Thursday, April 10, 2014

Getting started

When starting a horse in long lines for the first time, I like to start them off with a little bit of lunging without anything on them.  I get a feel for the horse and they get a feel for me. I don't like the horse to be racing around all crazy and if that happens, I will quietly step out towards the front of them and turn them around.  It won't take long for the horse to relax and realize they can and should slow down.

When I worked with Cindy and her horse Trax over the weekend, I had her show me how she works with her horse. Her energy level is different than mine and the way each of us does things is also going to be different. If you are looking for a trainer, this is something to consider. Do they expect you to change everything about how you work with your horse, or are they willing to see how it is going and help you build on things from there?  Sure some things will Need to change, but if it wasn't broke- why did you call them to help you fix it?

Now horses will respond differently to each of us and Trax is no exception. Knowing his deep rooted issues with ropes in from his past, my main goal for the day was not to let him get himself into a mess and not give him the option of losing his mind. I started him out with the lines through the lowest rings on the sides of the surcingle. My reasoning behind this was plenty.

1) it is much easier for the horse to understand the concept of bending when you are basically asking them in a lateral way. You can also use your inside line to push the inside hip to the outside, which will give the front end only one way to go which is Into the turn you're asking them for. It makes things crystal clear for them, making life easier on both of you.
2) it would give me leverage in turning Trax into the rail to slow him down if things started to go a little wonky. Let's face it. I cannot and will not ever be able to out muscle a horse. Ever. I may be able to outmaneuver one, but I will never out muscle one. I might be strong, but I'm not That strong.
3) by ground driving them at the beginning, it is also much easier for the horse to understand the concept of forward if you can use the lines on either side of them to move them forward and only forward. They have one way to go and that's straight ahead. If your hands are nice and wide apart, if the horse were to step off to the side one way or the other, it is easy to tug the opposite rein to correct them and straighten them out. As long as they go forward, there is no rein pressure from either side.

Trax picked this idea up in no time and we were soon walking around the pen without issue. At the end of the first video on Cindy's blog, you can see Trax start to hesitate. "Do I stop or do I keep going? Mom is there by the gate, can I go back to her?"  A tug on the inside rein, cluck, cluck, "Walk on" spoken gently to him, he was sorted out and moving on again. When he moved forward and was relaxed doing it- lots of verbal praise. Tell them how good they are, how proud you are, how awesome things are going... Let them know that THIS is what you WANT. This makes you happy.

The way Trax looked in the end of the first video is what he looked like when we started. He just wasn't sure what was expected, what was being asked or what he was supposed to do. With the young horses and horses like Trax that have legitimate fear issues, I like to start them with their head pointed towards the rail of the round pen and them close enough to get a couple of steps before they are actually 'on' the rail and have 'freedom' lying ahead of them.

He took one step forward and stopped. I praised him for it, clucked to him, gently tugged on the outside rein and we got another step. Again, praise, ask, tug on the other rein and this time two steps, praise, ask and before long he was walking quietly and confidently around the round pen. If he tried to turn one way or the other, he was met with a tug on the opposite rein to keep him straight and his only real option was forward. As long as he was moving forward, I let the reins droop a little and he could have his head. No pressure, give him his release and lots of praise, because this is what you want. You can always build from here.


  1. You did a fabulous job with Trax that day, and I cannot thank you enough. I am always amazed when others work on him and he is unsure of what is going on, how he starts looking for me to help him. Just when I think he hates me, I realize he doesn't. I also loved how you gave him confidence and by time we were done he no longer felt like he needed to hide behind me. He was comfortable with you, and accepted you as a the temporary leader.

    You were also quite helpful in guiding me with my hands and reminding me to keep them low. It was a great session. Since my clinic is not going to happen I hope to get out there this weekend and work him some more and then graduate to the arena. (Sassy too)

  2. sounds like a great start.SO nice that you are able to work together with Cindy to help out Trax!