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Foundation for Collection, by Ken McNabb



Ken_McNabbBy applying techniques from my past training articles, you  have learned how to teach your horse to soften  his face and stop and back up on one rein while  staying soft in the bridle.   Your horse should be  doing these exercises well before you move on  to the foundation for collection.

First, I want to mention a few things that  can be applied across your training.   When  things are not going well and you feel stuck  in an exercise, stop and ask yourself:  What  was the last thing your horse was doing well?  Maybe you’re stuck on the one rein back up, but  he was softening his face really well before you  moved to the new exercise.   If that’s the case,  don’t get in to the mindset of making your horse  do something.   Instead, go back to the place you  know you can both win.   Work there for a little  while, and then go back to the harder exercise.   Chances are, you will then be able to do it  without the problem you were having before.   Stepping back from the situation and focusing  on what works, rather than what doesn’t, will  help keep you from getting frustrated.

So, your horse is softening, stopping and  backing up on one rein.   We’re going to start  the foundation for collection by taking the one  rein back up to a more advanced level.   Begin  asking your horse to stop without disengaging  his hindquarters first.   Ride him forward, get  him soft on the bridle, sit and say whoa.   If he  stops, ask him to take a few steps back on one  rein and release when his  nose is soft.   If you don’t  get a stop, disengage  his hindquarters and  get a few steps back  before releasing.   Work  on this until you can get  a straight stop and back  up on one rein.

Now, you are ready  to add the second rein.   You are going to start  by asking for softness  on two reins.   What you  are looking for here in  not actual collection, but  just for the horse’s nose  to be soft on both reins.   However, you do want to  be sure you are driving  the horse forward from  his hind end when you  ask for softness on two  reins because that will  start to build collection in  to the exercise.   Starting  at the walk, go back to  the circle s’s exercise that  you used when teaching softness on one rein.   Just add the second rein as you do it.   When  your horse softens and tucks his nose, release  him.   Work on changing directions smoothly,  without his head coming up.   Remember to  release regularly so your horse knows he is on  the right track.

When you can get your horse to keep  soft on two reins nicely, you are ready to start  adding the stop and back up on two reins.   Get  him soft on two reins, then sit and ask for a  stop.   Don’t pull back on your reins to get the  stop, just sit and ask him to stop off your seat  cue.   If he doesn’t stop, don’t pull back on both  reins.   Hold pressure on one rein, and increase  pressure on the other, bringing him to a stop  with just one rein.   When he is stopping nicely  without bracing and throwing his head in the  air, you are ready to start asking for a few steps  back.   Remember, your feet move his feet.   Don’t  pull harder to get steps back, drive more with  your feet.   If he is bracing against you and locks  up, offset his head to one side or the other.   Don’t release the reins if your horse is pulling  on you.   If your horse starts bracing badly and  you feel you are getting in to a fight, go back  to working on one rein for a while, then try two  reins again.   Remember, find a place where you  can both win.

Each time you repeat an exercise, look for  some improvement and ask for a little more.   For example, if your horse gives you two nice  steps back, next time ask for three steps.   Once  you are getting good soft stops and backing on  two reins at the walk, move up to the trot.   First  work on circle s’s, then stops and backing.   If  you get stuck, go back to the walk for a while,  then move back up to the trot.

It is really important to remember that all  you can ask of your horse is for him to try.   If  he has given you a good honest try, you need  to give back to him with a release.   Even if  he’s not doing the exercise perfectly, all you  can ask is that he’s trying.   If he tries and  tries, and never gets a release and a reward,  he will stop trying because there is no place  he can win.   You need to make sure that you  always give him a place where he can win so  he stays motivated and keeps trying for you.   Once your horse knows that there is a release  somewhere, you will see him start searching  for it when you start a new exercise.   He will try  the answers that have worked in the past, then  when you don’t release, you will see him start  trying new things, because he knows there is  a release somewhere.   Your consistency will  teach your horse to look for the place where he  wins, because he knows it is there.

When you are ready to quit for the day,  wait until you feel that your horse has given you  a good, honest try.   Then release, pet him, and  put him away.   A good try is always a positive  place to quit.

Enjoy your horses, and until next time,  may God bless the trails you ride.   For more information on Ken McNabb’s  programs call us at 307-645-3149 or go to

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 9.]


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