In previous articles, we talked about the first few rides on our colt. We went over the basics of softening our colt in the mouth and introduced the stop to her. In this article, we discuss body control and advance the stop and softening.
First we will review the basic training principles to get them fresh in our mind. In the form of cues, you apply pressure to the colt, asking her to do something specific. When you get the results you want, instantly release the pressure as a reward. Being consistent with your cues and timing is very important in keeping things clear for the colt to understand and keep her trying for you. Remember, slow to pull, quick to release with your hands. Keep them relaxed and soft. Be quick to release pressure when the colt gives to you. This allows the colt to clearly understand that she reacted correctly. Remember the reins are like a phone line of communication to the colt. If you are holding on to her mouth all the time, the line of communication is tied up. The colt doesn’t understand what you are trying to communicate because if you pull harder, it doesn’t mean anything to her. You already had hold of her, the increased pressure is confusing to her. You want to always ride with as much slack in the reins as you possibly can. This allows the line of communication to be open. When you pick up on the reins and make contact with the colt, it means something to her and you will get response from her. It is important to keep the colt responsive. You always need to keep this in mind with all of your riding and training. Stay out of the colt with your hands and legs until you are asking for something. When she responds correctly, drop your hands, take your leg off and get out of her.
Now we will move on and introduce some body control using your legs and asking the colt to side pass. When asking a young horse or any horse to learn something new, I believe it is my job to try and make it as easy as I can for her to understand.So in this exercise, I will ride my horse straight into a wall or fence and stop him. Having a barrier in front of her blocks her forward and is one less thing for either of us to worry about at this point. Remember training is a step-by-step building process and I want to break everything down into small steps to make it as simple and easy as possible.
I want to start by side passing toward the barn or the out gate of the pen. We know that there is a natural gravitational pull to that direction, and so it sets them up for success.
I have my horse faced into the fence. The first thing I want to do is take my leg off the side I want to go, clearing the way for her. If I am asking for her to move right, I will take my right leg off and I really exaggerate taking my leg off to make it clear to my colt. We want to make sure we do not lean our body the direction we want to go. If anything, I like to slightly shift my weight to the opposite direction (left) taking the weight off the inside (right) shoulder. This will make it easy for the colt to pick up her shoulder and move it in that direction (right).
I hold her head and neck straight into the fence and I push with my left leg, asking her to move off it.
Now as with any new information we introduce to the colt, she doesn’t know what we want for sure. This is when I need to give her all the time she needs and be patient with her. I keep her set up in this position of a 90-degree angle to the fence and keep asking her for a step by pushing or bumping her with my leg. The colt may want to back up, move to the left against my leg, everything but what I’m asking, but I hold steady and keep asking her and sooner or later, even if it’s by accident, she will take a step in the direction I want her to (right).
When she takes that first step, I immediately take my leg off her and drop the reins (relieving all contact with her mouth), sit still, and pat her so it becomes clear to her that she did something right. I let her sit a minute to think about this before asking again. I ask again in the same way a couple more times and give instant relief of pressure the instant she takes one step in the right direction. Even though it is one step, it is a starting point and I can build on that.
Next, I pull the colt off the wall, ride quietly around a couple of circles, and give her a break and time to think. Then I go back to the fence and ask again. I like to concentrate on the same direction for the entire training session to keep it clear and easy. If the colt refuses to move, I step up the pressure by bumping harder until I get a response. Always remember, if a horse is not trying or moving its feet, you can’t train. As long as she is moving her feet, you can teach her and direct motion the way you want. If there is no try and movement, you can’t train.
I spend a lot of time on this exercise, getting one step, then two or three in a row, and getting her more relaxed and moving fluidly as I go. As I progress, I add more degrees of difficulty as the horse learns ad can handle it. Getting the colt off your leg is very important. You will use this in nearly every maneuver throughout the training process. After the colt is pretty consistent with one side, then I switch and work on the other side for a couple of training sessions. Then bring both sides together in a training session. Remember repetition is how you get the colt solid and consistent. Just because she has it today doesn’t mean she will have it next week if we don’t keep asking and refining her.
Other articles we will discuss advancing the stop, backing and introducing shoulder control. Until then, good luck and God bless.
If you have any questions or would like more information, log onto Monty’s website at www.montybruce.com.
Best of Luck to You and God Bless America!
Monty Bruce is a multi-time Reined Cow Horse and Reining Futurity and Derby champion. Monty, his assistants, and students have won numerous World and Reserve championships and are continuing to succeed in the show pen.
The Monty Bruce Training Center is a full service equine facility that specializes in Reined Cow Horse, Reining, and the Performance Horse. The Center strives to provide superior care and training for all equine needs. Visit MontyBruce.com for more info.
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