During groundwork, a good trainer shapes and refines a horse into a willing, pliable form, setting up the horse for an improved chance of success under saddle. With a little time and a few additional processes, your mount can be ready for the complex stages of his training.
As with a rawhide strand in the flesher, a horse’s flaws and bad tendencies are removed by a process of elimination, one step at a time, until the desired workable state is achieved. Bitting – or checking-up your horse vertically is another step in the refining process the prospective hackamore horse must undergo, but should be introduced only after his lateral flexion and longeing responses are solid.
Follow these guidelines and remain ever attuned to your horse’s eyes and ears as you proceed; his expressions foretell his actions. In the interests of safety and progress, you want to keep your animal in a settled, calm state, making whatever modifications necessary in the setup to ensure the best possible experience for your horse.
Some resistance and even reluctance to move forward at this stage are not uncommon and should be dealt with in a manner that diffuses upset in the horse, rather than igniting it. Make this a confidence-building experience by not overworking your horse. Then find a good spot to end the session when your horse moves freely and gives his head, even if only a little. In a matter of time and with quality sessions, your horse gradually can accept increased pressure and vertical flexion in the hackamore.
The Hard Set
There comes a time during the training of every horse when he tests you. Most groundwork is choreographed to deal with these challenges particularly, so they do not arise when you’re in the saddle. A runaway for example, is one of the most dreaded things to any hackamore trainer, and a problem that is to be avoided and trained out of a horse at ALL COST.
Using the hard-set enables a runaway to be simulated and swiftly corrected, reinforcing to your horse that the hackamore is the ultimate authority. Performed correctly, this exercise convinces the animal that he can be stopped at any given moment, regardless of his speed.
Have patience, as your horse likely resists the set and jerks his head up the first few times you stop him. If your horse doesn’t start giving to the set after a few repetitions, you can tie the lead rope under his forearm and to the saddle horn, as described in the previous tying-around exercise. As with the Lateral Tie-around, DO NOT tie the lead rope to hold down your horse’s head, but to allow enough slack so that the lead catches the hackamore only when your horse throws his nose out of position.
This hard-set exercise instills in your horse a belief in the hackamore’s supremacy. The exercise teaches your horse to give by bending his entire body, driving an inside hind foot deeply underneath his body for balance. After a few such sets, your horse sees that it’s much easier to void making that contact by being attentive and yielding the instant he feels slack taken from the line. This cements in his mind that there is no method to outrun the hackamore and helps to extinguish future problems. In the event that your horse does try to take you for a ride at some point in his training, when he has been hard-set from the ground, he remembers and respects the bite of the hackamore more than a horse that hasn’t experienced a hard-set.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 9-10