To hone your basic gate-opening skills (see “Open a Gate,” Horsemanship & Maneuvers, The Trail Rider, January/February ’10), master a turn on the forehand. In this maneuver, your horse obediently and slowly swings his hips and back legs around his anchored front legs, moving in a complete circle.
Turning on the forehand is crucial as you ask your horse to pivot around the end of the gate while you work the gate’s latch.
Note that it’s a common misconception that you should practice sidepassing before opening a gate. Sidepassing shouldn’t be part of the gate-opening process unless you need to sidepass toward the gate instead of walking up alongside it before you start the opening procedure. In reality, you’ll master the gate when you and your horse know how to turn on the forehand.
Here’s how to teach your horse to turn on the forehand. (First, tack up your horse, and head to an enclosed work area with good footing. Then warm him up for at least 20 minutes so he’s mentally and physically prepared for the exercise.)
Step 1. Block forward motion. Halt your horse, then “close the front door” to forward movement. To do so, apply rein pressure, and sit up tall so you don’t’ inadvertently prompt him to go forward or back with a seat or weight shift.
Step 2. Move his hips over. Start by moving your horse’s hips to the right. Reach back with your left leg, and apply pulsating leg pressure just behind the cinch/girth. At the same time, lift up, in, and back with your left rein while keeping your right rein close to your horse’s neck. Your leg and rein aids tell him that the only open door is to the right, not forward, back, or to the left. You’re blocking both forward and sideways movement.
Step 3. Release and repeat. As soon as your horse takes a step over with his hip, release the cue, and repeat Steps 1 and 2 to ask for another step. Maintain rein contact to keep his shoulders and front end in place.
Step 4. Reverse direction. When your horse learns to take one step to the right, reverse the cues and ask for one step to the left. Practice the one-step/release procedure to the left several times, then the one step/release procedure to the right the same number of times. Then reward your horse by ending the session, and giving him rubs and praise. Always end a training session on a good note.
Step 5. Ask for more steps. When your horse readily takes one step to the right and left in response to your cues, request more than one step before releasing your cues. Work up to a quarter turn and ultimately a full circle. To make sure he isn’t inching forward, align his body with an arena marker so you’ll have a visual aid.
The turn on the forehand is a great skill to have on the trail, whether or not you’re working a gate. Practicing the maneuver will help you control your horse’s every step, which will help you negotiate around obstacles in tight places.
You’ll also become more aware of how your well your horse can feel your subtle posture changes. Just by changing the location of your leg pressure and shifting your weight, you’re telling your horse which legs to move, how much, and when. That’s true horsemanship: You’re learning a classic skill that will help you better communicate with your horse.
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