The following exercise is simple, yet if you follow the steps and stay consistent it will improve your horse whether you are riding performance or pleasure.
To start, I want you to use the mildest bit you can, preferably an Egg butt, Full cheek, D ““ ring or O ““ ring snaffle.
TO START THE EXERCISE:
I want you to ask your horse to move into an extended trot, then change directions. Before the horse changes directions there are three things you must do.
1. Sit up straight in the middle of the horse. Do not lean to one side or the other but stay centered in your saddle.
2. Look where want to go. This creates a natural cue from your body and removes the need for you to worry about your leg placement.
3. Pick up one rein and contact the horse’s mouth using no more pressure than necessary to create a turn. Make sure you pick up the rein slowly, giving the horse plenty of time to respond before the rein actually contacts his mouth.
We also want the horse to do three things before you release the rein.
1. Your horse must bend his head and neck.
2. Next, he must soften his jaw and bring his nose towards the point of his shoulder, “giving to the bit”.
3. Finally, he must change directions.
Be sure to alternate the reins. If you continue changing directions as you should it will look like you are riding the shape of S’s and circles.
It is important to work this exercise at a trot in twenty-minute segments. Give the horse a ten-minute break then start again. After two or three sessions you will begin to notice your horse starting to follow your body, as well as becoming much softer in the face. This is a great warm up exercise that I use every day on my cutting horses as well as my ranch and trail horses. Consistency is the most important part. If you are consistent, you will begin to feel like your horse is reading your mind. Remember, this is not a pattern exercise, but rather a series of directional changes.
Recently I found myself standing in front of a crystal clear pond with my partner, my paint horse stallion, Beau (Diamond Breeze). We were involved in an in depth photo shoot and things were not going the way I had planned. I think it is safe to say we have all had those days. If by chance you respond as I did, then you probably chose the path of least resistance. I began blaming my horse. Immediately I noticed that my horse’s frustration level was also mounting. At this level of emotion I found myself looking into the pond and seeing a perfect reflection of my horse and me. The old adage says, “www.kenmcnabb.com horse is the mirror image of you”, came flooding into my mind. I am the kind of person who spends considerable time reflecting on my actions. Suddenly my thoughts were not comforting. If my horse was a mirror image of myself, then all the frustration that I was experiencing was my own fault. It amazes me sometimes how often I must learn the same lesson. As riders and trainers we may get upset if it seems our horse or our dog or even our child is taking “too long to learn” something new. During my lifetime of riding and training horses, perhaps the most important lesson I have had to learn is that my horse is not going to be any more consistent than I am. He won’t learn through osmosis. I once knew a roper who told me he let his horses rest without being ridden for two or three months at a time because, “they got better that way”. Of course he was only joking. How many times have we started out to teach something, perhaps taking 45 minutes before our horse finally gets it. We then practice the exercise for five minutes and put our horse up for the day. The next time we ride we are surprised that our horse is not perfect at that particular lesson. It is imperative that we spend enough time practicing each lesson that our horse is both calm and consistent in performing the lesson.
I am reminded of the story of the little boy who was given a homework assignment to draw a picture of his favorite things. That night he asked his dad to help him spell a word, but dad was too busy. He tried to ask his mom, but she was also too busy. Finally his older sister was able to help him spell family. Twenty years later his own little boy asked him, “Daddy, how do you spell love?” His reply was “T.I.M.E.”. This is a lesson for all of us. As I looked down into the pond that day, I realized that what I wanted out of my horse was love, respect, and obedience, exactly what God wants from us. However, I found that, unlike God, I was not offering the same level of respect and consistency to my horse that I was asking of him. Fortunately, our Master is always consistent, yesterday, today, and forever. 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 www.kenmcnabb.com
[Written by Ken McNabb with Katherine Lindsey Meehan & published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 1, Issue 6]
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