Recently, a friend and I were discussing (again) philosophies of training horses. Our discussion began because she was expressing her frustration with how different trainers (and different disciplines) have asked her to use entirely different aids to accomplish the same goal. In some cases, she is successful, and in others, things unravel very quickly. For me, the proof is in the pudding… if it is correct, it works, time and again, in many circumstances, without dramatic or dangerous reactions from the horse. Is that to say every exercise or correction in position or aids works immediately like magic? No, but if you’re asking for something reasonable, the horse will try. And, as long as you recognize that effort, you’ll get the right answer after a little repetition.
A simple example: My horse has become dead/dull to my leg aids. I can kick and kick all day long and my horse never moves faster or more forward. Does this mean that I need more or stronger leg? Should I add spurs or get a bigger spur?
If your child’s clothes are all over his or her bedroom floor, do they listen more or less when you ask 500 times in a row in the same monotone voice? Hmmm. I believe this repetition has a name: nagging.
It’s the same for your horse. Less is more, as they say. You don’t need more leg or a bigger spur, you need your horse to respond when your leg says go. Great. I understand the theory. But how do I get this done? Well, for one, you can take leg away. That way using it means something. Try this exercise:
Trot around on a large circle with your leg off, posting the trot. Every 4th stride, sit two beats (changing your posting diagonal) and use your leg and seat to push the horse forward. But here’s the deal, that’s the only time you can use your leg and seat. So, for four beats, you allow the horse to go forward, then for two, push him forward. Then allow again. Not only does the horse have a different type of leg to listen to, they are allowed to relax once they push forward. In addition, you are weighting the hind end on both sides by switching your posting diagonal which encourages the horse to push evenly from both hind legs.
This exercise is simple. It has worked on every horse I’ve tried it with. And, the horse is rewarded for every effort through the relaxation that follows.