Golden Rules #3: Do Not Pull
One of the best ways to avoid getting into a pulling competition with a horse, a competition you will never win, is to keep the longe line loose in your hands while working on ground training. I often see handlers trying to steer, stop, and get the horse to go forward by pulling or pushing the horse’s head from the bottom of the halter. This violates all of the Golden Rules! The more you pull on the lead, the more the horse will learn to lean against it. This desensitizes him and increases the physical and mental stress on both of you because you get less response from the horse. A loose lead allows your horse to be independent.
The more the horse learns to keep his own space, the more he will be able to concentrate and obey your commands because he will not have anything to lean on or resist against. If your horse gets too close to you while teaching ground training maneuvers, push his head away with your hand on the side of his head rather than pushing it away from beneath the halter. Another way to get him to move away is to shake the longe line toward him to encourage him to maintain the desired space. If, however, the horse resists coming towards you, put a slight tension on the lead, but release it the instant the horse moves closer to you.
Try not to lag behind your horse’s movements when teaching ground training maneuvers. Do not pull to slow down his natural movements. When the horse is first learning to respond to you, you should stay up with his speed. Once the horse is responsive, keeping his space, and leading without pulling, you can increase the difficulty by asking the horse to perform the maneuver at different speeds.
I use voice commands, in addition to my position, to reinforce what I am asking my horse to do. A deep vocal tone tells a horse to “do it now” or “respond and react to me.” A mellow tone is rewarding and soothing. I also introduce the cluck as a signal that means “move.”
Golden Rule #4: Reward Progress
This may be the most important rule of them all for success in building a partnership with your horse. Ground training takes time so be patient. You may need to spend several days or weeks on one lesson. Make your sessions short to keep your horse’s attention, and find a way to end each session on a positive note so that you can praise your horse.
Remember that rushed or impatient handling now will affect your future training sessions. Ground training is not mentally or physically fatiguing for a horse so it is something you can do every day as long as you keep the lessons short and interesting. This is a must for young horses.
For older horses, ground training offers variety to your schooling, and it is another opportunity to spend time together. Every minute you spend with your horse is a learning situation so do not let your guard down and let him get away with such bad behavior as rubbing on you or invading your space in any way you do not wish. Your horse will remember any lapse!
Reward any progress your horse makes no matter how small. Praise him with your voice and with touch. If your horse is not used to being petted, start by gently touching him. Once he accepts a touch, try stroking him on his neck, then along his back in the direction that his hair grows. Horses usually love being stroked on their foreheads, but some horses are head shy so go slowly. A treat of carrots or apples and a good brushing after the lesson will encourage your horse to look forward to the next lesson.
No matter what the age of your horse, investing the time in thorough ground training will make him a more responsive and obedient partner. To learn more about these and other fine training products as well as information on our courses, go to www.lynnpalm.com.
[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 1.]
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