Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Biggest Little Word

There are a few words I hope my horse learns as I train him – walk, jog, lope, easy, whoa. There’s also a few words I say to myself and the biggest ‘little’ word in my horse training vocabulary is “wait”. Here’s why…

It’s so easy to get in a hurry and to rush my horse into a maneuver, especially in competition but, without exception, that maneuver will be prettier if I wait for my horse to respond and act. When I stop and think about how many steps there are between my first signal and the execution of the maneuver, it makes perfect sense.
  • My brain thinks about what I am going to ask my horse to do
  • I ask for the maneuver with rider aids for that maneuver
  • My horse feels my rider aids (leg pressure, rein pressure, etc)
  • My horse receives the message in his brain from his body
  • My horse recognizes what I ask
  • My horse sends a message to his body to perform the maneuver
  • My horse performs the maneuver
Pretty incredible!

Spin: If I want my horse to spin to the right, I signal him by bracing my body (tells him to stay on the spot), adding a little weight in a stirrup (gives him the first clue as to the direction of the spin) and picking up my rein hand (tells him which way I want to go).  Then I wait. A trained horse will start to flow to the right. If I am impatient and pull on the bit or kick,  it could disturb his concentration and the spin may be trashed. Worse than that, it may not have been necessary. When training, of course, I may need to back up a request, but the “wait rule” still applies.

Lead change: I signal my horse to change leads by changing my hand and body and then I wait for the lead change. Wait for the horse to respond. If I get excited and pull on him, I could force his body out of alignment so it will be more difficult to change leads. (Of course if I'm running a pattern in a competition and he doesn't change leads I have to try something!) This works very well training my horse to change leads too if I have enough room for a long straight line. I ask for the change and wait for it to happen. Often it does...

Stop: I have prepared my horse to stop in the rundown, I have accelerated into the stop. When I reach the point where I want him to “bury his butt”, I just sit down and wait. If he is trained, he most certainly will try to stop; if he is not fully trained yet, he may make mistakes. In either case, any correction has to be after he has had a chance to respond on his own. If he is doing everything right and I apply rein pressure before he has had a chance to perform on his own, he will be thinking about that a little and the stop will not be as pretty!

Wildwood Champagne stopping with my hand down.
It’s tempting to panic a little in a class if I ask my horse to spin and he just stands there. Two seconds can seem like a minute when all eyes are on me and I used to start pulling right away. Now I give my horse time to think it through and do it on his own before I use stronger aids. I “wait” for the maneuver instead of forcing it.

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