy, you’ll be able to go further and further in the mounting process until you’re on his back with him standing still. Once you swing your foot over his back, your hands control his movements. When he stands for mounting, reward him by getting off right away. Repeat this numerous times during each training session so he really understands what is expected of him.

If your timing is good, it should only take a few repetitions before your horse begins to make an association with his decision to walk off and having to work really hard. Suddenly the easy thing to do is stand still. If it takes you more than 6-8 circling episodes to make progress with your horse, it probably means you do not have the skills needed to have good timing in the release of pressure. He may be learning the wrong thing and you probably need to enlist some professional help.

With repetition, good timing and lots of enforcement on your part, your horse will soon learn to stand like a statue when you mount. For a wealth of information on the skills and knowledge needed to gain complete authority over your horse and cue him correctly visit TV.JulieGoodnight.com.