HELICOPTER EXERCISE by Clinton Anderson
Photos courtesy of Darrell Dodds
To be able to swing the stick and string up and over the horse’s body with high energy so that it makes a loud noise while the horse stands completely still and relaxed.
Many horses will accept an object as long as it’s at their eye level or below. When an object gets above their eye level, especially if it moves and makes a noise, most horses will start to get nervous. This is a survival instinct so that in the wild they aren’t caught off guard by a predator jumping on their back from above. This exercise is especially important to practice before you ride the horse for the first time because you’ll need the horse to be comfortable with noise and movement above him.
1) Stand at a 45-degree angle to the horse’s shoulder, an arm’s length away.
This is the safest place to stand whenever you introduce something new to the horse because you’ll be too far in front to get kicked by a hind leg and too far to the side to get struck by a front leg.
2) If you are on the horse’s left side, hold the lead shank about a foot and a half from the snap with your left hand and lift it so that it’s level with his eye. You should stand so that your belly button faces the horse’s hindquarters.
This will enable you to bump his head toward you and get two eyes if he chooses to run around you in a circle or turn away from you. If he pushes into you, you’ll be able to drive him away by tapping him on his jaw or neck with your hand.
3) Hold the Handy Stick in your right hand like you’re shaking someone’s hand.
4) Hold your right arm out straight. The end of the stick should rest on the ground at roughly 5 o’clock.
Pretend that you’re standing in the middle of a clock. Straight in front of your belly button is 12 o’clock. Straight behind you is 6 o’clock. Your stick should be resting at 5 o’clock, assuming you are on the left side of the horse.
5) Keeping your arm relatively straight, swing the stick and string up and over the horse’s hindquarters, back and neck and then back down to the 5 o’clock position you started in.
Try to do this with a consistent, smooth, swinging motion. Think about going up and over then back down to the 5 o’clock position. It’s important to always come back down to the 5 o’clock position so that you don’t accidentally whack the horse in the head. A lot of people try to keep the stick swinging up in the air the whole time and as their arm gets tired, they end up hitting the horse’s ears.
6) As you get better, take the pause out so that your arm never stops moving. Be sure to still bring the stick back down to the 5 o’clock position every time.
7) Repeat Step 6 until the horse consistently stands still and relaxes. Then retreat and rub him with the stick and string.
8) Repeat the above steps, but try to swing the stick and string faster so it will make more noise. When the horse is consistently standing still and relaxed, change sides.
9) When the horse is comfortable with the Helicopter on both sides at a 45-degree angle, then you can start to walk 360-degrees around the horse while swinging the Handy Stick.
10) To do this, double the tail of the lead rope and throw it over the horse’s back.
11) If you’re starting on the left side of the horse, place your left hand flat on the horse’s side. Hold the Handy Stick in your right hand like you’re shaking someone’s hand.
12) Start swinging the Handy Stick in the helicopter motion. Remember to always come back down to the 5 o’clock position.
13) As you swing the Handy Stick up and over the horse’s body, slowly start to walk around him as you swing the Handy Stick.
14) Once you reach the horse’s hindquarters, continue to walk around him, swinging the Handy Stick up and over his body in a continuous motion. Be sure to keep your left hand on the horse the entire time.
15) Continue walking around the horse 360-degrees until you reach the point where you started. Then turn around, switch hand positions and walk 360-degrees around him the other way.
16) If at any point the horse moves his feet, raises his head or looks worried, keep your feet still and continue swinging the stick in that exact spot until he stops moving and relaxes. If the horse moves, make sure that you follow him while continuing to swing the stick up and over his body.
17) Don’t move on until the horse is consistently standing still and relaxed.
18) When the horse stands still and relaxes, retreat and rub him with the stick and string.
19) Repeat the above steps, but try to swing the stick and string faster so it will make more noise as you walk around him.
Author note: Clinton Anderson is a clinician, horse trainer and competitor. He’s dedicated his life to helping others realize their horsemanship dreams. Learn more about the Downunder Horsemanship Method at www.downunderhorsemanship.com.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 12
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