Are we rewarding the wrong thing?
We have learned by now that we give a request through feel or suggestion to ask our horse to try and work out what it is we are asking him to do. When he has learned through repetition and reward what is required of him, then we can ask for more effort on his part. This might be at higher speeds or with the lightest of aids or to maintain the request for longer periods of time. But, what is the precise timing of our release and hence, reward for the horse? To give an example, if I am asking my horse to back up by applying a light touch to his chest, in order for him to get more responsive and put more effort in future, my release should be when he is THINKING about backing, versus when his foot has hit the ground and is stopped (albeit for a second). The time to best affect the foot, is when it is in the air and the horses mind is mid back up. If we can release when the front foot, for example, is travelling back, then the horse will get rewarded for travelling and thinking back and not a split second later. This can be applied to any request we give our horse. Give it a go!
Happy New Year to your herd from ours!
It’s easy to get uninspired and overwhelmed by the mud, bad weather and shorter days.
So keep your horse interested by teaching him something new in 15 minutes. Pick something that you can teach in the yard or stable if the field is too wet and you don’t have an arena.
Remember it’s not about the trick, more about the connection, relationship and spending time together that counts. Reward often and have fun!
Some suggestions are hold your horses tongue, teach your horse to put his foot on something, lift a leg by tapping it, take your hat off and give it back to you, kick a ball,
halter from your knees to name a few.
Use your imagination and pick something that is level appropriate for your horse. Feel free to send me a photo or video and I’ll add it to the website to inspire others.
Click here for some “can you’s” to inspire you
The Principle games –
The first 3 games = friendly game or confidence game,
porcupine game to teach a yield from steady pressure and the driving game to teach a yield from rhythmic pressure.
These are the a.b.c’s of the Parelli training programme along with the eight principles of natural horsemanship.
If one of the other games is not going so well – it’s usually a problem with games 1-3.
Go back and fix that and you will find that you are back on track.
Also, I like to use the 8 principles as a diagnostic check list – it’s a great methodical way of being able to solve your own problem and takes the emotion and frustration out of the equation when things aren’t going as planned.
Change of direction as a strategy…
Sometimes a smart left brained introvert can get you working really hard to get them to maintain gait! It’s often because they are bored that they don’t keep going, so variety will probably help as opposed to more pressure which will likely cause more sour attitude!
Use change of directions to help add some variety to the circling game and maintain gait.
In right brained horses, the same tactic can be really useful to help interrupt the pattern if the horse is getting rushy or shutdown and glazed over.
Teach, Control, Reinforce, Refine
We are all pretty familiar with this formula by the time we get to Level 2 and beyond. But, I am often asked for help to get positive reflexes in the saddle.
When I ask the student, “what would you do on the ground if your horse pushed through pressure, or ignored your phases and had opposition to your porcupine game?”, the
answer is usually ” I would support my porcupine game (steady pressure), with driving game (rhythmic pressure) and go up my phases to a phase 4″.
Yet we are not consistent in the saddle. We rarely want to go up our phases or back up our leg or rein with the carrot stick especially at a phase 4. This is probably due to a lack of
confidence of the rider and quite rightly, we should only be prepared to go up to phase 4 if we are confident and competent enough to ride what our horse may then give us!
However, we must not allow our horse to learn to push through our phases/aids in the saddle as this leads to a decline in respect and the horse may well take over completely through dominance (left brain) or fear and a perceived lack of leadership (right brain).
So, we must find a way to stay within our confidence and capability whilst reinforcing our requests.
Tactics like tapping your horses hindquarters whilst disengaging them, can help build up the revs but without your horse being able to take off in a straight line and perhaps adding in a buck or two. Useful for a left brained introvert to get moving.
Or tapping your horse on the shoulder (not HQ) in a constant slow rhythm whilst getting firmer, will cause a left brained horse to think and avoid the next tap by going forward whilst being less inclined to cause a negative reaction.
Using a jingle bell rein or higher phase yo – yo game (preferably on a hackamore), to
support your downward transition, is more effective than allowing your horse to push through your seat and cause you to end up pulling on two reins, which will only engage his HQ’s and make him more powerful anyway. Support with your carrot stick in zone 1 if
Same deal for turning, use your carrot stick to support your leg and rein, just as you would if you were on the ground. Driving game supports porcupine game on the ground or in the saddle. This will build respect and confidence in leadership.
Only then we can we pursue refinement.
Now that we use intelligent worming programmes, we don’t paste worm our horses as regularly as we used to. Obviously this is a good thing, but also means that longer periods of time elapse before we rock up to the stables and wonder why our horses have a
negative opinion when we try to shove a syringe in their mouths saying ” but you used to be ok with this”!!!
If your horse is difficult to worm, it’s probably because of the negative memory of the wormer or a friendly game issue in zone 1, his mouth.
Take time to get him confident with things in his mouth, rub his gums gently, massage his lips, anything to get him more trusting and release when he is quiet in his mouth.
It’s a good idea to continually prepare your horse and it really only takes a few minutes if done frequently. Keep an old wormer syringe handy and washed out. I like to use apple sauce, the kind that is smooth with no bits (usually these types are the cheaper versions anyway!), but use anything that your horse prefers.
Feel and timing is crucial so your horse doesn’t feel anxious or criticised. Give him time to sniff the syringe and use a lot of retreat.
My horses try to grab the syringe out of my hand as I walk past them with it – and once a year or so the “apple sauce” tastes a bit weird, but they can handle that!
The Supporting Rein – building on last months savvy tip of the back and over manoeuvre.
A really useful tool in Level 3 to help support the direct rein and “push” the shoulder and front leg. Helps your horse build positive reflexes to your leg and direct rein in turns, spins and lateral manoeuvres.
Take a direct rein to lead your horses forehand over and use the supporting rein against the neck to help push zone 2. If your horse has opposition reflex or does not lighten and speed up, then take two reins in one hand and use your carrot stick to support the rein. Your carrot stick riding should have prepared you and your horse for the concept of the supporting rein. It should be like a carrot stick, ie a straight line from your elbow to your hoses mouth and should not be sloppy – but supporting.
The supporting rein should not cross the wither or it will accidentally act like an indirect rein on the other side and have a counterproductive effect!
Don’t forget to use your outside leg first and to reward your horse when he makes a try. Repeat several times until your horse responds just from your leg and your reins can
Continuing on the theme of last months savvy tip about backing, another great exercise is the back and over manoeuvre. This cannot be practised enough at any level.
The aim is to move your horses front end through 90 degrees whilst maintaing a back up. It really increases lightness of the forehand and prepares your horse for sideways without a fence and also for the supporting rein later on.
Stand next to your horses shoulder with your belly button facing straight ahead. Walk backwards and ask him to come with you. Then turn to face him and use your carrot stick to ask the front end to move over a step or two. Bounce the rope to prevent your horse from taking a step forward. Reward and repeat. Gradually you can ask the forehand to move over through 90 degrees.
Make sure your belly button is facing the correct way throughout the manoeuvre and keep your focus! Have fun!
When trying to progress and improve something we have been working on, it’s easy to get predatorial and direct line! Remember to isolate, separate and recombine.
When practising the backup, work on improving the straightness, lightness and speed as separate ingredients so as not to cause your horse to get confused or feel unsuccessful.
A great fun way to improve straightness is to back crooked! By learning to back your horse through a weave or an L shape, you will learn to get control over the HQ and FQ hence making it easier to back straight when desired.
A good way to do this is to keep your horses nose pointing toward to your chest and to move the FQ to steer the horse. You will have to move your position accordingly and point your belly button in the direction you want your horse to back. It’s important to keep your horses feet moving backwards so they don’t get stuck, but keep your phases gentle and encouraging rather than upping them if your horse doesn’t understand.
Liberty – Change of direction
Change of direction at liberty is a fun way to keep things interesting for your horse and also a strategy to help your horse to learn to maintain gait if they keep breaking it.
Make sure that your change of direction on line is really good before trying it at liberty – Remember from April’s savvy tip on starting liberty, that you should have as a mantra “teach on line, test at liberty, fix on line”.
Trot is the best gait to start with. Another tip from last months post, was to hold a ‘pretend” line. This would be a good thing to do in this
exercise until you have it in your muscle memory! A common thing I see when teaching is that the human gets a bit impulsive and asks for the draw a bit too soon. Wait until the horse has passed in front of you and his nose is at your shoulder. Then turn in the direction he is moving, catch his eye and run straight backwards – don’t turn or spiral. As your horse turns and changes direction, keep your eyes on X, go straight back there and go back to neutral – this will take the pressure off him and let him know he did the right thing. Then remember to allow him to continue on the circle as a “neutral” to reward him. The harder it was to get the change of direction. the longer you should leave him alone and allow afterwards.
Another common mistake I observe, is that the human disengages the horses to get the draw. Disengaging will cause a break of gait so the horse cannot maintain the trot or
canter ( so flying leads will be tricky!) and also you are “lying” to your horse who has been taught that a disengage means “game over, come in”.
Worth remembering too, that the horse may not change direction due to unconfidence. They can’t look at you with two eyes or they are defensive about the other side of their body. It’s not always a misunderstanding or “naughty” issue.