Controlling a Horse’s Movement, By Steve Lantvit
When building a house the first thing you work on is the foundation. It supports the floor, walls, and roof. A solid foundation ensures the longevity of the house. But if the foundation is rushed and not constructed well, problems will develop over time; cracks in the wall or uneven floors. The same holds true with building the foundation in a horse. The obvious difference between the horse and the house is that the horse has a mind.
The foundation that we need to develop starts with the horse’s mind and we accomplish this by controlling his movement through his feet by creating movement, re-directing movement, or inhibiting movement. First, I suggest being in the round pen and starting by creating movement. By this I mean sending the horse forward. In order to train a horse we need forward movement, not sideways, not rearing up but forward. The forward movement puts us in an alpha role. Do this by creating energy or a posture that moves the horse away from us. Start to experiment with your body position. Take a more dominant posture and walk at your horse’s hip while pointing one arm in the direction you want him to move. With the other arm, send the horse forward with a cue stick. After the horse has responded and is moving forward, stop cueing. If you continue to apply the aids after the horse has responded he will start to dull to the cues and will become less responsive.
Now that we have achieved forward movement, we need to re-direct the movement. Stop driving him away and step back slowly. You are going to gently cut him off by switching the cue stick in the other hand and by pointing in the other direction. Continue sending him in the new direction a few times around the round pen and then change directions again. Remember, the alpha horse has the ability to send the herd where ever they want. These exercises put you in that alpha role. If he respects you on the ground he will respect you in the saddle.
The final exercise is to inhibit movement. This does not mean to hang on the halter like an iron anchor and get dragged around the round pen as you are thinking that you’re really training now. Instead, have a plan of attack and wait for the horse to be in a stopping mind set. Set yourself and your horse up for success. A great way to achieve this is with the “whoa.” Send the horse around enough so the fresh is off of him but not so that he is hot and exhausted. We are trying to gain respect not fear. Once the horse has settled in and the fresh is off, position yourself in the direction he is heading by quietly cutting him off while saying “whoa” in a quiet tone. When the horse starts to stop, step yourself back drawing him towards you. He should end up facing you square on. If he turns away, evaluate what just happened. Did you stop him too fast and he was unprepared? Was he too fresh? Did he turn away out of a lack of respect? Determine what happened and adjust to fit the situation. All good horsemen want to earn the respect through effective communication and understanding. Learn to be an effective listener and really listen to what your horse is telling you through their reactions and body language.
These three simple exercises can be done with a round pen or on a lunge line. In an arena or out in the field, they are effective on a young colt or a twelve year old mare. It takes just a few minutes before each ride to make sure that horse has all of his attention on you. It is the basic principle that I go back to time and time again in my training sessions. The foundations that I am building are accompanied by good experiences. I am alpha and he can trust in that and the fact that alpha has always done right by him.
So take the time to create movement, re-direct movement or inhibit movement and start to develop the communication tools that are so needed in young and older horses alike. These are the keys that can lead a horse through almost anything. Remember, never stop working on those foundation skills, they could never be good enough.
Steve Lantvit is a professional trainer/clinician whose goal is to contribute to the betterment of the relationships between man/woman and horse. Steve’s focus on training is that of all around Horsemanship and the creation of the versatile horse. He is an active competitor with the American Ranch Horse Association where he has earned World Champion and Multiple Reserve Champion Titles. Steve takes his skills to the equine world through his appearances at equine expos, clinics, and his television series, “Sure in the Saddle”. .