HomeAboutServicesBiomechanicsPhoto GalleryTrainingArticles

Training and Lessons in More Detail

As mentioned before, the training that I do is a mixture of many, many methods and techniques from lots and lots of different sources.  When watching or trying out new techniques, I always pay particular attention to how easily the horse catches on to the exercise.  As John Lyons said, many times you will see things that you do not agree with and would not want to do with your horse.  Over the years, there have been several techniques or exercises that I have watched and tried that seem to clearly send mixed signals to the horse.  Now this can easily happen when the handler thinks they are saying one thing and are actually saying something else with their body language.  This is where I can help with the communication problem and help things become more understandable to both horse and handler/owner.  What I'm talking about is techniques that even applied by the expert confuse the horse.  I try to use methods, techniques and exercises that the horse can learn very easily.  By breaking it down into small steps that build on each other, progression is made quickly, more easily understood by both horse and owner and less stressful.  

Much of what I do also is suited to my personality.  I would prefer to take a little more time and a few more steps to try and make learning as stress free to the horse as possible.  Slowing things down and regrouping is totally OK with me vs. continuing to press a confused horse.  There are times when pressing harder is required with stronger willed horses but I will give them a chance to respond to less pressure before adding it if necessary.

Another aspect that I use a lot in training is a little reverse psychology.  For example:  we have a horse that will not stand still in the barn aisle.  She is fidgeting, sticking her nose on things and people and walking around as we are trying to groom her and get ready to ride.  No amount of saying or how loud and sternly saying "Stop,"  "Quit," or "Whoa" is going to make this 1,000 pound animal stand still.  So what to do?  Even though it may sound counter productive to what we want them to do we allow them to move and ask them to move even more.  I have several very useful exercises that are helpful to use in this situation.  In a matter of minutes the horse will start trying to stick to the spot that we had them on to begin with as though they now want to stop.  I usually send them by a couple more times just to be sure that they have changed their minds and then stop them on the spot.  Sometimes it may take a couple or three times doing this exercise and they will stand like a statue ground tied.  It seems the exercise changes their mind about what they want to do.  We really are playing on their lazy tendencies by moving them a little more than they wanted and giving them a motivator to do what we want, which is stand still.  This may need repeating as horses do
Fun Stuff Smiling
Haunches In
Trailer Loading
Highschool Leading
Turn Around the Haunches
My Current Main Squeezes
Handsome Sonador my best teacher so far
From a post by Ann on 1 Art of Training Yahoo List:  
Offensive behaviors CAN begin for one reason and continue for another--those are often horses referred to as "naughty"--but even in those cases I find the solution is not to punish the behavior/s per se, but rather to take away the pay off.
etymology of the word "anima" as in animal = soul
Round Pen Schooling

Most of the beginning work is truly based on horse psychology and how horses relate to each other in a natural herd situation.  This is not taught.  They are born knowing about the herd (with the exception of maybe orphan foals raised by people which can be a problem or horses kept in stalls without horses to socialize with).  I do feel that round pen work done properly is very clear to the horse in establishing ourselves as the leader in our herd of two and to establish mutual respect--mutual being a very important word in this sentence.  Mutual in that I respect them as much as they respect me.  We are not equals as one has to have the say in the leadership role but I try my best to be fair to the horse and a good and responsible leader keeping him safe and happy.  Horses know in their herd there must be a leader and there must be rules and they must follow them in order to keep themselves and the herd safe.  And horses in my experience seem happier having rules that are very clear and are consistently upheld by consequences if not followed.  Horses also have their own personalities that play into this.  Most horses will simply follow the rules and not ask questions or have any ideas of their own to interject.  But there are some horses that are extremely intelligent and will test the waters.  I had never met one until my latest teacher horse and it sort of threw me for a loop.  One key factor is that I dearly love this horse and feel that he is somewhat of a gift so is special.  Because of that I found that I was cutting him some slack so he felt he could test the rules.  There again once rules are established MOST horses just will not test them.  His little nose bumps directed at me that I ignored in short order became trying to nip.  I was SHOCKED!  I am very, very big on all my horses being respectful and had worked hard with this particular horse on respect because he came with some disrespectfulness.  Not at all in a mean way but in his way playful but he is big and could hurt me so he HAD to learn my rules which he did BUT then I got just a little slack and let down my guard.  This can also easily happen with a horse that has come from an abusive or a rescue situation past.  It is very easy to feel sorry for them and cut them some slack.  Horses know there needs to be a leader for the safety of the herd so they may adapt some poor behaviors due to the slack rules.  A popular clinician would say to the owner that says my horse was abused so we may have to do  the training a little differently.  To which the clinician would say is your horse still being abused and the shocked owner would say quite upset, of course not!  The clinician would then say well then it is just a horse so should be treated like any horse.  The horse is going to treat him like a horse and not feel sorry for him.  As a side note here, horses that have not been socialized with other horses can simply not know how to respond properly to a herd and can be in danger.  Horses treat horses like horses and do not understand a horse not knowing herd rules.  Those horses could be severely beat up because the other horses take his non compliance as defiance in not following the rules and can kick and bite quite viciously injuring the uneducated horse.  This can also happen with an uneducated horse that feels all the horses in the herd are threats so just becomes a bully.  Sometimes these horses are mentally unstable and are best kept alone for the safety of the rest of the herd.  Herd dynamics and the leadership role can be a lengthy subject with lots of different angles.

The leadership/mutual respect issue is, I think, one of the most difficult things for people to understand.  

This passage from Animals In Translation by Temple Grandin P. 162 describes it well:

. . . the best way to prevent dangerous attacks on people is to raise highly social grazing animals like cows and horses strictly with their own kind. They should look up to people as a benevolent higher power.

Maybe attack seems unlikely but a 1,000 pound or larger animal that does not respect your space will hurt you and not mean to hurt you by stepping on feet or even pushing you to the ground and stepping on you.  We humans are fragile in comparison to them.  They must learn to take a wide berth of us for our safety.  Benevolent may seem a little bit strong of a word too maybe but really not.   Again it must be very clear to the horse because leadership is one of the most important things to a horse which makes it also the most important thing to us as well.  Learning horse philosophy and how sometimes small things that do not mean anything to us mean a LOT to a horse so we have to be aware of them and learn them.  This does not mean we can't love and smooch on them.  We can but only when WE invite the horse into our space!  Big difference!!

It is also NOT about making the horse fearful.  Respect is not fear.  Quite the opposite.  We want to make the horse feel safe but must establish boundaries just as should be in any relationship.  It is not about being a mean and abusive boss or on the other hand a push over friendly sort.  Having a leader that is competent to keep the horse safe  is hardwired into the horse by mother nature.  In their way of living it is an absolute MUST to their safety and well being to have a leader.  When people understand this and step up to the plate, horses feel safer and become more relaxed, agreeable and a pleasure to be around. There are some smart pushy horses that will really put a person to the test just as they would in a herd because they think that they are a better candidate for the job or have been spoiled.  Some are so sensitive and spooky that no person can step in to a role that will quell their responses.  Quite frankly some people may not be able to measure up or just not want to which may mean finding a more compatible horse.  I have met a couple of horses that I basically would not put myself in danger with them because they were so unpredictable.  My safety and well-being is more important than any horse on this planet and so is yours.  Horses should be aware of us and respectful of our space.  There are an awful lot of horses and owners out there that do not have a clue about this.  I can teach it.

Back to the round pen.  Although a round pen or small enclosed pen (doesn't have to be round) is not absolutely necessary and many use it improperly, I have found it to be the safest and clearest communication tool for working with horses.  The round pen is basically speaking horse.  Horses speak with body language so we have to learn to speak with body language for them to understand more easily.  We have to learn how to position ourselves in relation to the horse's body that speaks to him.  We have to learn what to look at when because eye contact means something to a horse in a different way than it means something to us.  Not understanding how horses think causes huge miscommunications that most are not even aware of.   The handler will need to learn proper timing of release of pressure also for the horse to understand what is wanted.  Since we aren't shaped like a horse they do have a learning curve with learning our body language but the lesson of whoever is moving their feet the most and is being directed by the leader that is not moving their feet too much is clearly understand by them.  This is because this is the way horses live every day.  Proper use of the round pen by cutting across makes us look very athletic and fast which is good leadership material.  The round pen or small pen also allows us to work with the horse unattached to him at a safe distance while leadership and mutual respect are established.  This is much safer and preferred to be 30 feet away when they kick out or try to push over me. To me, there is also a big impression made on the horse that I am able to control them with nothing on them. I typically do all round pen work with the horse naked--not even a halter. Progressing on to on-line work and eventually on to riding then becomes a much safer endeavor.  
have minds of their own that do change day to day.  By doing this exercise in this way we have successfully changed their mind in a way that they are happy and we are happy.  The horse feels like it is doing what it wants and not being forced but allowed to make up their mind for themselves what they would like to do.  The reverse psychology works in LOTS of different scenarios.  Paste worming and standing at the mounting block are two more  of my favorites and even smiling.
On-Line Schooling

On-line work is a series of exercises that build on each other.  It helps build confidence in both horse and handler and further establishes our leadership,  The horse learns that even when asked calmly and persistently to do something that might be scary, we keep him safe and they learn to trust in our judgement.  We learn more about the personality of our horse and how he may react when asked to do something he is unsure of with us remaining safer on the ground.  This work gives us some very useful tools to use in every day handling of the horse and are very useful in situations that are more exciting.  Going away from home can be unsettling to the horse so having familiar exercises in our toolbox to do can help calm the horse down and keep their attention on us so everyone is safe.  Getting on a trailer can be another place that the exercises are invaluable to use or even just standing with a foot on a hoof stand.  Coming up to the mounting block is also taught on-line.  
Go in the direction I say and continue until I say do something different

Bridle Work

Once the on-line exercises are learned and the horse can be moved in all directions in a soft manner then I will usually start doing bridle work from the ground.  The bridle work is based on Classical Dressage.  Similar to the round pen work it helps us stay safe while the horse learns what the bridle means.  It is also easier for the horse to learn to use his body and respond to the bridle without the addition of our weight in riding.  Some horse can be somewhat obstinate about parts of the bridle work and we are indeed safer on the ground vs. in the saddle.  By being on the ground, it is also beneficial to be able to feel and actually see how the reins effect the horse and how we can hold the reins in different ways to move the horse in different ways.  It also allows us to watch how the horse's legs actually operate and in what sequence they operate.  A greater understanding of when to ask with a rein aid, when a foot is coming off the ground vs. grounded is also accomplished.  Asking at the wrong time makes it impossible for the horse to give a correct answer to what you may think  you are asking creating confusion and frustrations in the horse.  The bridle work also teaches the horse to respond vs. bracing on the bit.  Horses are pushers and tend to move into pressure so they have to be taught to give to pressure.  They also learn that the bridle actually means something to their feet not just something to their mouth.  I do believe that most horses have no idea what the bit means so are confused much of the time.  Once they are taught how to respond they become relaxed because they know how to respond.  A greater partnership is developed as well because the horse will begin to sync with the handler.  These exercises continue the on -line work of helping to balance both sides of the horse's body and strengthen weaknesses.
Also taught at this time are exercises that help balance the horse and teach the horse how to rearrange his weight off of his forehand.  Ridden horses MUST learn how to balance and lift their ribcage and therefore the rider so that they do not suffer stress injuries without being taught this.  Horses are also stiffer on one side and weaker on one side just like we are. This work helps make them more flexible and strong equally on each side which helps them be more balanced and strengthens the weaker side. This helps with their showing favoritism to the weak side to develop it and therefore helps thwart injury and  gaining more longevity.
Under Saddle Schooling​

The bridle work is then carried over and refined under saddle.  My quote above may rub some folks the wrong way but I think for our safety and sometimes the horse's safety the horse really needs to be obedient to the rein aids and respond promptly.  It may be that we need to step sideways to avoid a hole, a snake or falling off a cliff.  I am very adamant about my horses being responsive to the rein aids.  Although the horse does have to make adjustments for our added weight they are familiar with the rein aids and how they relate to moving their body and feet as we request.  They may get stuck when given a rein aid but usually, with a little patience on our part and a little encouragement, they figure out how to rearrange themselves to respond to the aid.  I do very slow work to finesse what I call my four corners.  Many of you may remember the famous four corners in Tarheel basketball under Dean Smith's reign at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill  For some reason I always think of that when I say four corners.  Horse four corners is very different though.  Horse four corners is being able to control each of the horse's four legs with the rein aids thus like the four corner legs of a table.  I had a Classical Dressage instructor once liken a horse's body to a table and that as we sit on it the table should feel level.  This is a good analogy to recognize when the horse drops a shoulder because the table certainly feels lower on that side.  The work consists of being able to move the chosen foot in any direction.  John Lyons taught a similar exercise that he called the clock exercise which by using it, I learned a lot.  He also displayed the ability to do many movements using only the reins.  Since this worked so well for me, I tend to use this technique also.  By teaching only one thing--rein aids and their connection to the feet with us on board--I think it is easier for both horse and rider to focus.  All of this work is done at a walk.

The early saddle work can be pretty boring which is maybe why folks like for me to do it for them.  Payoffs are numerous though in that a system of communication is built that is understood by horse and rider and a system of control developed.  Progression gives the rider control of the shoulders and the hindquarters.  Much of the next step is the idea of keeping the horse's shoulders and hindquarters lined up.  Straightness is what it would be called in dressage.  Although we have worked on some of this in the on-line work there will still be issues under saddle usually.  I will work back and forth between staying lined up and then doing more complex maneuvers like turn around the haunches or turn around the forehand.  It is almost like a dance.  As these exercises are perfected the horse becomes very light in the bridle and in his body and there is little effort for him to respond.  It can be a very addictive feeling!

Naturally a horse does not know how to carry a rider.  I think it is very important that we teach the horse to use his back properly.  As the above described work is done the horse becomes a solid piece vs. a front end and a back end.  He lifts his back and uses it in a better way to carry us.  This is VERY important for his longevity and makes a more comfortable ride for us.
Bridle Work
"The horse must obey his rider," said Beudant, "as dutifully as a son obeys his father."
This horse is not using his back.  I'd like to point out that this rider was trying out a saddle and the horse had just stepped off so had not attempted to have the horse come into the bridle but it is still a good example of how a lot of horses are ridden on a loopy rein with a dropped back and trailing hindquarters.  >>>>>
The same horse responding to the bridle--though with a tad stronger contact than I would like but still is-- using his back properly to carry the rider.   The even triangles formed by the legs is a further indicator of overall balance.--
Start by doing what's necessary, then what's possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
                                                             -Saint Francis

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

--Howard Thruman
"The air of Heaven is that which blows through a horse's ears."  
~Arab Proverb 
My Newest Squeeze
A friend of mine once had this little sign hanging in her barn that said horses are like potatoe chips, you can't have just one or two.  :-)  This makes three for me.  I am a sucker for rehab cases.  Hummer, named so because he is a wide ride being a  foundation bred QH, is suffering from laminitis with some rotation to his front coffin bones.  I have only had him since mid August of 2012.  He has lost some weight and as you can see, he is doing very well!!  Update on Hummer is he has really trimmed up even more but has suffered some set backs in his rehab so not as far along as I would like riding but is doing well.

Incidentally Nouveau was a hoof neglect case also.  It has taken a year for him to get better and I should be riding him soon.  Update on Nouveau is that he too is still dealing with some really odd horizontal cracks in his front hooves so still in the process of getting totally well.  His pathologies have improved tremendously if I can just figure out these cracks.
step by step
in balance
for the
horse to
find his
without the
addition of
the rider's
weight makes it easier.
UPDATE NOTE:  With new knowledge of biomechanics, I no longer use sideways or leg yield in my trianing as I have learned that they can be damaging to the horse.
Line Work
UPDATE:  Again with more knowledge gained in the biomechanics of the horse, I realize now that it is imperative that the horse is taught how to lift the ribcage and coordinate the use of his back.  THIS action ENABLES the horse to become light in the bridle and become balanced AND stop pushing on the bit.  The reason they push on the bridle, or halter for that matter, is because they are out of balance!!  Horses in nature are naturally out of balance with their weight on the front legs for easy grazing.  When ridden they must be taught to carry their rider as they do not automatically know how to do that and just compensate usually in a bad way to accomodate a rider.  You will also note that the following bridle work pictures are showing horses NOT in balance even though some of the pictures are cool looking and appear to be in sync with me.  The horse's poll is not the highest point BUT will automatically become poll high when the back/ribcage is lifted and coordinated properly with proper training.   This is a good example of the horse trying to please me in a compensated way.  See the BIOMECHANICS page on this website for more info.