The Next Most Important Question to Ask

The worst thing to do is force your horse into an exercise he (1) is unprepared to understand (2) is uncomfortable doing. “Sink or swim” is a bad teaching tactic for people and for horses.

Once you have answered The Most Important Question to ask at the beginning of the training ride:

What Does My Horse Need?

 You now need to ask The Next Most Important Question to ask at the beginning of the training session:

What Exercises Will Supply What My Horse Needs?

The constellations of exercises for use in training sessions are as numerous as stars in the galaxy. Let’s narrow down our focus with a couple of observations and goals.

1. Does your horse need confidence?

  • Open the file in your mind labeled “Exercises that we know how to do well”. Perform the exercise and praise the horse for the effort, then make a small alteration in the exercise that draws the exercise out past your comfort zone and perform that version and then praise the horse for the effort even if it is a little shaky. If the horse is frazzled then follow up with the simpler version and praise.

 Example 1: Your horse finds a walk “head to the wall” leg yield fun. Ask for a more difficult version: “down quarter line push to the rail” leg yield. Then try out a more demanding version: leg yield from rail to quarter line and add on another quarter line leg yield to the rail to finish up a fun sequence.

Use variations to make leg yield fun
Fun Leg Yield Sequence
  • You build the exercise by laying a foundation of simple and moving up in increments. Go back to simple if the horse begins to get fearful or worry.

The worst thing to do is force your horse into an exercise he (1) is unprepared to understand (2) is uncomfortable doing. “Sink or swim” is a bad teaching tactic for people and for horses. When the horse fears an exercise then you prepare the horse with a deconstructed version of the exercise and work on the simplified parts of the exercise.

Example 2: You are introducing a “down the quarter line and push to the rail” leg yield. In response to your aids your horse throws his head up and rushes forward instead of going sideways. Keep calm and offer Deconstructed Leg Yield Exercises:

1) go to the rail and practice a turn on the forehand with a pause between each step “around the clock”.

2) Then ask for one or two steps of turn on the forehand on the wall until you are at a 35 degree angle to the rail Pause, then put the haunches back on the rail instead of going all the way around.

Deconstructed Leg Yield
Deconstructed Leg Yield

3) Walk a couple strides forward on the rail, and then two steps of turn on forehand, then put the haunches back on track, and resume walking on rail. Praise him or her. 4) Then without stopping the walk, push the haunches one or two strides in turn on forehand. Remember to ask for only a couple steps in the baby leg yield and use lots of praise.

5) When your horse can comfortably do a leg yield on the rail, return to ”down the quarter line push to the rail” leg yield and see if he balanced better on your aids.

 2. Does your horse need “Waking Up”?

When your horse is sluggish and not interested in the riding session it is up to you as the teacher to make the session fun and engaging.

  • What attitude did you have while preparing for and performing the exercise? Where you happy, confident and encourage, maybe a little playful? Feel the way you want your horse to feel.
  • Go for a hack and drop in some small lessons during the hack
  • Change the work arena for a pasture or another venue
  • Play Red Light, Green Light. Make several quick changes in gait and speed. Challenge and do not punish. Reward at the slightest effort to “play”
Red Light/Green Light Exercise
Red Light/Green Light Exercise

Integrate cavaletti, ground poles or small jumps during the exercises

Give your horse a reason to view you as interesting, not alarming, and not boring

3. Does your horse need a quicker response to the aids?

  • Again be “playful” with your aids and your geometry. Light and quick aids incite activity. Squeezing, monotonous aids elicit boredom and irritation.
  • Drilling is boring. Limit your tries at an exercise to 3 times (whether it worked or did not work) and move on to another exercise. Go on to another exercise that is fun and active. The next exercise can be related but simpler than the failed one.
  • The worst thing to do is “Spank and Crank”. When you use the “go forward “ aids never give a simultaneous “don’t go anywhere” aid!
  • Use light aids and follow up with a quick, light tap with the whip to emphasize that you want a quicker response.

Example 3:Play a version of Red Light/Green Light. Begin trotting on a twenty-meter circle, upon crossing the centerline walk three (or four) steps then trot briskly on. Upon crossing the centerline on the other side of the circle walk three (or four) steps and trot briskly on again. Repeat the walk steps every time you cross the centerline.

  1. Does your horse need clarity of aids?

  • You should take a lesson on a horse with quicker, more confident responses to get the timing of aids, and then go back to your horse with that improved feeling and see if you can get the same response on your horse.
  • Communicate that feeling to your horse and encourage. Do not punish!
  • Avoid using conflicting aids.
  • Secure aids (especially outside aids) feel more like you are “catching of cradling” and strong aids are more punishing and suppressive.
  • Allow a small window of time for your horse to respond. Praise any effort.
  • Be consistent with the lighter aid that precedes the stronger aid; ask, then tell.

 5. Does your horse need a better rider?

Please be honest. We admire your resolve to work through to the next level that you have never ridden or trained before.  But every bumble you make delays the innocent horse’s progress.

  • Do the exercises in your comfort zone that work in today’s session
  • Put your horse in training with someone you admire and whose riding style complements your body type. (Find a way to afford it. It will cost you more by delaying your horse’s education.)
  • Take lessons on a horse that can help you develop the skills to ride at that next level so you are ready to pick up where the trainer leaves off.
  • A competent trainer can progress your horse faster than you can imagine. Set certain goals then match you education to that shared goal.
  • Congratulations! You did a very horseman like thing for the happiness of the horse.

Author: equestriannotebook

Welcome. After thirty years of immersion in the equine profession, during which time I trained horses and students across disciplines and breeds, I am embarking on a new expedition - blogging. My training philosophy focuses on improving the performance and partnership between the rider and the horse. The purpose of this blog is to share my experiences and to hear about yours. I look forward to taking this journey with you. My home is in Clermont, Florida on an 11-acre training facility with my husband Bill, our dachshund, Krieger, a couple of barn cats and the horses. My career brought me to Florida in 1990 as a working trainer and rider. I am currently serving as Vice President of Central Florida Dressage and am the editor of The Centerline, CFD’s eNewsletter. Below are a few of my credentials B.S. in Animal Industry from Penn State University U.S.D.F Rider Silver Medal U.S.D.F. Certified Instructor (T-2) U.S.D.F. Graduate (with distinction) Learner Judge Program U.S.E.F. Technical Delegate “R” F.E.I. Level One Steward The five years I spent as assistant trainer to Dorita Konyot established a life long philosophy and training style that I continue to practice and teach to others.

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