Get your horse mov­ing for­ward

Here are some ways to get the “go but­ton” work­ing and cre­ate a will­ing­ness to move for­ward freely.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Jonathan Field

Jonathan Field shows you how to get the “go but­ton” work­ing and cre­ate a will­ing­ness to move for­ward freely.

Have you ever felt more tired than your horse at the end of a ride? Horses who have lost for­ward im­pul­sion are typ­i­cally seen as lazy and dull. Maybe some are---and slug­gish­ness can also be a sign of ill­ness or an­other phys­i­cal prob­lem---but in most cases, horses lose the “go but­ton” be­cause of two issues.

The first is mostly caused by bor­ing, repet­i­tive ac­tiv­ity in an arena. Have you ever seen a path worn into an arena sur­face by horses go­ing round and round, day in and day out? Even if you don’t see that sort of ev­i­dence, the horses feel the ef­fects of ex­ces­sive rep­e­ti­tion. For most horses, be­ing locked into the same daily rou­tine for weeks and months on end is like stay­ing in kin­der­garten for­ever!

The sec­ond rea­son is the rider. Many peo­ple make the mis­take of work­ing too hard to get these slug­gish horses to pick up the pace: kick­ing, squeez­ing and swat­ting them to try to get them go­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, this only makes these horses duller, less mo­ti­vated and less will­ing to go for­ward. That’s be­cause

from the horse’s point of view, this rider is ir­ri­tat­ing and un­re­lent­ing. If the horse could speak he would likely tell his rider, “No mat­ter how much I speed up, you keep grind­ing your leg aid leg against me. It just never lets up!”

To which, the rider might re­ply, “If I don’t use my aids, you stop mov­ing!” There is the dilemma. So what to do?

The key is to sen­si­tize the horse and at the same time learn to avoid mi­cro­manag­ing, which ul­ti­mately means let­ting the horse take re­spon­si­bil­ity for go­ing for­ward. Think of it this way: If you squeeze your legs to get your horse go­ing, then you need to re­lease that cue once he re­sponds. If you don’t, a horse who is qui­eter by na­ture will quickly dull to the leg be­cause the mo­ti­va­tion to move out seek­ing a re­lease in pres­sure is gone.

Here are some things that can help you get your horse mov­ing for­ward again:

• First, get the horse out of the arena and go some­where to stim­u­late his mind and find pur­pose. This doesn’t re­quire a grand plan but can be some­thing sim­ple like do­ing a long trot across a pas­ture, then rest­ing for a mo­ment or two and trot­ting back across. To me a “pur­pose” is some­thing you can de­scribe: It starts here, you do “this,” then you’re done. It has these three parts. When train­ing turns into too many rep­e­ti­tions and drudgery, you lose pur­pose---a clear be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end.

• Go in sim­ple, straight lines. For slug­gish horses, trav­el­ing on long, straight lines is bet­ter than tight turns and cir­cles. You can do good straight lines even if you don’t have a large pas­ture---just go be­tween the two far­thest points in your arena.

• Re­view your ba­sic cues. Start by prac­tic­ing halt-to-walk tran­si­tions then build up all the way to the lope/can­ter. You want to sen­si­tize your horse to your seat and leg cues, so you will likely

need a rid­ing crop to sup­port or back up your aids. But the crop comes last---af­ter you’ve got­ten no re­sponse from your seat or leg. The key is to use the crop con­sis­tently to ap­ply pres­sure di­rected at achiev­ing your goal, rather than all at once: A big swat with the crop may get the horse mov­ing out for a few strides or even a lap, but he will only dull down a bit later and be­come even less re­spon­sive. In­stead, use the crop to build pres­sure in­cre­men­tally; tap the horse lightly with it on the hindquar­ters un­til he com­plies. (I will go into more de­tail on this later.) He will fig­ure out that when he re­sponds to your seat and leg cues to move for­ward,

the tap­ping stops; soon he will move for­ward when you ask with­out you hav­ing to even lift the crop. The goal is to achieve the al­most in­vis­i­ble cues that the best rid­ers at­tain.

• Prac­tice good crop man­age­ment. If your horse is slug­gish, don’t squeeze harder but lift your crop out to the side slightly, so he can see it. Wave it a time or two, and then if that doesn’t work, start a light and pro­gres­sive tap on the hindquar­ters un­til you feel a slight surge for­ward. When you get some for­ward move­ment, im­me­di­ately stop tap­ping. If the horse balks or kicks up a bit when you ap­ply your aids, try to keep slight pres­sure go­ing un­til this re­sis­tance stops and the for­ward thought

oc­curs to him. Then im­me­di­ately re­lease. If only a few strides later your horse slows down, re­peat these steps. I will slightly in­ten­sify this whole process so the horse puts in more “try” as I move in a long, straight line and then rest. I’m look­ing for im­prove­ment and sen­si­tiv­ity to my leg cue be­fore I move on to any­thing else. With­out a keen for­ward re­sponse, any other ac­tiv­ity is pretty much dead in the water.

• Seek out­side help if nec­es­sary. Some­times a re­sis­tant horse will kick up or buck when you try to get him go­ing for­ward. If you have trou­ble keep­ing your seat when your horse acts up and he knows it, you may need to get a more ex­pe­ri­enced rider to help work out the prob­lem. An­other op­tion is to get through the worst of it with a re­view of ground train­ing that helps teach

You want to sen­si­tize your horse to your seat and leg cues, so you will likely need a rid­ing crop to sup­port or back up your aids. But the crop comes last—af­ter you’ve got­ten no re­sponse from your seat or leg.

for­ward re­sponses, then try again while rid­ing.

• Pay at­ten­tion to your speed. One last point: Watch for your horse to slip just be­low your de­sired speed once you are go­ing. This can be hard to no­tice--some horses are masters at do­ing less while the rider does more. So don’t fall into the trap of squeez­ing harder to make your horse go faster. In­stead, con­tinue to seek that sen­si­tiv­ity and re­spon­sive­ness to your seat and leg--ap­ply­ing pres­sure to get your horse to move for­ward and eas­ing up when the horse com­plies.

This is a time-tested method of get­ting horses to go. I have helped many hun­dreds of peo­ple with horses who have be­come so slow and dull that they ac­tu­ally drag their feet and wear down their toes. This tech­nique has worked over and over, and if kept up will cre­ate the freely for­ward horse who is a joy to ride.

Pho­tos by Robin Dun­can Pho­tog­ra­phy

Jonathan Field and his An­dalu­sian Cam are go­ing for­ward freely and hav­ing fun.

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