Teaching your horse to go backward with body cues
Teaching your horse to go backward with body cues
Understand Your Leg Aids
The “natural aids” are the tools that you were born with that allow you to communicate to the horse what you want him to do while you are riding. Traditionally, there are four natural aids, the seat, the legs, the hands and the voice. If you have attended one of my clinics or seminars, you already know that I feel very strongly that the primary natural aids, the seat, legs and hands, should always be used together, in a coordinated fashion, stemming always from the use of the seat aid first. I also teach that there are actually seven natural aids, the others being your breathing, your eyes and your brain.
For riders learning to use the aids to stop and go, I teach the “gears of the seat,” neutral, forward and reverse, to ask the horse to keep doing what he is doing, move more forward or stop or slow down. Neutral gear is sitting straight up over your seat bones in a relaxed and balanced position with your center of gravity right over the horse’s. Neutral gear tells the horse to keep doing what he is doing until you tell him something different. You should ride in neutral almost all the time. To ask the horse to move forward, you inhale; shift your center slightly forward (a clear signal to the horse to move forward); at the same time allowing your arms to move forward giving a release to his mouth and your legs to fall slightly back, closing on the horse’s sides and asking him to move forward.
The aids are reversed to ask the horse to stop or slow down: exhale, shift your center of gravity slightly back, while you arms come slightly back and up, closing the front door for the horse, your legs relax on the horse’s sides. As a rider progresses, the leg aids become more articulate to control different parts of the horse’s body for turning and more refined and controlled movements. The rider’s hands control the horse from the withers forward, but the seat, legs and hands together control the horse’s body from the withers back to his tail.
To simplify the use of the leg aids, I teach that there are three leg positions, using the terminology neutral, forward and back. The neutral leg position is when the rider’s leg hangs straight down, close to the horse’s sides, in the balanced position with ear-shoulder-hip and heel in alignment. Light pressure on the horse’s side from the neutral leg position will cause the horse to move his rib cage away from the pressure. This would be useful when asking the horse to arc his body and bend in a circle, as the rib cage moves out, the shoulder and hip bend into the circle. The forward leg position is applied by reaching toward the girth with your calf. I find it easiest to apply forward leg cues by twisting my lower leg and allowing my heel to come toward the girth or cinch.
Pressure from one leg at the forward position will move the horse’s shoulder away from the pressure or ask him to bend in the shoulder. When horses turn, they prefer to lean into the turn like a bicycle, thus dropping the shoulder and lurching onto the forehand. Light pressure with the forward leg position will ask the horse to keep his shoulder up and bend properly in the turn.
The back leg aid is applied when the rider’s leg shifts back a few inches behind the neutral position and it will ask the horse to move his hip away from the pressure. Again, this leg aid might be used in turning and bending the horse, to keep his hip in toward the center of the circle in order to be properly bent. Good hip control is also important for leads and lead changes and more advanced movements such as leg yielding (two-tracking) or side passing.
Leg aids work together but the rider might be using each leg in a separate position. For instance, if you are using the forward leg position with your inside leg to achieve an arcing turn, your outside leg would be in the back position to also keep the horse’s hip in place.
An ancient saying in horsemanship is that the inside leg gives impulsion and the outside leg gives direction. In other words, the inside leg is the gas pedal and the outside leg is the steering wheel. To control the horse’s entire body, the rider must be able to control the horse’s nose, the shoulder, the barrel and the hip. While the hands control the nose of the horse, the leg and rein aids work together to control the shoulder, barrel and hip.
Experiment with applying a light pulsating pressure with one leg in either the forward, neutral or back positions and feel how the horse will yield that part of his body to the pressure.
Coming Next on Horse Master and in print:
Julie Goodnight helps you put the techniques she demonstrates on her Horse Master show into action with your own horse. Watch NEW Horse Master episodes shot in Texas at the Banshee Ranch (http://bansheeranch.com/) throughout May, 2010 on RFD-TV every Wednesday at 5:30p EST —Direct TV channel 345, Dish Network channel 231 and on many cable outlets then visit www.horsemaster.tv and www.juliegoodnight.com for articles related to each episode, the gear used in each show, and for training DVDs and publications. Goodnight will feature a main training theme first shown on Horse Master in every column printed here. Plus, see clips from each show at: http://www.horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com/episodes.html and check out specials and even more clips on Julie’s Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/horsemaster.tv.
Slowing Down Fast Horse Tips
Hello Just wondering if you could give me some advice. My horse, a six year old mustang had been trained for about ten months. He stops, turns fine, but I cannot get him to slow down. Of course then I get nervous and then he gets nervous and we end up a mess, any advice? I would love to work it out with him, but cannot figure him out.
Kellie, Sounds like you’ve got yourself a pretty forward Mustang and I have trained a few Mustangs myself that fall into this category. There are basically two types of horses: one with too much go and one with too much whoa. I just finished a Q&A to someone that has a great Western Pleasure horse, but now she wants to ride English and is frustrated over trying to make her horse move forward. Your horse has the opposite problem and although both are frustrating (for both you and your horse) in my opinion the forward horse is a little more challenging to deal with. We get a lot of forward horses in training, because they are more challenging, so I’ll share with you some of the techniques that we use to get horses slowed down a little and to get them steady in their gaits. You’ll never make a Western Pleasure horse out of him, but you should be able to get him to hold a steady pace and slow down and relax. First let me tell you what definitely will NOT work. It will not work to use a harsher bit or to constantly pull back on the reins to slow your horse down. Any pressure on a horse’s mouth makes him more anxious. Forward horses tend to be more anxious to begin with and they also tend to be very sensitive. More pressure on their mouths almost always makes them faster. The classic scenario with a forward horse is that the rider is constantly pulling on both reins and the rider’s horse is getting more and more tense and starts to jig and speed up. What we want to do with a forward horse is anything that will make him relax, put his head down and slow down. We want him to learn to make an association between relaxing and getting a loose rein, which is what all horses want. Since we cannot slow him down by pulling back on the reins, the best option is to work on changing directions. Often people talk about using the circle to slow a horse down, but I find reverses to be much more effective. For one thing, often when people use a circle to slow a horse down, they pull your horse into a sharp sudden fast circle, which tends to excite and irritate your horse rather than slow him down. Every time your horse changes direction, he has to slow down as he turns back the other way. For changes of direction, ride two-handed in a snaffle with both hands well in front of the pommel and with a reasonably loose rein. In slow motion, move both hands to the side (in the direction you want to turn) so that the inside rein is a leading rein and the outside rein is a neck rein (see the Q&A about rein-aids). Move your hands as a unit like they are connected; there’s NO BACKWARD PULL ON THE REINS. Do not pull back on the reins and do not try to slow your horse down. Just turn to the left for a moment, and then slowly and gently change your turn to the right, then left, then right, etc. It’s critical that you’re moving your hands in slow motion and that you’re not pulling back on the reins as you do. Your turns should be totally random, half turn, quarter turn, full turn, etc.; don’t let yourself fall into a pattern. Gradually (it may take minutes, hours or days) your horse will begin to slow his trot every time he changes direction. Once this starts happening, let him go straight between turns and then slowly and gently bring him into a turn when you feel him first begin to speed up. Ultimately, you should be going straight between every turn, and then you will let your horse stay straight as long as he is relaxed until he is maintaining a steady relaxed trot without turning. Make sure your hands are moving together and there’s very little or no pressure on your horse’s mouth. Whenever you need to correct your horse’s nose to bring it into the turn, pick up (not back or down) slowly on the inside rein and immediately release it when your horse gives his nose. Eventually, you should be able to make these turns and straightness with just the slow movement of your hands on a totally loose rein and without actual contact on your horse’s mouth. Another thing it would be very useful for your horse to learn is a drop-your-head cue. With nervous horses, this is a very important step. A horse’s head comes up as he tenses and it drops as he relaxes. If you can cue your horse to drop his head, you have succeeded in teaching him a cue to relax, since it’s not physically possible for him to drop his head and stay tense. Start from the ground with a rope halter and training lead. Apply gentle steady pressure down on the halter by pulling on the lead and watch your horse VERY carefully for his head dropping. At the very first fraction of an inch, release the halter and praise your horse. Then ask again, watching very closely for any movement in the right direction, then release and apply copious praise. It’s better to err on the side of the release being sooner rather than later. Timing is everything in horse training. The optimal timing for a release is half a second after the desired response. The first few inches down will be a challenge, but the next foot is easy. Once your horse figures it out he will gladly drop his head all the way to the ground every time you ask. Once he can do this reliably from the ground, it’s time to teach the same cue from the saddle. Standing still, you will use one rein, shorten it up to apply light pressure to your horse’s mouth and wait until the head drops the smallest fraction of an inch then drop the rein entirely and give copious praise. Don’t worry if your horse begins to move about, just focus on the head dropping and release whenever it does. In the same process your horse will gradually figure out that when you apply pressure with one rein and he drops his head, the pressure will go away. Again, the first few inches are very hard to get and will require a great deal of patience and concentration on your part, but the next couple feet to the ground will come much more quickly. What ever you do, don’t succumb to applying more pressure if your horse does not respond. Apply just enough pressure that your horse begins to look for a way out of the pressure. He will guess what to do to find the release. He may put his head up, to the side, etc., but eventually he will try moving his head down and that is the instant he must find the release so that he makes an association between the cue and the right answer. This is a general concept in training that applies to almost anything that you do. More pressure is never the answer; you just need enough pressure that your horse begins to look for a way out of it. Oddly enough, sometimes a very nervous horse can actually become addicted to lowering his heads and relaxing. He doesn’t really want to be nervous and frightened all the time and when he finds the peace by putting his head down, he comes to like it. This can actually become a little bit of a problem in some horses (they want to put their head way down all the time) but that is not very common and it’s a far better problem to have than the original one. I would not expect your horse to become a Western Pleasure horse, but he is capable of slowing down, relaxing and getting steady. Try these exercises, be patient, always move your hands in slow motion and give the exercises considerable time to work. Good luck and let me know how it goes.
Julie Goodnight, Trainer and Clinician