A Step-by-Step Guide to Improve Your Horsemanship Training
It’s a common saying in horsemanship that ‘you can’t teach feel’ and maybe it’s an over ambitious aim of Intelligent Horsemanship to believe that it is possible to teach this elusive thing called ‘feel’ and to spend a great deal of our teaching hours proving that you can! This ‘feel’, of course, manifests itself in horsemanship in a great many ways. It can mean the difference between how to lead a horse who responds willingly and one who resists, moves backwards or even rears. In this article, we’ll focus on the right way to apply pressure to a line to ask a reluctant horse to move forward.
Developing Feel: Understanding the Importance of Timing and Technique
The best way to begin developing feel is to step away from the horse and put yourself in their shoes… or should I say hooves. You need to find yourself a willing partner to act as your “horse”. Have them stand strong, with their legs wide apart, holding the line close to their waist, and in an intentions of “not moving” initially. This way, they can provide feedback on how your pressure feels to them.
To start, stand at a distance from your “horse” where they have room to move forward. Hold the line about four feet out from the Dually halter with the remainder coiled in the hand, not putting pressure on the line. Be in a position where you can remain balanced whether the horse comes forward or not, with one foot behind the other.
Stroke your hand along the line towards you to take up any slack gently at the start. This ensures there’s no jerky action. Have your hand about mid-distance of your stomach. Slowly ease your body weight onto your back leg so that gradual, firm pressure is applied. As soon as your “horse” moves forwards release the pressure on the line, reinforcing the behaviour. Timing is key! Observe your horse and note that a reluctant horse will move into the release, not the pressure.
Give the horse time to respond – some will take a small step or movement within a second, while others may take 5-6 seconds. Be patient…
If your horse is still not moving forwards try change the angle in which you apply pressure. An aid given from a more side-on angle can tip a horses centre of balance and encourage them to move forwards, increase your chances of a response.
It’s crucial to maintain an “elastic ever moving feel” with the horse. If your horse is braced and reluctant, and you are braced against them, you’ll either switch the horse off entirely, or endorphins will kick in, and you’ll see their eyes going sleepy and/or a sudden violent reaction like a harsh toss of the head or even a rear. This is how some people inadvertently teach their horse to rear by keeping constant hard pressure on the horse’s poll.
Ask your “horse” to role pay as a willing horse as well as a unwilling horse to that you can begin to understand the difference in ‘feel’ between these two scenarios. Then swap with your handler and role paly the horse yourself, this can help you better understand the feeing that the horse gets down the line.
Now its time to re-introduce the horse. Practice this same exercises, asking for a forwards movement and then releasing as soon as you get a response. The more you release this the more you will develop your own and you horses sense of feel. Overtime your aids will reduced as horse become more responsive.
Dr Rosie Jones McVey on the IH Five Day Foundation Course
Why should we bother learning how to lead a horse in the right way?
Mastering this technique is essential for a willing partnership with your horse. This way a horse will soon learn how to release himself from any pressure with ease with without confusion which can lead to unwanted or dangerous responses. It’s a crucial step in creating a safe and respectful relationship with your horse. Every aspect of good horsemanship that you learn will spill over in an advantageous way to other areas of your horsemanship, helping to strengthen your relationship with your horse.
What should I do if this doesn’t work?
If you’re struggling to achieve the right feel on the line, consider attending an Intelligent Horsemanship Course or contacting an Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Trainer who can work with you to refine your technique. In rare cases, moving a white plastic bag on a stick gently behind a horse in timing with the ask from the line can release their feet and help them understand how to release themselves from the pressure.
By applying these tips for pressure application, you’ll be well on your way to mastering forward movement and developing a deeper understanding and connection with your horse.
Ready To Take The Next Step? Why Not Try These Groundwork Exercises To Practice
by Kelly Marks and Sandra Williams
Stay in touch and receive our fully illustrated guide to groundwork training! We promise not to overload your inbox and you’ll love the horsemanship tips we send!