The five basic moves that take you from passenger to driver.
Great things for your horse to know even if you never ride or drive them!
Growing up taking English riding/jumping lessons I found it frustrating that the way my friends rode was so simple and my lessons seemed so complicated. They mounted their horses and took off. Kick to go, pull to stop, and pull on one side of the reins to turn in that direction. Why did I have to do so much work?
Collection, connection, on the bit, lateral, cadence, engagement, blah, blah, blah. And what about the eluded half-halt! My friends never talked like that!
Eventually I grew up and started riding and training my own horses. There are five basic moves I like to teach my horses on the ground that transfer into the saddle. They are the basics of almost everything I do in the saddle and can be taught to horses no matter how young. Foundation building blocks, I would say. They are not something new that I invented or even thought of on my own. They were taught to me years ago.
I still do these on the ground and/or in saddle before every ride (after warming horse up) to check his responsiveness and attitude.
- Flexion of the nose/face
- Turning on haunches
- Turning forehand
- Stepping latteral
Flexion of nose/face
Goal – When I “ask for his face” he will give softly, willingly, and completely.
I use it to ask for bend and stretch and to be soft and supple.
I started by standing my horses side at the shoulder or neck area. For the first few times at least, I had my lead rope attached to the side of the halter at the nose band area and not in the middle. Holding the lead rope about 1 foot away I applied a light intermittent pull until he turns his face, even ever so slightly, then I immediately STOP as the reward. I praise him for a bit and repeat. If he doesn’t do anything or turns the other way, I make the pulls a little faster and firmer until he does. As he learns what the correct response is he starts turning his head easier and I can ask that he turn it more and work my way to him turning and touching his nose to girth area with a very very light “ask”. I do this on both sides equally making sure to switch the lead rope to the side I am working on!
Turning on haunches- (yielding forehand)
Goal – My horse will step his front outside leg in front of and across his front inside leg while pivoting on the inside rear leg .
Used to gain control of my horses front end (shoulder and leg).
I start by standing at my horses shoulder holding the lead rope. I ask him to move away from me using my hands (raising them) and a click. My horses know that click sounds mean to move. 1 click = walk, 2 clicks = trot, and repetitive clicks mean canter. In the beginning I may need to poke a little with my finger on his shoulder or wave the rope at his shoulder in the air or making contact, for him to move away from my pressure. As soon as he does, I stop and praise before repeating. He doesn’t have to step correctly while learning the appropriate response. He just needs to move his front end away even just a step. After he learns to move away from my pressure I increase the number of steps as well as making sure he is stepping over and across his front inside leg with his front outside leg. If he is crossing behind the inside leg he is moving in a backward direction and I encourage him in a forward direction. If he walks more forward than over I step closer to his face to block off too much forward motion. Eventually he will cross over and over while pivoting on the inside hind leg in a complete circle.
Turning on forehand- (yielding haunches)
Goal – He will step his back outside leg in front of and across his back inside leg while pivoting on the inside front leg .
Used to gain control of your horses back end (hip, leg, and motor-more on the motor if anyone needs).
I start by standing at my horses hip holding the lead rope. I ask him to move away from me using my hands (raising them) and a click. In the beginning I may need to poke a little with my finger on his hip area or wave the rope at his hip in the air or making contact, for him to move away from my pressure. As soon as he does, I stop and praise before repeating. He doesn’t have to step correctly while learning the appropriate response. He just needs to move his back end away even just a step. After he learns to move away from my pressure I increase the number of steps as well as making sure he is stepping over and across his back inside leg with his back outside leg. If he is crossing behind the inside leg he is moving in a backward direction and I encourage him in a forward direction. If he walks more forward than over I take the slack out of the lead rope and bring my hand toward his withers to shut down his inside shoulder and forward motion. Eventually he will cross over and over while pivoting on the inside front leg in a complete circle.
Sound familiar? It’s the opposite of the turning on haunches.
Reverse or back up
One of the most important pieces for any horse to learn whether riding or not!
Goal – He will backup when I very slightly move or lift the lead rope or step toward him.
I start with a long lead rope or decent weight lunge line and stand in front of him. Slightly and slowly I move my hand and lead rope back and forth in a horizontal movement. I want to see very small waves in the rope. I increase the size and speed until he takes a step back or at least shifts his weight in a back motion. I stop and praise any attempt at the right response no matter how small. I work my way up to as many steps as I want with as little amount of asking as possible. If he tries stepping off to one side or the other I take the slack out of the rope to stop the movement sideways.
Stepping lateral (I only teach this AFTER they know all the other moves at goal level! It will confuse them if they don’t know the other moves)
Goal – My horse will step completely sideways (not forward or back) crossing both front and back legs.
I start facing my horse at his barrel with him standing at a fence facing it in order to prevent any forward motion. I raise my hand closest to his shoulder to ask to move over like I am asking for one step of turning on the haunches. I only want one step. Then I do the same with the hand by his rump. Again only wanting one step. Continue this alternating shoulder to hip and he will be stepping completely lateral.
Did you see the theme with each of the exercises? I am doing something that encourages the reaction I am looking for and as soon as I get it that something (some kind of little annoyance of a poke, rope swing, etc.) stops immediately. Timing is extremely important!
Right or wrong, this is what was taught to me and what I do with my horses. Every horse is different and it has to be broken down for some more than others or find a slightly different way to communicate to each one. It is my job to communicate with my horse in a way he understands and set him up for success! Just like children, if they don’t understand what you are saying, break it down into smaller pieces or say it in a different way until they understand.
Coeur ‘Alene had already learned back up and turn on forehand at only two months old. Now at four months I can ask for either without a halter and rope and back up usually with just verbally. When it cools off we will work on more.