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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’

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TRAINING LOGICALLY IN CYCLES 

Emotional, Mental and Physical   



Usually we manage to gain some physical control of our horse.  That is until something causes his emotional level to rise.  The horse’s fear can so distract him that we lose the physical control we thought we had.  I see people before a ride lunging their horse on a line or free in a round pen for up to an hour, thinking the horse won’t buck or run away.  But all that physical exercise has not made a significant impact on the horse’s emotional level.  The horse can still get excited and run away.  Even if the horse's emotional level is not interfering, the horse cannot give his best performance until we control his mind; until we get him focusing and thinking about what we are asking.  Most horses, including highly trained ones, are not performing to their best ability because their minds are not engaged!  Using a Foundation training plan prepares the horse for work in the saddle and will focus on three critical components.

 

Emotional, Mental and Physical Components

These three components of each horse you come into contact with will be the more important information you have to successfully care for, train and/or ride that horse.  You must evaluate each of these elements carefully and apply each training exercise based on the horse’s unique combination of these personality traits.  The more time you take to understand how your horse reacts, think and move, the more successful you will be with his training and your relationship.  Let’s look at each element and how it relates to caring, training and riding your horse. 

 

The Emotional Element

Let’s discuss the emotional element first because:

 

·                     It is the most important information you need to successfully; buy, select, care for, train and or ride your horse.  It is the facet of horsemanship that every handler or rider must understand thoroughly.

·                     I believe it is also one of the least understood and emphasized characteristic within horsemanship. 

·                     The higher the emotional level of the horses the longer it will take to train and once trained please know that it may require consistent maintenance with emotional control exercises on the ground before it can be ridden.

·                     The horse will require a more experienced rider the higher the emotional level of the horse because it will require the rider to stay focused and deal with the different levels in order to achieve emotional control for safety’s sake.

·                     The emotional level will impact; the mental and the physical elements!

 

So what is emotional control; it is working with your horse using exercises and developing cues around the horse’s own flight mechanism – the natural survival instincts.  A low emotional level does not equal a good horse nor does a high level a bad horse.  However; how intensely they react to fear and how fearful they are will determine how long it will take to train a horse before it can be ridden safely and/or the skill set of the trainer, handler and/or the rider!.  Differing levels means a different application of horsemanship principles on the ground and in the saddle.  Understanding and controlling your horse’s emotional level will help you achieve maximum performance.    The main ingredients that determine the emotional level of the horse is; breeding, maturity, possibly trauma, past/present handling, past/present training and personality!  

 

The Mental element

The Mental element is very important also; it is the horse’s capacity for focus; that is, the horse’s ability to learn lessons we teach and her willingness to pay attention to us.  The emotionally state of the horse will impact the mental element.  No matter how calm a horse might be, if she is not focused or interested, then the training lesson will not be a success.  We do foundation training exercises to keep the horse focused on us.  One of the cardinal rules I have is that I never just hop on a horse to ride; particularly a strange one or a horse in training.  Groundwork is not about refreshing the horse on training cues or physically warming the horse up, although those are accomplished as side benefits.  Instead, it is a mental chick-in with the horse before you climb into the saddle and is the most important thing you can do to have a safe and successful ride.  The exercises that you do will get the horse mentally focused on you and on what you are asking.  They allow you to gauge where the horse’s emotional level may be for the day and it can differ day to day.  It gives us the chance to assess if the horse is emotionally and mentally ready to ride.  If not, we can do more groundwork, which gives us 75 to 85 carry over into the saddle.  The time frame will vary from a few minutes to thirty minutes depending on the horse.

 

The Physical Element

It is important that we have calm and focused horses in order to be successful with the physical element of the horse’s training; the movement, direction and speed that we ask the horse to move.  In other words, the horse must lead without balking or pushing. It must walk up to; a tarp, a trailer and go right in without protest and without the use of any special aid. We must also have control of the horse under saddle, whether on the trail or in the arena. The horse must turn and stop and respond to cues when requested to do so.  To be able to communicate with a horse, you must be able to control its five body parts; the head, neck, poll, shoulders, ribs and hindquarters.  The faster the horse moves the higher the emotional level and the higher the emotional level the less focused the horse and be; the more difficult it will be to control the horse’s movements.

 

Is the horse physically Fit?

Training involves a combination of physical conditioning and task-specific exercises.  Asking the horse to do too much, too soon, can spell trouble.  This is especially true for young horses and pasture potatoes that have had little in the way of regular exercise, and are then suddenly expected to exercise on the ground and/or in the saddle on a two-hour trail ride. Regardless of the discipline the horse is used for, they should be gradually adapted to greater workloads over time.  

 

Training Cycle Examples

Training cycles consist of exercises that are Mentally or Emotionally easy followed by an exercise that is physically hard and following by exercises more mentally or emotionally challenging...but physically easy.  Here are several examples: 

·               Mental – Leading quietly

·               Physical – Control direction

·               Mental – Review previous leading lesson

·               Physical & Mental – Lunging and maintaining a circle in same direction

·               Mental & Emotional – Introducing Cinch & Girth Training

·               Physical, Mental & Emotional – Lunging with rope around belly

·               Mental – review previous exercise leading