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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

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

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Positive Horse Training

Green & Rarely Handled Horse

 

Keep your horse tuned-up and connected with you

Do you have a “pasture ornament” or two around your place? The strategies in this article will help keep rarely handled horses from going completely to seed.  Whether it’s your horse’s soundness or age or your own busy schedule that keeps you handling and/or riding; managing a horse that is rarely handled often can be a challenge, especially if you have specific goals. We can get the most from our horses even with reduced activity levels.  Although ground and mounted work as often as possible is the ideal, the following strategies will allow will help keep your horse tuned and connected with you, even given your limiting circumstances.

Maximize the Time you have with your horse
Most horses require; Miles, Concentrated training and wet blankets to further its education at a reasonable pace.  A horse that’s still learning can pick up new skills while handled infrequently, only at a slower rate. You’ll need to be especially deliberate in your approach because your horse’s lack of conditioning will limit his ability to stay engaged for a long lesson. A horse that’s well trained won’t lose his skills and fundamentals just because he’s not handled daily. With either skill level of horse, approach each session with a plan to ensure that you make progress whenever you do handle it. If your horse is rarely handled try several of the following ground training strategies; if your horse as health issue checks with your veterinarian.

  • “Don’t assume you can get on your horse and pick up right where you left off days, weeks, or months ago”. “Revisit where your horse is at Emotionally, Mentally and Physically by starting each session with a review of the basics of Foundation Ground Training.
  • This review can give your horse a chance to be successful, which will help build its confidence.” The exercise could be as simple as walking it in circles while flexing and bending.
  • From the start, be careful not to waste your horse’s energy or reach a point where it’s exhausted and resents learning. When you do ride warm up, do a basic check of his foundation skills. If your horse "roots at the lead or bit," that is, it drops its head and pulls or tugs the lead and/or reins out of your hands, then he's learned that when he pulls you give. That is, he knows that when he yanks the bit, he'll get a release from lead or bit pressure because your hands will move in kind. The head-tossing horse has learned the same thing. or resisting lateral pressure, for example, refresh these skills on the round before you move on. Determine what you’ll work on in a session, such as a drill or a specific skill. Practice that until you see improvement, then call it a day.
  • Always end on a good note so your horse feels confident and as if it’s been able to please you. A major part of keeping your horse happy is maintaining its sense of accomplishment and ensuring that it’s not mentally exhausted.
  • The same is true of its emotional and physical condition; it shouldn’t be fearful or fatigued after a session that it’s unhappy.

Tune Up In-Hand Foundation of Ground and Mounted training Work
Many ground exercises are transferable, replicated into the saddle and may be your only option for a horse that can’t be ridden due to unsoundness, age, or your own physical limitations. And even for horses that are able to be ridden, practicing in-hand work for short intervals during the week saves you time by eliminating the saddling and unsaddling process; plus the skills developed will also transfer when you do saddle up.  “Find or make up your own horsemanship exercises to follow”. “Set out cones, map it out, and run through it.” Your horse will improve its ability to follow your body language and cues as it stops, pivots, sets up and side passes on the ground.  These are all foundational skills your horse should have, no matter if its being ridden or handled in-hand”. So, even if you don’t plan to show, practicing horsemanship patterns will establish basic skills and keep training sessions interesting. Choose a speed that’s comfortable and controlled. If you or your horse is physically unable to trot, keep your work to a walk and spend more time working on maneuvers, such as bending, flexion, side passing, pivots, and backing.  Even if you only have 20 minutes to spare you can put your horse in a halter to practice drills that’ll teach it to respect your personal space and yield to pressure so you can establish control of its shoulders and hindquarters.  Use your body language and body energy to pressure from your hand to push your horse’s ribcage over for a turn on the forehand or haunches. Mimic the pressure, both in strength and position that it will experience when you cue for the same maneuver in the saddle.  Remember any issues we experience on the ground will be magnified in the saddle! 

Sensitizing and Desensitizing

Ground work centers on the two fundamental forms of horse training: sensitizing and desensitizing.

 

  • To sensitize your horse, you teach it to move away from pressure. For example, it learns to step forward the Go Forward cue and “away” from the halter’s pressure on his poll, or to step away from the “pressure” of your upheld hands.  Our body energy or anything that moves or creates motion has energy coming off it; I consider that energy to be “pressure.
  •  To desensitize your horse, you teach him to relax and accept pressure. For example, he learns to stand calmly when you swing a rope near him and not to spook at fly spray, clippers or other “scary” things. When sensitizing, you apply pressure and release it the instant your horse responds, then try again. When desensitizing, you apply pressure and keep it “on” until your horse stops moving his feet and relaxes: lowers his head, licks his lips, cocks a hind leg, takes a big breath or blinks his eyes. Then you remove the pressure for a moment as a reward before resuming.  This approach-and-retreat strategy helps build his confidence quickly.

 

Basically sensitizing exercises asks your horses feet to move and desensitizing does not.  Therefore for a horse that:


·         Loves to move its feet began and end your training sessions with desensitizing exercises

·         Is lazy begin and end your training sessions with sensitizing.


Exercise your Horse
If your rarely ridden horse is stalled, it’s important that he be turned out or lunged regularly to enable it to expend excess energy. Lunging can be an excellent way to exercise your horse and further its training at the same time. Keep in mind, though, that the purpose of lunging isn’t to allow your horse to mindlessly run circles around you.  The same rules of good movement and different lunging exercises/patterns should be applied to lunging as with riding. Practice using your body language and energy to move your horse in or out in its circle and stop. Begin your practice at a walk. Once it’s yielding to your body pressure and cues, then progress to faster gaits. Work to sharpen its responsiveness as you move it through the various gaits and modify its speed within those gaits. If your horse has soundness issues or is coming back from a layoff or injury, choose a pace that’ll be a bit challenging physically but won’t be too taxing emotionally and mentally. You can work your horse in a round pen instead of on a line, though working him on a line gives you more feel and control.

Remind your horse of its Manners

The most noticeable result of an irregular handling routine is declining respect, manners and leadership. Your horse’s pent-up energy or lack of consistent rules and boundaries may cause it to be impatient, to push into your personal space and to generally show a lack of respect.  This means that every time you interact with your horse, you must reinforce basic manners. These include patience while tied; leading well and standing quietly while being groomed, saddled, trimmed, shod, or otherwise handled.  I suggest halter training exercises “with conscious awareness of what it’s doing, how it’s managing its pace and space and whether or not it’s focused on you. If it’s crowding or bullying you or not rating its walking, trotting of cantering pace to yours, correct it. If it’s too close, quickly back up several steps so it’s reminded to maintain your personal boundaries, dropping it head, bending its neck and collecting under itself.  If it’s trying to walk too far ahead of or behind you, stop or slow it down or encourage it to keep up with you with clucks or authoritative bumps of the lead line. Remember: When it’s focused on you it is responding to your intent and respecting you on the ground, it’ll also do so under saddle.  I also recommend that you also be aware of behaviors you have that might be prompting your horse’s poor manners. For example, if you routinely give it treats at set times, it’ll eventually come to anticipate them and express outward irritation such as stomping its feet or nudging you until you “hand it over.”  “If your horse is acting out and you’re reacting, then the horse is controlling you”. Establish yourself as the leader on the ground so you can maintain this role when you ride it.

Maintain the Bond

If the majority of your time with your horse is spent feeding, mucking its stall, or grooming it, don’t sweat it. Even this time can help you maintain a connection with your horse. I suggest that at the very least you try to spend quality time with your horse if you’re unable to ride or otherwise work with him.  For example, spend five or 10 minutes talking to it, brushing it or mucking its stall. As you do, see what new things you can learn about your horse. Observing its individual quirks, mannerisms and traits will familiarize you with its personality, which in turn will enable you to relate to it better when you do ground and mounted exercises.  Your connection with your horse is like any friendship. The more time you spend together, the more in-sync you’ll be.  Ultimately, even if you’re permanently unable to ride or your horse is physically limited by unsoundness or age, you can still maintain a quality relationship with it simply by being with. Communicating with it and caring for it.